During Inauguration weekend, I had a conversation with the pastor of a Presbyterian Church that was predominately black church. When asked if the members of that church would be participating in the Women’s March the reply was “That is not a black issue”. This was not a comment dismissing the issues which brought those marchers together. Rather this pastor was reminding us that racial prejudice and injustice have not been eradicated. And the worry is that the energy around this Women’s March would not detract from important efforts to combat racism.
One of the scripture texts from the Lectionary recently was Matthew 5:1-12 better known as the Beatitudes. This is a scripture we have read from the same translation for so long that we often read the words as relating to others. Blessed are those…. (others who are poor, persecuted and more). Reading this passage in The Message, translated by Eugene Peterson gives us a very different perspective on Jesus’ words. “You are blessed when you are at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and God’s rule” v3. This reminds me of the anonymous poster saying “Where were you God when I was walking alone?” “ Beside you.” “Where were you when I could not walk any further?” “Carrying you.”
In these transition times in our country and around the world we are challenged more forcefully to remember that we, our communities of faith, our communities and our country are our responsibility to live into out of our Christian faith, our partnership with God. We cannot be passive and comfortable expecting God to rescue someone else. We cannot be violent. We are charged to speak to injustice and unfairness out of our faith.
Our complaints, protest and hand wringing should not be about the slights we feel individually. Instead we are called to share the message that God calls us to love and care for all of creation. On further reflection, we can see that when our oppressors segment our particular complaints we are weaker. Justice for all is the goal – this includes racial justice, ending faith based prejudice, marriage equality, gender equality, eco justice and many more. The US is formed into “One nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all”. Not just justice for my particular injustice.
Reading Eugene Peterson again: “You’re blessed when you show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are and your place in God’s family. You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s Kingdom. Not only that – count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.” Matt 5:10-11.
It’s not about us! It is about bringing God’s justice to the world around us.
Rev. Peter Surgenor is the Executive Director of Holmes Presbyterian Camp and Conference Center, a parish associate at the Bedford Presbyterian Church and moderator of Hudson River Presbytery in 2017.