Rev. Dr. Vivian was described by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as “one of the greatest preachers who ever lived.” Vivian worked alongside Dr. King in the Civil Rights movement and, later in his life, served as Dean of the Divinity School at Shaw University in Raleigh. He once said of his work: “we kept knowing the scriptures. We kept living by faith. We kept understanding that it’s something deeper than politics that makes life worth living.”(1) Vivian said this even though he had faced danger many times, even once getting punched in the face by a Selma Sheriff who tried to block Vivian as he escorted African Americans inside the courthouse to register to vote – the Sheriff hitting him so hard that he broke his own hand.
Congressman Lewis was also no stranger to violence in following his faith toward justice and equality for all in our nation. As I mentioned in last week’s sermon, he was in Selma during the events of the 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. This march, non-violent on the part of Lewis and those with him, saw violence as that same Sheriff blocked their way, beating some to death when they did not stop marching. Lewis himself had his skull bashed so hard with a billy club that he almost died.
In his book Across that Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America, Lewis notes: “Faith is being so sure of what the spirit has whispered in your heart that your belief in its eventuality is unshakable. Nothing can make you doubt that what you have heard will become a reality. Even if you do not live to see it come to pass, you know without one doubt that it will be. That is faith.” (2)
Both Vivian and Lewis were men of faith in Christ who believed that the world in which they lived could be better than it was. They gave their blood, sweat, and tears – literally – to keep living into their faith that God had created us all for more. The evils of racism and segregation that they stood against were not just driven by political or societial issues, but were also driven by a turning of people from seeing the beloved community we were all created to be.
As we move forward as people of faith who follow Christ in the decades ahead, I wonder what God will call us to fight for in the ways these men, and so many others, did. Of course, the injustices that led Vivian to that courthouse, and Lewis across that bridge, still exist all around us today. They did not fade away with the 1960s. In addition to continuing to stand against those, there are also so many more things that God’s Spirit is also urging us to take note of: fighting hunger, care for creation, marginalization of so many, xenophobia… the list goes on and on.
As we move forward both as individuals, and as a faith community, I wonder how we are already being called to stand for something bigger than ourselves. How is God calling us to live as salt and light in a world of darkness? What things are ahead of us that will drive us to give of ourselves, so that the Kingdom of God is realized more and more with each passing day?
In concert with this, how will we leave this world when we pass from it? Will it be better than it was when we came in, or will it be worse? I have faith that we will find ways to have difficult conversations, do uncomfortable work, listen deeply, and embrace the fullness of God’s plan of restoration for our world. I have faith that we will find ways to “listen to the whispering in our hearts.” We must because our world needs us to answer, needs us to believe that the Kingdom of God CAN be realized in this world.
Wherever our work takes us moving forward, I look forward to walking this path and journey with you!
(2) – Lewis, John. Across that Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America. New York: Hatchette Books, 2012, 20.