Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sermon for January 29, 2012

Principles of Spiritual Activism: Public Protest

They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. Mark 1:21-28

Christian Churches in America have gotten used to being number one. We have a term for this: Christendom. Christendom is another way of saying “Christian territory” or “Christian Empire” -- the areas of the world where Christianity prevail. In the year 313, the Roman Emperor Constantine signed a document called the Edict of Milan. Before the Edict of Milan, Christianity was an illegal religion in the Roman Empire. After the Edict of Milan, Christianity changed from an illegal and often persecuted minority to the authorized religion of the Roman Empire. Christianity moved from the margins to the center of society and that movement re-engineered the church’s DNA. Christendom developed ideas like: the creation of a Christian culture; the assumption that most were Christian by birth; the idea that political power was divinely authorized; and the definition of “orthodoxy” which was determined by powerful church leaders with state support. Christianity’s presence in the halls of political power insured increased wealth for the church and called for the use of political and military force to impose Christian practices.

As Christianity aligned itself with political power, religious leaders taught it was against God’s will to question the authority of the government. The church denounced protest as an act of assertiveness that was incompatible with discipleship. However peaceable one's protest might be, however passive the demonstration, however humble the approach to those in authority, protest was wrong. No matter whether they are good or evil, political rulers are appointed by God. This attitude still exists in some churches today. Some preach that resistance to government is rebellion against God and those who resist God must be punished. Some teach that Christians are called to live quiet, tranquil, peaceful lives with a submissive attitude toward those who lead us, acquiescing to rulers as we pray for their salvation.

Carefully constructed, establishment theology kept Christianity as a harmless religion. It ensured that we could stay on top of the religious dogpile by offering theological justification for the government. The church benefited, too. We assumed that our God of power, the last word in sheer might, authority, and supremacy backed our cause. The church could impose Christ on others with the backing of the government’s might. And governments could increase their control with the church’s blessing.

Here’s a thought. What if we were wrong? What if the church was never supposed to be wed with government? What if we betrayed our mission? What if the church has an opportunity to be the prophetic, counter-cultural, truth-speaking, spiritual activist force that Jesus envisioned us to be? What if we were never meant to be subjects of the Meek and Mild Messiah?

Jesus, the Subdued Savior, is a Victorian creation. Consider the words of Rev. John Todd in 1851. He writes, “There was never a being who, in words so few, so simple, so childlike, bowed, subdued, and controlled as many hearts as Jesus Christ.” The Subdued Savior is sympathetic and gentle, a friend and helper. Victorian Jesus Victorian Jesus sands at the door of the heart and knocks, politely waiting for an invitation. Jesus the Meek-and-Mild Messiah always turns the other cheek and then sits us on his lap and asks for child-like obedience from his followers.

Let’s consider another face of Jesus. I think we get a glimpse of him in today’s reading from Mark. A demon-possessed man confronts Jesus. The man is an unwilling participant in a social and religious system that labels and excludes certain classes of people. Jesus chooses to heal this man, and in doing so provokes conflict. In Mark’s gospel, when Jesus heals it is an act of public protest. Jesus protests against a religious system that excludes and dominates other people. With all eyes on him, Jesus engages in subversive public action -- he restores the demonized man to wholeness. In fact, whenever Jesus heals the sick, conflict escalates between Jesus and the authorities. When Jesus heals people, he challenges the authority of the religious establishment. Every time he heals, he symbolically calls for an end to a corrupted religious system that segregates, stigmatizes, and oppresses people. Jesus calls his community to a pure understanding of the love, mercy, and justice.

Healing is an act of protest. And protest is a form of healing. Prayerful action moves us from despair to empowerment, from the restrictions of the self to a wider vision, from the individual to the collective.

We live in revolutionary times. All over the globe, people are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression. New systems of justice and equality are being born. In our own country, we see a revolution of values. People are coming to an understanding that the purpose of government is not to gain capital through the wholesale disenfranchisement of peoples. Religion is growing in an understanding that its role is not to exclude, dominate or threaten those who go against systems of oppressive purity. Our fight for marriage equality in Maryland is a great example. Our congregation has taken a public stand in support of equal marriage rights for all consenting adult couples. We think it is a civil rights issue -- a human rights issues. We envision a country where no one is sanctioned or excluded for being gay, and some of us are willing to take public stands to let the world know that there are loving, thinking, faith-filled Christians who believe that the church should be preaching love, compassion, inclusion and tolerance; not bigotry, cowardice, fear, and revulsion.

We live in revolutionary times. If we've learned anything from world events over the past year it’s that strong and loud public protest helps protect those who are most vulnerable. America’s churches can well lead the way in a revolution of values. What is keeping us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of false purity? Martin Luther King Jr. preached this message decades ago. In a sermon against the Vietnam War King said: The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursue the self-defeating path of hate. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore our first hope must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.

We can’t have a revolution unless there are revolting conditions. Religion-sanctioned exclusion is revolting. At CCC, we support marriage equality and we stand with gay and lesbian couples want to get married, who want to make a civic commitment to the person they love and to protect their families. It is revolting when hospitals deny visitation rights to same-sex couples, like we recently heard about at Washington Adventist Hospital. We protest policies that don’t allow same-sex couples to obtain family health coverage, inheritance rights, and legal protections. It’s time to end this discrimination. Pastor Amy and I are attending a clergy support event on January 31st, in conjunction with state Senate hearings for the Civil Marriage Protection Act. Equality Maryland is also hosting a lobby day on Feb 13, at which anyone can sign up to meet with Maryland state house delegates and ask them to support this Act. This bill cannot pass without all of you raising your voices and demanding equality for our families

I am also in support of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), a bill that would end a revolting policy that deports undocumented gay and lesbian partners who are not allowed to gain American citizenship because of the federal Marriage Protection Act. The Faith Coalition for the Uniting American Families Act is working on a lobby day to take place at the end of February on Capitol Hill. They plan on visiting the offices of members of the Maryland Congressional delegation, and speaking with them about the importance of ending the practice of deporting the immigrant partners of gay Americans.

How about the revolting condition of education? It is now almost certain that Congress will fail to act in 2012 to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the otherwise known as “No Child Left Behind.” Congressional discussion of the bill has broken down along partisan lines, but more disturbing is that neither party has chosen to address what test scores really reflect: inequality in schools and in children’s lives. The new “Declaration of Opportunity” demands that Congress will improve children’s lives and their accomplishments at school: publicly funded preschool, a stable staff of quality teachers in every school, fair revenue and spending formulas across the states including fair taxes on the wealthy, authentic parent engagement, respectful school discipline that builds character, and new student restoration plans to bring students who have fallen more than a year behind back up to grade level through intensive staff support. Let your voice be heard by endorsing the new “Declaration of Opportunity.

Spiritual Activists in our congregation have some questions for political candidates concerning the economy. Will you ease the suffering of families and workers by supporting legislation designed to create jobs? Will you support ongoing extensions in unemployment insurance benefits as long as unemployment remains unusually high? Will you maintain safety net programs and not attempt to reduce the deficit through cuts in programs for the poor? Do you believe that everyone who wants to work should have the right to work and earn a living wage?

There are spiritual activists among us who see climate change as a moral issue that determines our legacy for the future. We can now work together with a common cause: developing a national energy policy that moves us from fossil fuels and foreign energy sources to those that are domestic and sustainable. We can shift away from oil and coal to green technologies. Who will join protests that defend our earth, stop pollution and stop destroying the land, sea, and air by extracting resources from them. Where are the people of faith who will help our nation rebuild what we have destroyed. If corporations will not stop voluntarily, people must stop them. The very existence of life is at stake.

Spiritual Activists in our area have worked with the DREAM Act. This is an ongoing issue for Action in Montgomery, our county-wide community action group. Under the current immigration system, undocumented young adults who grew up in this country are not allowed to work, pay in-state tuition for higher education, join the military, or become eligible for eventual citizenship. How can we open the door for the gifts and talents of all who seek to contribute to their families and communities? Can we learn more about the root causes of immigration, the consequences of our broken immigration system and the human toll of our current policy? Perhaps most importantly we care called to bring a spirit of civility, compassion and deeper understanding to the conversation on immigration reform.

Spiritual activists are worried about our current system for funding elections. Elected officials and anyone running for office are under enormous pressure to support corporate interests. Corporations are not people and are not entitled to human rights. What good might happen if we amend the US Constitution so it is clear corporations are not people? We the people must cut them down to size and so that democracy can regulate their size, scope and actions.

Spiritual Activists take public protest seriously, and use non-violent protest as a means to confront unjust systems. As spiritual activists, we demand that human rights must be taken absolutely seriously. Every single person is entitled to dignity and human rights. This is our highest priority.

  • Stephen J. Nichols, Jesus Made in America.
  • "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence," by Martin Luther King, 4 April 1967,
  • Avraham Weiss, Spiritual Activism: A Jewish Guide to Leadership and Repairing the World.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sermon for January 22, 2012

Principles of Spiritual Activism: Condemning Racism
Galatians 3:26-28

I want to pick up where I left off last week, and read some excerpts from a famous sermon by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. titled "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” Dr. King delivered this sermon at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., March 31, 1968.

It is an unhappy truth that racism is a way of life for the vast majority of white Americans, spoken and unspoken, acknowledged and denied, subtle and sometimes not so subtle--the disease of racism permeates and poisons a whole body politic. And I can see nothing more urgent than for America to work passionately and unrelentingly--to get rid of the disease of racism . . . I submit that nothing will be done until people of goodwill put their bodies and their souls in motion . . . We're going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands. And so, however dark it is, however deep the angry feelings are, and however violent [the] explosions are, I can still sing "We Shall Overcome." We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

So, how do you think we’re doing? Is Dr. King’s dream realized? Yes, we as a society have made gains. Yes, our awareness has grown and there’s no turning back. Yes, people of goodwill HAVE put their bodies and souls in motion. But, have we overcome? Is the will of Almighty God still heard in our demands for equality? Consider this news story about a nine-year-old girl, nine years old, who has been the target of racist acts at Roosevelt Elementary School in Taft, California. The African American girl complained of white students laughing at her, pulling her hair and pushing her into walls. Then they started calling names. “I hate you, black girl; ain’t nobody going to play with you because you are black.” This happened in October, 2011, not 1950. 2011!

I’m not going to spend time arguing about whether racism still exists in America today. Here’s the assumption behind today’s sermon: Racism still exists, and it’s the job of the spiritual activist to confront it, condemn it, and close it down. For African Americans, for Latinos, for Native Americans, for other non-white ethnicities, the dream of true equality has taken too long to come true. We have been dreaming about a world of true peace and equality for a long, long time. We’ve been dreaming it since the Apostle Paul first taught about God’s realm where there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, but all are united and all are one in the love of God. We seem to make some progress towards it, but that dream is not yet fulfilled.

We are creatures of duality. Black and white is taught to us from an early age. We are creatures of duality who speak a language color-coded values. In his book, Uprooting Racism, Paul Kivel says that whiteness has defined our culture for hundreds of years -- so much so that it has made its way into our language and our values. Embedded in our language is the idea that the color white and the people associated it are good. Dark colors, and those connected with them are dangerous, threatening or manipulative. I’m going to read a list of words and phrases. Each one of these words has a derogatory racial meaning and each of them puts a positive spin on whiteness: black deed, black list, black market, black-hearted, blackmail, black sheep, black magic, black death, black mark, black mood, black with rage, dark ages, the dark side, to be in the dark, yellow bellied, yellow peril, red menace, redskin, great white hope, white knight, whitewash, white wedding, pure/white as snow.

I’m not trying to enforce political correctness. I do want us to notice how dualism between white and dark, good and bad, is embedded in white culture. When we are aware, then we can continue to look for ways to talk that are not only respectful, but run counter to centuries of exploitation and domination.

I want to believe that each one of us longs to live up to our own best hopes. We all desire a world of equality and even of healing, where the suffering of the past can be salved and the future can be built on new trust. But it take a lot of hard work, doesn’t it? It means we need to take a hard look at everything -- even our words! Like many progressives, I’d like to skip this work. I’d like my actions and good intentions to speak for themselves. I’d like to think that I’m beyond the need for examining racism in society. But racism troubles me – it troubles us all whether we sense its shadow or not. It is deep in our society. And talking about it is difficult.

Condemning racism is a work of spiritual activism. When we address injustice in the world, we heal the world. This is a significant point for religious liberals, because we tend to dismiss healing as a central part of religion. We’ve seen Christians obsessed with faith healing and miraculous cures where some god-in-the-clouds makes life better without much effort on our part. We are right to dismiss this kind of religious healing. Yet, part of the purpose of religion is to heal the world; part of the function of religion is to heal our souls when we are damaged by the injustice of the world.

My question is not whether racism exists. My question is, how are we going to change it? We at CCC call ourselves an Anti-Racist congregation. But what does that mean to us today? Are we confronting systems of domination? Are we hoping to be multi-cultural? Both of these hopes are expressed in our Anti-racism covenant, printed in the front of your bulletin. Each hope has a different worldview and a different hoped-for outcome.

An Anti-racism worldview says, “The world is controlled by powerful systems with historically traceable roots. Once people are shown how they benefit from or are battered by those systems, they can work together to change the systems.” The hoped-for outcome is to bring about social change.

A Diversity and Multiculturalism worldview is a little different. It says, “The world is filled with a multitude of complex cultures, constantly intersecting & shaping each other. As people grow to understand & appreciate their own culture & cultures around them, they will be better able to cooperate and overcome mutual problems.” The hoped-for outcome is tolerance, awareness of cultural differences

I just talked about the role of healing. A healing and reconciliation worldview says, “The world is filled with groups that have been traumatized & victimized by historic events. When the oppressing group acknowledges & apologizes for these injustices, individual & social healing, reconciliation & transformation can occur.” The hoped-for outcome is individual transformation.

None one of these is better than the other. They have some overlapping concepts and goals. When it’s all said and processed, the task of the spiritual activist is to invest in relationships, to listen to each other with reverence, to speak from the heart, to deal with conflict, and to honor all people.

As a congregation, we need to keep talking about racism because it touches us all and because we are far from a solution. If we want to be spiritual activists who address society’s problems with prayerful action, we need to confront racism on systemic, institutional, and individual levels. Because, for all the work we’ve done, racism lurks everywhere. I cannot think of one area of American life that is not touched by this ongoing evil.

According to the latest census, 26.6% of all Hispanic persons (of any race) and 27.4% of all black persons are living in poverty. If we want to be spiritual activists who begin to end poverty, then we begin with ending the poverty of racism.

Statistics from the Department of Justice indicate that black males are incarcerated at a rate six times higher than white males. There are over 2.5 times as many Hispanics in jail as whites. Many African Americans and Hispanics are less able to afford high quality legal services; and they may be subject to discrimination in prosecution and sentencing. Some prosecutors have made a practice of eliminating blacks from their prospective juries, increasing the likelihood of a race-based decision. If we want to be spiritual activists who address the injustice of the penal system, we also need to address the injustices racism.

I just learned that African American women who have college degrees, who have insurance, who have good jobs actually have higher rates of infant mortality than white women who dropped out of school after eight grade, who don’t have high occupational status and who don’t have very good health care. Why is this? Some research says racism has a physiological affect that overloads the body. These affluent or middle class African American women experience so much daily stress from racism, their bodies can’t rest. Their blood pressure stays elevated at night. Their immune systems become compromised. Racism and discrimination are a public health matter. African Americans routinely get less access to health care and less quality care. If we want to be spiritual activists who heal our nation’s public health crisis, we also need to heal the disease of racism.

If we are going to talk about poverty and housing, then we need to talk about the environment to which they are linked. In the United States, lead poisoning continues to be the number one environmental health threat to children living in inner cities. Nationally, three out of five African Americans and Latino Americans live in communities with abandoned toxic waste sites. Some predict global warming will negatively affect poor American families who will have to spend even more on food and electricity, which already represent a large proportion of their budgets. If we want to be spiritual activists who care for the earth and her people, then we must eradicate toxic racism that poisons our home.

Speaking of homes, a recent study, using data from the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, found that living in a predominantly African-American area, and to a lesser extent Hispanic area, is a powerful predictor of foreclosures across the nation. Predatory lending aimed at racially segregated minority neighborhoods led to mass foreclosures that fueled the U.S. housing crisis. If we want to be spiritual activists who help construct housing markets where all people in this land have a roof over their heads, then we also need to deconstruct racism.

What about our schools? Institutional racism is subtle, and often unintentional, but always potent. Many students of color do not have access to fully credentialed teachers or high-quality curriculum materials and advanced courses. Listen to this news item: The Southern Poverty Law Center reviews civil rights history curricula in standards across the country. Most states, unfortunately, get a failing grade. Sixteen states do not require any instruction about the civil rights movement. In another 19, coverage is minimal. If we, as spiritual activists, want to solve our education crisis, then we also need to dissolve racism.

Dr. King knew that it was not up to God to deliver anyone from racism. God is not that kind of deity. Dr. King might say that you cannot wait for miracles. You have to march forward and seize them. He might say that the Reign of God will come it its fullness as soon as we open our eyes and truly see the many hues around us and the real challenges that come with awareness. We refuse to gloss over history but see the pain and hear the suffering of others. We seek to live not in a melting pot where all is formless and void, but in a place where our stories and languages and cultures are valued, where our wounds are healed by deliberate listening. We strive to know and respect our differences and make possible the highest expectations for humanity. We do the work of liberating ourselves from hatred – beginning in the modest places of our longing souls and always reaching out – with our words, our actions, our prayers, our love and our hands – to all souls – to all souls. This is how we can be made whole again. This is how the world can be made whole again and all her people one.

• Dan Harper, The Weary Blues,
• Avraham Weiss, The Spiritual Activist: A Jewish Guide to Leadership and Repairing the World.
• Paul Kivel, Uprooting Racism: How White People can Work for Racial Justice

Sermon for January 15, 2012

Introduction to Today’s Service

On the cover of your bulletin, you will see four pictures. On the bottom right is a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. He is in his late 30s, close to the age when he was killed. At the bottom of the page is a younger Martin Luther King Jr. with his family. He was a student then, studying to become a minister. He was a Christian who wanted to follow Jesus' teaching that if someone hits us we should not hit back, that we should in fact love our enemy. But King also was angry at how white people and our government treated African Americans in our country and he wondered how he could change that. He wondered if following Jesus teachings meant accepting unfair treatment.

As a student, King went to church and heard an older minister talk about a recent visit to the land of India. The minister was Mordecai Johnson, President of Howard University. In that sermon the minister talked about what he'd learned of the teachings of a Hindu Sage. He’s pictured at the top of the bulletin. His name is Mohandes Gandhi. The top right picture is Gandhi as an older man. Like Martin Luther King, Gandhi was killed, but he was 79, not 39. The sermon electrified King. He picked up dozens of books about Gandhi, and concluded, "True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power. ... It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient violence than the inflicter of it . . .” Through Gandhi, King got the courage, not to be bitter. He got the power, when he needed it most.

The picture on the top left is Gandhi as a young lawyer. For most of Gandhi’ life, India was ruled by England. Gandhi's earliest thoughts about how to respond to the British Occupation of India came from reading a mystical poem called the Bhagavad Gita. Gandhi learned that love could be forceful without being violent. He learned lead marches, endure beatings, to stay in jail and refuse to eat to embarrass the English into letting the Indians rule their own country. Because of Gandhi's contact with The West, he learned about Jesus how Jesus' teachings about love were similar to what he had learned from the Bhagavad Gita.

When Martin Luther King first learned the teachings of Gandhi, Gandhi had been dead for three years. King kept a photo of Gandhi in his office. Martin Luther King's power to lift his people, power aroused through Gandhi's life and teachings was first given to him during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, less than a decade after Gandhi's death

Today we take time, in our prayers, songs and words, to listen to Martin, Mohandas, and others as they call us to non-violent confrontation with all that keeps humanity from fulfilling our call to love.

Q. Wherein lies the chief significance of the doctrine of non−resistance?
A. In the fact that it alone allows of the possibility of eradicating evil from one's own heart, and also from one's neighbor's. This doctrine forbids doing that whereby evil has endured for ages and multiplied in the world. He who attacks another and injures him, kindles in the other a feeling of hatred, the root of every evil. To injure another because he has injured us, even with the aim of overcoming evil, is doubling the harm for him and for oneself; it is begetting, or at least setting free and inciting, that evil spirit which we should wish to drive out. Satan can never be driven out by Satan. Error can never be corrected by error, and evil cannot be vanquished by evil. True non−resistance is the only real resistance to evil. It is crushing the serpent's head. It destroys and, in the end, extirpates the evil feeling.
From “A Catechism of Non-Violence” by Adin Ballou

My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God. Non-violence is the means of realising Him. Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being.
Quotes from Mahatma Gandhi

Sermon: Principles of Spiritual Activism: Satyagraha

I came up with the idea for this sermon series at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Last November I was offered a chance to see an opera called “Satyagraha” by Philip Glass. After a busy week, I almost didn’t go. The music is a tonal repetitive poem and it’s close to four hours long. I was worried I would fall asleep. But, as often happens, when you are least expecting it, you get swept away into something which is transformative and unforgettable: so special that you long to hold onto the experience and repeat it and live it long after you have left.

Yes, the music was repetitive but repetitive in the way a heart’s beat is repetitive, repetitive like breathing in and breathing out, repetitive like waves of the sea smoothing pebbles and shaping drift wood. The music and images entered into the audience’s very blood stream. We were breathing it, growing with it, like a prayer or meditation. It was hauntingly beautiful. I left feeling hopeful. I left feeling transformed.

And, I left thinking about a series of sermons I want to preach: Principles of Spiritual Activism. So here we are . . . Today we begin to think about what it takes to be spiritual activists. To some of you, it may sound like a strange combination – pairing spirituality and activism. Spirituality has a reputation for being interior and individual-centered. Activism, on the other hand, is other-focused as it brings communities together around issues of social justice. When we put the two concepts together, spiritual activism becomes love in motion. Spiritual activism is prayer made visible. Spiritual activists believe we need to take action in the world to create positive change. If we really want to continue to create Dr. King’s beloved community, if we really want to live in more compassionate and humane world, we need to become more compassionate and more humane ourselves. We act out of our deepest spiritual convictions. Our prayers are motivated by God’s invitation to do justice.

My critique of the United Church of Christ is that we sometimes fail to pair spirituality and activism. For years, the UCC has preached that the way to renewal is through works of justice. But there are a lot of churches who are very engaged in hands-on social justice issues that aren't being renewed. I think it’s because we forget that social justice needs to be linked with contemplation. When we do one without the other, we lack balance.

The painful reality is that we are taught to believe think, “My way is right, therefore your way is wrong.” Thinking like this is endemic in our society, which has become increasingly polarized. I believe there must be another way to live, a way that marries action with mindfulness a way that says you don’t have to be wrong for me to be right.

One way to find integration is to become a spiritual activist. And the first quality of spiritual activism is Satyagraha. Satyagraha is a word invented by Mahatma Gandhi and his followers. It’s a synthesis of two words: the word satya means truth founded in love, and the word agraha means firmness, insistence and force. Satyagraha means a force and a power born in truth and love. It was the word Gandhi used for non-violent resistance to bring about change. Gandhi sometimes called it “love force” or “soul force.”

It is very close to the Spirit of our Christian Gospel, though sadly not lived often enough. Satyagraha means clinging to truth, no matter what. Under no circumstances can a spiritual activist hide or keep truth from an opponent. The spiritual activist is obligated to be honest, open, and direct in dealings with opponents. No matter the cost, one must follow the truth, even as he or she endeavors to be truthful.

On one level Satyagraha is the means to eradicating injustice through the use of Soul Force, rather than through violence or physical force. A spiritual activist is not out to conquer but to convert, not to prevail, but to persuade. She has infinite patience and all humility. She does not bulldoze others, but takes the way of self-suffering. Gandhi believed that the spiritual activist derives her power from God. Dependence on God will help the disciple of nonviolence to develop the courage and fearlessness needed both to stay the course and to wear down opponents in the social struggle through the use of love.

For Gandhi, Jesus was the supreme non-violent resistor. Martin Luther King Jr. noticed the same thing. Through Satyagraha, King found a new way to affirm the teachings of Jesus, which spoke well to his people in his time and to some of us beyond. But, in a world which grows ever more interrelated, more geographically together, the voice of no one tradition can speak the truth in a way we can cling to. We need to hear and to know all the ancient human voices, to see truth in all its facets, as Gandhi did, and not be imprisoned by any one view.

What can we make of all this? What do we do with the non-violence of Adin Ballou that we read during our service? What do we do with ideas like the Soul Force of Gandhi and the political resistance of King? What do we do with love and nonviolence in a country where power politics reign supreme in our institutions, including religious ones? What do we do when many of our institutions marginalize or silence the voice of dissent to protect the status quo? Of what relevance is Satyagraha at a time when only select, handpicked social crises tend to shock the moral sensibility of political, civic, business, educational and religious leaders?

Think about those who have been deeply wounded by life. Think of those who have suffered most terribly, those who flee their homes in the face of violence and brutality, those who feel like outcasts because of the violence of betrayal, suspicion and hatred. This sense of shame and duplicity is true of so many people who have lived lives where tragedy, violence and fear have robbed them of self-esteem. As we know violence is all too common within the homes in this country fed by a diet of vicious entertainment and dysfunctional relationships. And how much lasting peace has a war on terror achieved? How many have been converted by violence?

Victor Frankl, who chronicled his experiences as a Jew and prisoner in a concentration camp observed three psychological reactions experienced to some extent by all those who were the victims of violence.
  1. An overwhelming sense of trauma and inability to come to terms with the horror.
  2. A sense of apathy and despair that nothing can be done and nothing will ever change.
  3. Lastly and often later, reactions of moral deformity, hatred, bitterness, disillusionment, blame and an inability to relate or trust in humanity again.
As Spiritual Activists, we say no more! This is not what God intends for the world. Violence leads to more violence. Spiritual activism is liberation, it is freedom. It is the choice to participate in the suffering of God for the world. It is suffering love.

In a sermon about Gandhi, King pointed out that every evening, Gandhi had a prayer meeting where hundreds of people came, and he prayed with them. One afternoon, when he was in Delhi, he walked out to his evening prayer meeting. And on his way out there that afternoon, one of his fellow Hindus shot him. And here was a man of nonviolence, falling at the hand of a man of violence. Here was a man of love falling at the hands of a man of hate. It’s what happened to King. It’s what happened to Christ. This is the story of history. It’s what happens when people attempt to heal the wounds of divided nations though love. When President Abraham Lincoln was shot, Secretary Stanton stood by the body of this leader and said, “Now he belongs to the ages.” And that same thing can be said about Mahatma Gandhi Martin Luther King. They belong to the ages, and they belong especially to this age, an age drifting once more to its doom. And they remind us that we must learn to go another way.

In a day guided ballistic missiles carve highways of death through the stratosphere and remote operated drones attack out of nowhere, no nation can win a war. We no longer have a choice between violence and nonviolence; it is either nonviolence or nonexistence. The lives of Gandhi and King and Christ still issue an invitation, and that invitation is always in the form of a warning: “Those who live by the sword will perish by the sword.”

Who today will follow Jesus so much that we’ll be able to do greater things even than he did because we will be able to bring about the peace of the world and mobilize God’s people to follow the way Satryagraha, the way of non-violence?

All is not hopeless. We pray, God, give us power to the lift the people. Justice will be done, evil will be beaten, and God will set all things right through our prayers and through our actions.
When people are discouraged, God, give us power to the lift the people.
When those who have been victimized can’t fathom the horror of life, God, give us power to the lift the people.

When those who have been thrown away and marginalized can only respond with apathy and resignation, God, give us power to the lift the people .

When victims of oppression take the blame for oppression and lose their trust in humanity, God, give us power to the lift the people.

For those crying for justice, God, give us power to the lift the people

For those yearning some peace in a fallen world, God, give us power to the lift the people.
For those who believe still has something wonderful to do in our lives and in our world, God, give us power to the lift the people.

Spiritual Activists, new life begins today. O God, give us power to lift the people. O God, give us power because we need it.

For those who think that justice means injuring those who injure us, that error can be corrected by error, that evil can be vanquished by evil, God, give us power to the lift the people.

God give us more power to tear down the walls that keep us from one another, as Christ and Gandhi and Martin began to do. God give us strength to lift the people.

God, move humanity with humanity for the protection of good

Thrust back the evil of violence and set virtue on her seat again (Bhagavad Gita)


  • “Christian Spirituality” by T.V. Philip,
  • You Don’t Have to be Wrong for Me to be Right by Brad Hirschfield
  • “Satyagraha” by Fritz Hudson,
  • “Spiritual Activism,”
  • “Hope,”
  • Palm Sunday Sermon on Mohandas K. Gandhi, Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (March 22, 1959),

Sermon for January 21, 2018

How Far Would You Go? 1 Samuel 17 I had a sermon all ready to go today. It was a NICE sermon. You would have felt really good about i...