Today, I was blessed to preach the following sermon. This marks my first preaching gig since graduation. Scripture text is Amos 7: 10-15
How many of us have the courage to do something that we know is going to be difficult? How many of us will, when necessary, stand up and speak out? How many times have we personally risked relationships in order to express our views?
Courage is defined by the dictionary as, “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear.” That sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Yet, for some reason so many of us are either unwilling or unable to take the steps necessary to be courageous especially when it comes to our relationships.
In the last year, we have seen an escalation in violence against the African American community. From police murdering black people to a white man murdering 9 black people during their Bible study to 8 black churches being burned by arsonists, now is a dangerous time to be black in America. Comedian Chris Rock was recently asked if black men are an endangered species now and his response was, “no, the government protects endangered species.”
Yes, it is a dangerous time to be black in America. However, what are white people doing about it? Are we speaking up in support of our black brothers and sisters? Are we participating in the Black Lives Matter movement? Are we speaking out and declaring that the Confederate flag is indeed racist and should be taken down and never put back up? Or are we too afraid of what speaking out might mean for our relationships with our friends and family? Are we not willing to have those bold, courageous moments because we know it will damage a relationship that is pretty good for us?
For so many of us, I fear the answer is yes. We fear the trouble it might bring. We fear the conversations it might cause. We fear the damage it might do to our friendships. So, we say nothing. We remain silent. We shy away from the tough conversations and we don’t dare say too much for fear of being labeled a certain way.
I’m sure Amos had the exact same thought process. He didn’t want to go tell the King that Israel would soon be overthrown and sent into exile. He knew that that was not the message that the King or the people would want to hear. Earlier in the book of Amos, he calls out the people for their wrongdoing. He proclaims that “justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” I’m guessing Amos wasn’t too popular at parties!
Yet, Amos still felt called to prophesy. He knew that it would make him unpopular. He knew that it would possibly result in him being kicked out of Israel. He knew that it would result in the loss of relationships. He did it, anyway. He took a chance and spoke out against the injustices he saw Israel committing. Amos, who as he admits, “was not a prophet or a prophet’s son”, still was willing to put his life and his reputation on the line to speak out against what he saw as wrong.
Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States of America made a ruling that lifted state bans on same gender marriage. While many across the US praised this ruling, there were plenty of people who were unhappy about it. Some even went so far as to say that God’s wrath would soon be raining down upon America for allowing this to happen. I’m not going to weigh in on the debate over whether or not the Supreme Court made the right decision. I’m not going to weigh in on whether or not I think God’s wrath is going to rain down upon us for allowing two people who love each other to get married legally.
Instead, I’d like to weigh in on the great outpouring of support I’ve seen from others about the decision. It warmed my heart to look at my Facebook news feed that Friday morning and see so many rainbow profiles and so many people expressing their affirmation that they were happy with the Supreme Court’s ruling. For some, I’m sure doing that took some real courage. I know I saw several people have to deal with ugly comments from their friends and family for expressing their support so openly. It can be tough to be that open about your feelings on an issue that is so controversial still. I especially felt bad for my queer friends, myself included, who had to deal with all kinds of ugly comments from their “friends” and family members. One friend of mine compared being gay to pedophilia while another thought it would be a good idea to share a post from conservative Christian Franklin Graham talking about how the Bible has already defined marriage as between a man and a woman. This same friend then didn’t take too kindly to me calling Franklin Graham a bigot and made it clear that there was no ill will intended by posting that. As if posting something so intentionally hurtful was done in a spirit of friendship.
Yes, many of us took risks on that day. We posted about our joy over the ruling. We changed our profile pictures to express our support. We endured vicious, hateful attacks upon us from friends and family near and far. We risked friendships or in some cases ended them because we believed so strongly in the cause.
Yet, in some sense, that was perhaps an easy battle to take on. Same gender marriage is now supported by the vast majority of the country so you are far less likely to encounter resistance to it if you post about it. While it is still courageous and bold to speak out about it and I don’t want anyone to think otherwise, in a sense it is somewhat “safe” to talk about. You aren’t risking as much by posting about it on social media as you are with certain other issues.
It would be far more courageous, particularly as a white person, to talk about issues of race or racism. How many of us are openly willing to discuss the topic of race with our white friends and family members? How many of us are willing to have those hard conversations about all the ways that we have been complicit in racist policies and actions? How many of us are willing to put our lives and reputations on the line and risk our friendships to call others out and call them racists?
What about our country? Are we willing to risk seeming unpatriotic for calling our nation out for its atrocities? Are we willing to declare that this nation has a lot of work to do before we can ever bother calling ourselves “Land of the free, home of the brave”? Are we speaking out against the injustices happening in Israel/Palestine and the ways that our country is complicit in it? Are we wiling to stand up against corporations and governments and declare that they need to clean up our air, stop polluting our waters and start being responsible for fixing the mess they’ve created?
Or, are we just too afraid or too complacent to bother with any of that? Are we instead willing to let others put their reputations on the line while we sit back and watch The Daily Show on our couches? Are we willing to do the hard but necessary work involved even if that might mean ending relationships that have lasted for decades?
The biblical witness is full of people doing just what we should be willing to do too. Amos is just one of many examples throughout the Bible of people who had the courage to speak up. Moses; Ruth; Esther; Jeremiah; Ezekiel; and let’s not forget that person we call Jesus. All people who risked their reputations (and in some cases, their lives) in order to speak out against the injustices being done against God’s people. Was this easy for them? No, it definitely wasn’t. Many of them even argued with God about it or tried to run away from it. Yet, in the end, they found themselves speaking out.
If our Bible calls us to speak out and be brave, then why are we so unwilling to do it sometimes? Why aren’t we more open to calling others racists? Why aren’t we more willing to call our siblings homophobes and bigots? Why are we not shouting from every rooftop that America is the evil empire and that the way we are currently doing things isn’t benefiting anybody but the elites in society?
We must be willing to follow the Biblical witness and be wiling to speak up. We must be willing to speak out. We must be willing to risk friendships and risk arguments with people we care about deeply. It is what our Christian faith calls us to do. It is what the Biblical witness tells us we must do. It is what those on the margins of society most need from us, someone to advocate for them and to stand in solidarity with them. We must do no less than be brave, be bold and have courage. In the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” Let us face our fears and speak out. Let us live into our Christian convictions and be brave. Let us be like Amos and be wiling to risk our reputations to call each other out on injustices. It is truly the only thing we can do in this life.