Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Scripture: Isaiah 58:6-12
Guest Preacher: Dianne Rush Woods, Ph.D.
Message: This I Believe
Good morning, My name is Dianne Rush Woods, and I am a grateful member of Epworth UMC. Our scripture today is Isaiah 58: 6-12. I was introduced to this scripture while watching the Inaugural Prayer service. This multi-cultural service was remarkable in its presentation of diverse religious communities: Protestant, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and other religious groups.
One of my favorite movies is Dirty Dancing, and a famous line there spoken by Patrick Swayze at the shaming of his love interest, Baby, was "Nobody puts Baby in a corner. "Nobody, Nobody, was placed in a corner in this event. It was a loving circle, a manifestation of the Beloved Community. Many aspects of mainline spirituality were represented, yet Christianity did not dominate as the United States' primary religion. English was not presented as the only language of the United States.
Two of our own (from the Bay Area) led prayers during this service which addressed our hoped-for future."
Bishop Yvette Flunders, the pastor of City of Refuge UCC in Oakland, offered the following prayer:
"Hear our prayers for all who do the tedious, dirty, and dangerous work which is necessary to sustain our life. Bless those who work the fields and grant that all who depend upon their service may remember them with thankful hearts. Bless all whose lives are closely linked with ours."
Then the Reverend Dr. Jeffery Kuan, President of the Claremont School of Theology, offered the following prayer:
"We pray for an end to the injustices of racism and the hatred in our nation that destroy lives and betray our humanity. Help us build a just society where all persons are recognized and treated as sacred... Bless all whose lives are closely linked with ours."
Amen, amen, I said to myself after hearing these prayers for those closely linked to us, and I was lifted up by the embracing of diverse beliefs, systems of worship, and how all were honored.
And how did I know that all/many were honored? Well, because I could see it. There was a clear effort to manifest and recognize the inclusion of the many…cisgender, male, female, gender fluid, trans, Muslim, Sikh, Jew, gay, lesbian, African American, Native American, white, South and South East Asian, young, middle-age, and old, urban and rural, Central American, Filipino.
This service displayed our national diversity in transparent and explicit ways, not reifying or holding up one group over the other but embracing all, not talking about inclusion or diversity, but living into it and making it clear to the world who we are and who exists in our beloved community.
Next, Reverend Dr. Barber offered his interpretation of the words spoken by Isaiah to the people of Jerusalem:
This is what God wants you to know:
"This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed, cancel debts.
What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad…"
"If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people's sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness…
You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You'll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
and make the community livable again."
In this scripture, God is calling on us to do a new thing. During Lent, we challenge ourselves to abstain for 40 days. How about if we shifted this slightly. We could challenge ourselves to refrain from apathy around class and poverty issues and commit to social justice action for 40 days. What if we added a more profound commitment to acts of social justice and work to support all whose lives are closely linked with ours. "
Under the Reverend Doctor Theoharris and the Reverend Barber's guidance, the New Poor Peoples Campaign has taken up the call of the original Poor Peoples Campaign envisioned by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. In 1966, he (Dr. King) visited Marks, Mississippi, the poorest city, in the poorest county, in the poorest state in the U.S. He wept because of the lack of shoes and clothing for the children and the scarcity of blankets. According to the Reverend Dr. Barber, King said that "God would not like this" and that we will march to demand that the evil of poverty be addressed. At this time, he was working to bring together black sharecroppers, whites from the Appalachian coal mines, Mexican and Filipino farmworkers, Native Americans, welfare mothers, and other impoverished individuals. He identified three evils that the Civil Rights Movement needed to combat: Racism, Poverty, and Militarism. Dr. King was assassinated before having the opportunity to finalize the March. There was, however, a Poor Peoples march and the construction of a tent city, Resurrection city, which the National Guard shut down after five days.
Fifty years later, The New Poor Peoples Campaign has taken up the challenge with a National Call for Moral Revival. They are fighting against the interlocking evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism and the war economy, and religious nationalism. They are currently active in 40 states and are getting people out to vote.
Their policy requests:
quality health care for all
a $15 minimum wage, and
Development of a federal jobs program, such as which we saw in the Great Depression,
Protection of voting rights and civil rights
Native American rights, and
fair tax structures.
This organization is soliciting participation. They have met with the Biden Administration and are hoping to move their agenda forward. Can we take up some of this works?
Sometimes, we think, "No, that isn't my interest or struggle. I'm interested in immigrant rights or Black Lives Matter, or LGBTQ rights. However, most of our issues are caused by interconnected systems of oppression that support racism, classism, nativism, religious-bigotry, homophobia, sexism, and other discriminatory and troubling practices.
In a 2021 article in the Atlantic, Rev. Barber wrote that "those states that attack voting rights by using partisan gerrymandering, discriminatory voter-identification requirements, or a rollback of early voting and same-day registration are also home to the lowest wages, the severest poverty, the greatest hostility toward immigrants and the LGBT community, and the deepest cuts in education funding. Politicians who try to suppress voting use their power to hurt the poor and the working-class—white, brown, and black, immigrants, and LGBTQ populations. [link]
I think that we should look into this further. I'd like to suggest an Epworth presentation on the New Poor Peoples Campaign to understand better the struggles and needs of the over 140 million low and struggling poor, whose ranks have increased even more because of the pandemic. Or can we invite the Alameda County Community Food Bank to present the "Bridges out of Poverty" program that they sponsor? Can we shift as a congregation to engage in deconstructing poverty and fighting the systems of oppression that perpetuate it?
In conclusion, I want to say that the song, I believe in the sun" is crucial to understanding oppression and hopelessness.
"I believe in the sun, I believe in sun…
even when it is not shining
And I believe in love,
Even when there's no one there.
And I believe in God,
Even when God is silent.
But God is not silent, and I believe that God is asking us, the Beloved Community, to act…to move past ritual and to address the injustices, the poverty, the alienation, and the division that is strangling our world today.
It is sometimes hard to see the sun, feel it, imagine it when all is dark, when there seems to be nowhere to run and nowhere to hide/ nowhere to feel safe, warm, and secure, and the knee of oppression is pressing on your neck.
But, I have to believe in something breaks the yoke and unchains those tethered by poverty. I believe in light, I believe in love, I believe in action and courage. I believe in God. I believe in Epworth and our ability to continue to make a difference in the world.
Bless all whose lives are closely linked with ours.
Ashay, Amen, Thank you.
Order of Service (Bulletin) - February 7, 2021
Fifth Sunday after Epi