Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Ground-Breaker: In Memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg




By Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

I remember well my first Volunteers in Mission international trip. In 1993 a group of Deaf Senior Citizens and I went to Montego Bay, Jamaica, to help a fledgling Christian Deaf School.  I was in quite over my head, being the only hearing person on the team and doing all the interpreting.

The accommodations were somewhat rustic. The plumbing broke down the first day, and the dining hall served mostly rice and more rice. The most difficult part of the trip was the task we were assigned at this small, struggling school.  The principal asked us to take hand shovels and break ground for a vegetable garden. We were breaking hard, hard ground in the hot, hot sun; and if we had not had the chance to also teach Bible school to the Deaf children as well, I think the team would have packed up and left after two days. 

Breaking ground is necessary for any kind of vegetation to grow.  Nothing can grow in hard, packed, dry ground without such hard labor. But the benefits of it can yield the gift of crops and nourishment and life.  Teams that followed us in subsequent weeks were able to plant the garden. And later the children were able to harvest some food to add to their rice menu. 

It is reminiscent of the Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthians about the work of ministry: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants, nor he who waters is anything; but only God who gives the growth.”  (I Corinthians 3:6-7)

I would agree with Paul’s analogy to a point, but I would give praise to social justice “ground breakers.”  These are people who till the hard soil of stubborn hearts, but who have the vision and creative imaginations to begin a work among us that can be liberating, life-changing and righteous. 

These words describe the life and witness of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  She was described as a “ground breaker” because of her pioneering, tireless work for gender equality and equal rights for all people.

This is bone-hard work.  Ground breakers get a lot of resistance; but they keep tilling the soil. Although she graduated first in her class at Columbia University Law School, no law firm would hire her; so she worked as a judge’s clerk and then taught law.  Throughout her distinguished career as a lawyer and judge she never gave up on a just cause. And she consistently advocated for equality and equity. 

Ginsburg left us last week, on September 18, after a long bout with cancer and after many victories. She died on the first night (Shabbat) of the Jewish holy observance of Rosh Hashanah. According to Jewish tradition a person who dies on the Sabbath “tsaddik” is a person of great righteousness. If someone dies on the Shabbat of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) they are “the ones God has held back until the last moment because they are needed the most and were the most righteous.” (USA Today 9/19/20, Joel Shannon, quoting Nina Totenberg of NPR.)

Ground breakers are indeed righteous, intent on doing the right thing, bearing the heat of the day, the hardness of the soil for the sake of others.  We honor the memory of the victorious RBG!

Monday, September 14, 2020

The Four ‘W’s’


By Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Every day I watch a local newscast that gives COVID-19 updates and health reminders. Yesterday they talked about the “Four “W’s.” They are as follows:

 “W” – Wear your mask

“W” – Watch your distance (at least 6 feet)

“W” – Wash your hands

 “W” – Open the Windows to keep fresh air circulating


These “Four W’s” caught my eye and my heart, not only because it is a catchy way to remember these important virus protection practices, but because it could also be a parable about personal holiness in the life of the Christian believer.

The most dangerous pandemic that we face as human beings is that of sin, and the temptation to sin. It is why Jesus came to earth in the first place, to die for our sins (I Corinthians 15:3) and give us life abundant. We do not become perfect on the day we ask Jesus into our hearts. God forgives us; but our daily walk with Christ, which includes constantly striving to live in holiness, is our lifelong journey of faith.

We often don’t talk about sin as much as we should. John Wesley, in his early days with the Holy Club at Oxford, emphasized confession and self-examination as a central practice during his daily prayer time. His “22 Questions” inventory (found on umcdiscipleship.org) is a discipline that every believer needs to practice to root out pride, greed and evil.




What are the “Four W’s” for a Christian who is striving to “go on to perfection?”


1. “W” – Watch your Words. Jesus said, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a person unclean. For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander.” (Matthew 15:18-19)

We get into more trouble by the words we say than by just about any other means of evil. The Book of James reminds us, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire and is itself set on fire by hell.” (3:6)

Put a “mask” over your lips when you are tempted to say hurtful, judgmental or hurtful words. Speak truth, and as the Apostle Paul reminds us, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6)


2. “W” – Be Wary of temptation. Jesus said to his disciples, “There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting!” (Luke 17:1).

Temptation is always close at hand, both in the things that tempt us and in the ways we cause others to be tempted by our sin. Likely you know the “pet” sins of your life that “so easily entangle” you. (Hebrews 12:1).

When you keep your distance from temptation by your constant communion with God, you are more able to resist it. As the Book of James reminds us, “Submit yourselves then to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (4:7).


3. “W” “Wash” to cleanse yourself of sin by confession and restoration. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is I John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Just as hand-washing cleans off bacteria and germs, confession opens the door for God to forgive us and set us free from guilt and judgment. True repentance also requires restoration for those we have harmed and a 180-degree directional shift away from that sin. Otherwise, it is not true repentance at all. 


4. “W” – Follow the “Wind” of the Spirit. The word “Spirit” in scripture literally means “breath” or “wind,” and as saved, repentant and forgiven people of God we need to “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16). That means following the guidance that God gives, heeding the warnings about temptation, using the Spiritual gifts bestowed on us, and moving freely, like the wind, into new and often unexpected avenues of service. As difficult as these times are, we have many windows of opportunity for outreach, witness and justice ministry. Let us catch the wind of the Spirit during this unique time, and take the church to a new height of service to our neighbors and devotion to God. 


The “Four W’s” of pandemic precautionary practices are helpful and necessary for our health. The “Four W’s” of the Christian faith can lead to abundant life and life everlasting. Let us follow them both.