New Revised Standard Version
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Good morning! Two weeks ago, I preached a sermon about how we can discover or rediscover what God is calling us to in our lives. Each of us can use our passion and our purpose to live out God’s message in our world. To illustrate this, we are spending three weeks looking at the gospel according to three influential people who have made a difference in our world.
Last week, we focused on Mr. Rogers and how he taught us to love ourselves as God loves us, and how to love our neighbors in the same way. Next week, we will be focusing on Mary Oliver and how through her poetry she taught us to be better stewards of creation.
This week, I want to share with you some of the work of Rev. Dr. William Barber II. I was first introduced to Rev. Barber at an event that I attended to raise money for a non-profit in Kansas City that works for racial justice and economic equity. I was amazed by Rev. Barber’s passion for social change, for economic justice, and for racial equality. He called the people in the crowd to action, urging us to join him in the non-violent movement for change that we desperately need in this country.
I was so inspired after hearing him speak that afterwards I went home and spent some time on the internet learning more about him.
He was born in Indianapolis in 1963 to two young, black activists. So, you might say he was raised in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr. from his birth. As a young child he was taught to stand up for justice and equity by his parents, who moved to North Carolina to help integrate the public school system there.
If I were going to list Rev. Dr. Barber’s accomplishments in this sermon, we could be here for hours. So, if my brief summary intrigues you, I encourage you to look him up and learn more about all he has done for our country in the past 50 years. Or look up a video or two of him speaking, because he is a powerful voice for change.
What I will tell you is that he has devoted his entire life to working for justice and equity for the poor and the disenfranchised. He has served as President of the NAACP, he has led National movements for racial and economic equity, and he has let his faith guide him in his work on several social justice campaigns. Most recently, he has been working on a modern-day version of the Poor People’s Campaign, which was featured in the video we showed before this morning’s sermon.
The first Poor People’s Campaign was launched 54 years ago by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. They called for people of all races who were living in poverty to work together to demand better living conditions. Today, we still desperately need to band together to fight for just treatment of people living in poverty in our country.
According to the Wall Street Journal, here in America “…poverty is still taking a devastating toll on millions of people of all races. Today, there are 95 million poor or low-income Americans. Fifty-eight million work for less than $15 an hour, meaning they are denied a living wage. More than 30 million children currently live at or below twice the federal poverty line, according to IPS, which is “considered the minimum for meeting basic family needs.” Income inequality is growing, and the toxic combination of tax breaks for the rich and devastating cuts to the social safety net threatens to make the problem much worse.” This was written right before the global pandemic we are currently in, which has significantly increased many of those numbers.
Like it’s predecessor, the current Poor People’s Campaign continues to be focused on the “triple evils” of racism, poverty and militarism, but it has added issues like discrimination against the LGBTQ community and the current climate crisis. It is especially concerned with how environmental pollution disproportionately affects those living in poverty. Barber has followed in Martin Luther King JR.’s footsteps by remaining committed to uniting people of all races and backgrounds in the fight for progress by framing it in moral terms rather than ideological ones.
I found this quote from Rev. Dr. Barber in the same Wall Street Journal article that I quoted earlier: “The language of left versus right and liberal versus conservative is too puny to challenge the extremism we’re facing now,” While the Poor People’s Campaign aspires to change the policy conversation, it is ultimately about changing how society defines true morality in these difficult times. “This is about the moral center,” Barber has declared. “This is about our humanity.”
Most recently, Rev. Dr. Barber was asked to preach at the Inaugural Prayer Service in Washington. In his sermon he called us all to action to bring about a third reconstruction which would make significant changes around racism, poverty, and injustice in our country. I want to close this morning with some of his final thoughts:
“If we want to come out of this jam and move forward together, we cannot accept the racial disparities, violence, and breaches that impact Black, brown, Native and Asian Americans while offering collateral damage to our poor white brothers and sisters and ultimately our entire democracy.
We can’t accept the poverty and low wealth of 140 million Americans before COVID-19 and many more millions since. We must have a Third Reconstruction. We must address the five interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation/denial of health care, the war economy, and the false moral narrative of religious nationalism. These are breaches that must be addressed, and according to [scripture], repairing the breaches will bring revival.
“If you get rid of unfair practices,” the prophet says.
“If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out…”
Then “You’ll be known as repairers of the breach those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.”
There is hope in the mourning. Jurgen Moltmann once said:
“Faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience… Those who hope in God can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it.”
We don’t have to put up with things as they are. We can contradict the breach with every prayer, every policy, every sermon from every pulpit, and every call to the people.
If we the people, with God’s help, repair the breach, revival and renewal will come. Weeping and mourning may endure in this night of our discontent, but joy will come in the morning. Love and light will burst through. God will hear our prayers if we do the work of repairing society’s breach.
No, America has never yet been all that she has hoped to be. But right here, right now, a Third Reconstruction is possible if we choose.”
May we also listen to this call for racial and economic justice and do our part to make it a reality.