ISAIAH 55:1-3 . ROMANS 8:35, 37-39. MATTHEW 14:13-21
I’m beginning to write this reflection at 3:30 PM on July 27th. I’ve just spent the last three hours watch- ing U.S. Representative John Lewis being brought to Washington, D.C. to lie in state at the Capitol, the first black legislator to receive this honor. I watched the well-choreographed procession to the rotunda. I listened to the speeches and prayers during the ceremony. Those who spoke were politically correct and said good and positive things about him. It was John Lewis himself, however, who ignited the fire of the Spirit on the Capitol today. The audience sat quietly, deeply respectful and at time tear-filled as they listened to a recording of Representative Lewis’ 2014 commencement speech to the graduates of Emory University.
He spoke about his life. He spoke about leaving his little rural town with his parents when he was four years old to visit Troy, Montgomery, Tuskegee and Birmingham. He read signs: white man, colored man, white woman, colored woman, white man waiting, colored man waiting. He later asked his parents, “why?” They answered the four-year old. “That’s the way it is. Don’t get in the way. Don’t get into trouble.”
He continued. In 1955, when he was fifteen, listening to the radio, he heard about a woman named Rosa Parks, and the words of a man named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1957 he met Rosa Parks. In 1958 he met Dr. King. What he saw in them in- spired him “to get in trouble – good trouble, necessary trouble.” He took the torch from them and bravely set the direction of his life. At the conclusion of his story, he challenged the graduates. “Keep your eyes on the prize!”
As I began reading the three scripture passages for this Sunday I could hear John Lewis’ voice speaking in each one. First was Isaiah’s call. “All you who are thirsty, come to the water. You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat. Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!” Isaiah is telling us that God’s arms are open, embracing everyone to the Promised Land – black, white, brown, Asian, Indige- nous, straight, gay, rich, poor.
Representative Lewis interpreted the prophecy in this way. “We all live in the same house and it doesn’t matter if we’re black or white. Find a way to create the beloved community, the beloved world, a world of peace, a world that will recognize the dignity of all human kind.” This is God’s promised land. “Keep your eyes on the prize.”
The Gospel passage begins, “When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a de- serted place by himself.” This matter- of-fact sentence has so much to teach us. Don’t ever think that Jesus wasn’t gripped by fear. Don’t think he never carried the weight of sadness and mourning. Don’t think that Jesus was never challenged by doubt. In spite of all the challenges and hostil- ity he faced, he never gave up. He continued the work of the kingdom. He never lost sight of the promised land. When the crowds interrupted his silent mourning, he cured those among them who were sick. He sat them down and fed them with five loaves and two fish because his love was powerful enough to do that. Jesus never lost sight of the prize
his colleague, Timothy. Paul was humble enough to use himself as an example of dedication to the principles Jesus manifested in his life and preaching. Today, the day Represen- tative John Lewis lies in state at the Capitol, is a most appropriate day to listen to Saint Paul’s message to his co-worker. John Lewis heard the message of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and he witnessed their fidelity to the Gospel. He accepted the torch they extended to him. Today he extends the torch to anyone who is courageous enough to accept it. I’m concluding today’s reflection with Saint Paul’s exhortation to Timothy. It spoke to John Lewis. May it speak to us.
“I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self- control. So, do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. Take as your norm the sound words you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us”
(Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14)