Amos 5:11-15, 18-24
Luke 12:32-38, from the Common English Bible
Those of us who spend time on social media sometimes begin to feel a friendly connection with people we don’t even know. Last night, shortly after Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris and President-Elect Joe Biden had finished their speeches and welcomed their families onto the stage in Wilmington, Delaware, one of my social media “friends” asked a simple question on Facebook:
“How are you doing tonight?”
By the time I saw the post, almost four thousand people had reacted or responded. Most of them boiled down to this:
“Better than I’ve been in four years.”
It would be easy to think that yesterday was the so-called day of the Lord—a day of spontaneous parades, dancing in the streets, and non-stop celebration from coast to coast followed by an evening of watching and weeping, exhaling, reveling in possibility, and feeling lighter than we had in a long, long time.
For those of us who have spent the past four years resisting cruelty and injustice, protesting racist hatred, and trying to stop our own slide from discouragement to despair, yesterday’s news might have felt like the arrival of the kind master in Jesus’ story. The wait was long and some of us all but gave up, but, oh, what a glorious moment has arrived for those of us who kept our lamps lit and our calendars filled with vigils and protests, get-out-the-vote efforts and solidarity actions, working and waiting and praying in hope and trust and expectation.
Like many of you, at times over the past four years I have felt my spirit crushed and my heart hardened by relentless hostility and heartlessness, division and demonization, cruelty and crassness.
But today I am as relieved and joyful as most of you, and, like you, I want to bask in a victory that was much harder to achieve than it should have been. I believe with all my heart that our faith calls us to dwell in deep joy, to rejoice in the Lord always, and to ground ourselves in a divine goodness that we don’t always see or feel. I’ll admit that I’d like to go on feeling better than I have in four years.
And yet I can’t quite shake that sick feeling that lived in the pit of my stomach for much of the past week—as well as much of the past four years. I can’t help but wonder if the “day of the Lord” of which the prophet Amos spoke—a day of gloom with no brightness in it—was not yesterday, but this past Tuesday.
It was on that day—Election Day—that I, like so many of you, went to bed worried and ashamed, stunned all over again that a large majority of American voters had not strongly repudiated a platform of division, deception, demonization, white supremacy and institutional racism, self-interest, and disregard for science and public health. Like many of you, I went to bed unable to shake a very uncomfortable question: Is this who we really are? Is this who I am?
And so I confess that as grateful as I am for the hope of a more compassionate, competent, and respectful administration—and as much as I want to celebrate that—my joy is tempered by the impossible-to-ignore reality that we remain a bitterly divided nation deeply rooted in racism and white supremacy.
I am reminded of the writer E.B. White, who said, "If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
This also makes it hard to write a sermon—because I am torn between the desire to rejoice in what appears to be the beginning of a new day for our neighbors and our nation and the desire to confront the hard and essential work of anti-racism, reparations, repentance, and restructuring, without which that new day will never fully dawn.
Last Sunday we spoke of the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us and cheers us on, and in recent days I found myself turning to some of those same witnesses—as well as some living heroes—for hope and inspiration, for guidance on what it means to wait through a long night dressed for action and ready to serve and be served, and how meaningless our worship and goodness is if we do not also make it possible for justice for all to roll down like waters.
You see, Harriet Tubman led slaves to freedom so that Rosa Parks could sit on a bus in Alabama so that Fannie Lou Hamer could demand voting rights for Blacks in Mississippi so that Ruby Bridges could desegregate a school in Arkansas so that Kamala Harris could run for vice president from California so that Stacey Abrams could round up Democratic votes in Georgia so that Black and white and Asian and Latinx and indigenous peoples of all genders and gender identities, all faiths and no faiths could vote together and work together to inspire our nation to live out its ideals.
Stacey Abrams, as you probably know, was essentially cheated out of the Georgia governor’s office in 2018 by voter suppression. Given that and 400 years of white supremacy, Abrams could have easily given in to resentment, bitterness, and hatred. Instead, she chose to dress for action—to work for change and fight for equality and justice.
The path for Abrams was also prepared by John Lewis. Although he died four months ago, his commitment to making “good trouble” has inspired many to work for racial justice and civil rights for all people. Sometimes, Lewis said, fighting injustice was like “walking the wind.”
Listen to his story about that:
"About fifteen of us children were outside my Aunt Seneva’s house, playing in her dirt yard,” he wrote. “The sky began clouding over, the wind started picking up, lightning flashed far off in the distance, and suddenly I wasn’t thinking about playing anymore; I was terrified …
“Aunt Seneva was the only adult around, and as the sky blackened and the wind grew stronger, she herded us all inside. Her house was not the biggest place around, and it seemed even smaller with so many children squeezed inside. … The wind was howling now, and the house was starting to shake.
“We were scared. Even Aunt Seneva was scared. And then it got worse. Now the house was beginning to sway. The wood plank flooring beneath us began to bend. And then, a corner of the room started lifting up. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. None of us could. This storm was actually pulling the house toward the sky. With us inside it.
“That was when Aunt Seneva told us to clasp hands. Line up and hold hands, she said, and we did as we were told. Then she had us walk as a group toward the corner of the room that was rising. From the kitchen to the front of the house we walked, the wind screaming outside, sheets of rain beating on the tin roof. Then we walked back in the other direction, as another end of the house began to lift.
“And so it went, back and forth, fifteen children walking with the wind, holding that trembling house down with the weight of our small bodies.
"More than half a century has passed since that day, and it has struck me more than once over those many years that our society is not unlike the children in that house, rocked again and again by the winds of one storm or another, the walls around us seeming at times as if they might fly apart.
“It seemed that way in the 1960s, at the height of the civil rights movement, when America itself felt as if it might burst at the seams—so much tension, so many storms. But the people of conscience never left the house. They never ran away. They stayed, they came together and they did the best they could, clasping hands and moving toward the corner of the house that was the weakest.
“And then another corner would lift, and we would go there. And eventually, inevitably, the storm would settle, and the house would still stand. But we knew another storm would come, and we would have to do it all over again. And we did. And we still do, all of us. You and I. Children holding hands, walking with the wind.”
And, so my friends, let us celebrate the hope of a new day—and let us also keep our eyes on the prize. There can be no unity without healing and reparation; there can be no true peace and community without justice.
So let us continue loving God and loving our neighbors and working for their welfare so that, some day soon, justice for all will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Let us rejoice—and stay awake and ready for action, following the way of Jesus, holding onto one another in the storm, making a way out of no way for the left out and left behind, walking with the wind.