Dear Ones of St. Columba's,
This week the New York Times published a piece written by John Lewis, the congressman and civil rights leader who died on July 17th. John Lewis wrote us a letter before he died, and asked the Times to publish it on the day of his funeral.
I cannot think of a more pastoral, kind, and hopeful thing to do as his life was ending.
Lewis' letter to us is intended to spur us onward, even as we remember his legacy and the good work, he may have said "good trouble" that he got into and up to in his life. The title is "Together You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation." In it John Lewis passes the torch to us, giving into our hands the responsibility of finding a path forward for our country that does not include what he calls the "unholy oppression," of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color human beings in our nation.
Friends, this is our work. And what I want to say to you today is that this is Christian work. Our religious institutions and structures are just as broken and full of sin as any other human systems are. Our church - not just the church universal but our Episcopal Church - has participated in the sin of racism in ways that are difficult to behold but vital to remember. We have been the church of the upper class, which has also in our history meant the church of those who trafficked and enslaved Black human beings. Our white controlled institutions, including churches and including this Episcopal church used the name of our religion and the scriptures we hold sacred to justify these sins. So for those of us who are white and Christian, we have redeeming work to do. We need to buy back, to restore, to repair and amend.
But that is not the only reason this is Christian work. This work of redeeming, of restoring the soul of our churches and our nation and our individual selves, it is Christian work because our God is about the work of redemption. Our God has always been about this work. When God wrestled with Jacob in the desert and renamed him Israel - broken but blessed - God was about the work of redemption. When God set God's people free from slavery in Egypt and walked with them for 40 years in the wilderness, God was about the work of redemption. When God became human in the person of Jesus Christ and walked among us, loving and hurting and dying alongside us, God was about the work of redemption.
God is still about this redemptive work. John Lewis knew it as he wrote us a letter on his deathbed, reminding us that "Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring."
Let us also know it. Let us believe in our hearts and know in our bones that God desires justice and God wants to redeem us from the sinful systems that cause us to privilege some of God's beloved children over others.
Dear Church, I am ready for this work. I hope you are too. Let us take up the torch, and answer the call to be part of God's redemptive work in our world.
with care and gratitude,