Recently I heard an interview on National Public Radio featuring Rev. Joseph Lowery who has been an important leader in the Civil Rights movement through the years. Recently he was given the honor to pronounce the benediction at the inauguration service for President Barrack Obama. In this interview he said that the election of the first African American president was something he always thought would happen but he never thought it would happen in his lifetime. I believe that his advocacy work in our country for decades had much to do with this reality. He was willing to courageously speak a word of truth to power, not only during the early years during the Civil Rights movement in this country but he also spoke out against Apartheid in South Africa and anywhere people are suffering still today. During Coretta Scott King’s funeral in 2006 he spoke up for the poor in this country: “Millions are without health insurance. Poverty abounds. For war there are billions more but no more for the poor.”
Every day we see injustice in this world and if we would have the courage to speak up about it we could, like Lowery, live to see an injustice turned around in our very life time. However, many times we are afraid to challenge powerful strongholds that keep people oppressed. We fear their retribution and anger. We tell ourselves we can’t make a difference. With God’s help you can change things. With God’s power you can speak the truth to people who need to hear it. II Timothy 1:7 reminds us “God has not given us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power, love and self-discipline.”
While I served as the pastor of an all-deaf church in Baltimore I was confronted everyday with situations in which deaf people were mistreated or denied their rights because they simply could not hear. Sometimes fighting for justice and making complaint calls got to be overwhelming. Whenever the staff or I were tempted to give up we would encourage each other by saying: “remember 456.” That would spur us on to make the call and keep on advocating for justice. What is 456? It is my favorite prayer printed in the United Methodist Hymnal (on page 456) that was written by Alan Paton of South Africa:
“O Lord, open my eyes that I may see the needs of others; open my ears that I may hear their cries, open my heart so that they need not be without succor, let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong, nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich. Show me where love and hope and faith are needed, and use me to bring them to those places. And so open my eyes and my ears that I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for thee. Amen."
When we do that there is no telling what good we will be able to make happen today!
Bishop Peggy A. Johnson