Last night, I went down to Mount Airy Baptist Church to attend a praise and worship service that was the beginning of their commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. As the church filled with people, young and old, the worship leaders began to take their places: the co-chairs of the National African-American Clergy Network, the directors of two large Jewish justice organizations, President Obama’s Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, Baptist leaders, AME Zion leaders, Bread for the World, Hispanic leaders — an assembly of people who would not have been allowed to worship together fifty years ago.
Myself, I never knew that world. Born a few months after King’s death, I never knew a segregated classroom, bus, or water fountain. That was the gift they gave me, those brave men and women who marched and sat at lunch counters and braved police dogs: they gave me a world in which I did not have to learn to hate or to fear. It is an immense debt.
And so we gathered and prayed; we asked God to help our country work together for justice in our courts and humane immigration policies and more jobs and less poverty and for racial reconciliation and for unimpeded voting rights across this country and for godly leaders to get us there. And we sang: Oh, Freedom; Leaning on the Everlasting Arms; and then, linking our own arms, We Shall Overcome.
Near the very end, The Rev. Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner told a story about a conversation she’d had with Coretta Scott King, who’d been like a second mother to her. She told us that she asked what made it different for Dr. King. And Coretta told her that for King, justice “was not a project; it was a way of living.”
That made me think. I hope it makes you think, because it is very close to the vision that God sets out in Scripture. God does not set out to form a religion, but a way of life. God does spell out some rituals, but they’re not meant to be taken off the shelf from time to time. They are meant to be markers of the way we live our everyday, part of an unbroken fabric of justice and mercy and love.
The bread and wine of the Eucharist should open our eyes to those into whose outstretched hands no one places food. The water of baptism is meaningless unless the way it dissolves divisions in our church community steels us to mitigate the divisions that still embitter our city, our nation, and our world. Even our loving care for our children pales unless we also attend to the needs of the children who live in unsafe homes, who wait with their parents in bread lines, who struggle to read without family members to help them, who struggle to breathe through the smoke of the incinerators that we too often place in the poorest neighborhoods of our cities.
Justice is not a project. It is not a hobby. It is God’s dream for each of us: a world in which we can look one another in the eyes without being ashamed of who we are or how we have lived. Can you imagine that kind of freedom? Can you pray for it, and live from that prayer?
By the way, in addition to the prayer service, there will actually be a 50th Anniversary March, this Saturday, August 24th. Participants from DC, Maryland, and Virginia are to gather at the DC War Memorial at 9:00 a.m. before entering the National Mall.