I cut my preaching teeth in rural Tennessee, the historical home of the KKK. A summer internship after my first year in seminary. It was not an easy time. A young and enthusiastic boss, finding his own voice. Told not, for the first intern, to come back with a student of the female persuasion.
Then there was the whole thing about standing up in front of people who did not know me and doing my best to interpret the word of God. Not the word that seemed easy for that day. The word designated in a fancy calendar called the lectionary, which is a three year plan for reading through the entire bible. A lesson from the Hebrew scriptures. One from wisdom literature, usually the Psalms. A gospel lesson. And one from a New Testament letter.
Read three or four, if you were new-fangled back then, and brave. Focus on one or two in a sermon. Forget Karl Barth, and leave the news entirely out of it, if you’re hoping to survive. Or, pray hard and allow the Word to speak. A big job for a very new professional Christian.
And the vital presence of people of actual faith, opening their arms and their ears to a single mom and a really cute kid, trying to find their place amongst the people of God in an old southern Presbyterian church.
An old southern Presbyterian church in the late 1980’s that was somehow surviving a young pastor. The most liberal preacher they had ever known. Surviving an inter-racial family in the congregation. Surviving conversations they had never had before.
I learned a lot that summer. I am learning, still.
One of the biggest things I learned is that people of faith often confuse beliefs–theology, if you will–with things that feel safe because we’ve always done them that way. Hymns. Neighbors. Marriage. Politics. Neurologically, familiar equals safe.
It doesn’t always work in the Kingdom, here on Earth.
Are you opposed to racism? Get to know some people who don’t look just like you do.
Are you opposed to sexism? Look beyond gender to see new skills and enthusiasm.
Are you opposed to injustice? Feed the poor. House the homeless. Shelter the oppressed. Defend the children. Protect the civil rights of all.
There’s the word that’s hard.
Because “all,” in America, means all.
I remember when Dr. King was killed. We lived in Chicago. Riots rocked the city. Children were afraid. And nobody in my world had answers.
And yet, America was changed.
It is time to hold that change dear. To honor the sacrifice of those who fought for a different future. To act as people who have been changed. To live as those who believe. Perhaps time, now, more than ever before.
The most important message in this moment comes from Dr. King:
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’
The answer is, now, as it was then, and long before then, the way to change the world.
It’s our turn.