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August 2, 2020
If Not Now, Then When? If Not Us, Then Who?
Marcus Mosely at Mount Seymour United Church
The scripture reading for today asks us a question and then give us the answer.
The question is…What does God require of us?
The answer is…
To do justice
To love mercy
To walk humbly
I’d like to talk about one of my heroes whose life, I believe, exemplified what it means to do Justice, love mercy and walk humbly…
His name is
Representative Robert John Lewis.
They laid him to rest today.
He was born in Troy Alabama on February 21, 1940 when Jim Crow was the law of the land.
He came from very humble beginnings. His family were sharecroppers… farmers.
I know that life… my family were sharecroppers in the Jim Crow south too.
Segregation and racial discrimination was protected by the law. Even though the Constitution of the United States declared that All men were created equal… Blacks were not afforded the same rights and freedoms as their fellow citizens who happened to be white.
There were separate schools… separate drinking fountains… separate neighbourhoods (we literally lived “across the tracks” from white citizens.
Blacks were not allowed to vote… well, if we could guess how many jellybeans were in a jar or how many bubbles there were on a bar of soap… or pass a literacy test that college law student would find challenging then we might be allowed to get our foot in the door.
But more often than not just showing up at the courthouse and having the audacity to ask for the right to register to vote could mean being denigrated… and even beaten or killed. Because the whole system was designed to keep black people “in their place”.
This is the world that John Lewis was born into.
And even as a young boy John resisted
He recounts stories of his elders telling him to “Stay out of trouble” to “Not get in the way”. But John had other ideas.
After hearing Dr. Martin Luther King speak over the radio he made up his mind that he was going to get involved and become part of the Civil Rights Movement.
That he was going to “GET IN THE WAY AND GET INTO TROUBLE… GOOD TROUBLE… NECESSARY TROUBLE.
As a young boy, one of his first acts of civil disobedience was to organize some of his friends to go down to the local “Whites Only” library to check out some books. Of course, they got in trouble and got thrown out.
And again his elders admonished him to STAY OUT OF TROUBLE… to NOT GET IN THE WAY.
But John was undaunted. He went on to pursue his education. He went to Fisk University where he met up with other likeminded young people and was introduced to John Lawson who taught him the ways of peaceful non-violent civil disobedience.
John and his fellow freedom fighters organized peaceful sit-ins at segregated lunch counters where they were spat on and had milkshakes pours over their heads… they were punched and kicked by crowds of angry whites… but they kept their peace and their dignity. And ultimately the lunch counters in that city were integrated.
When the Supreme Court declared that it was unconstitutional for bus companies to discriminate against blacks who wished to travel from state to state… John and a friend took it upon themselves to book a trip. This was before the famous “Freedom Riders” campaigns that took place.
During the Freedom Rides John was beaten and arrested on many occasions. I remember one story of John waking up in the hospital after being beaten into unconsciousness. He got up… got dressed… and showed up to a rally with head bandaged but with his spirits high.
In 1963 John was an architect and keynote speaker at the historic MARCH ON WASHINGTON. He was 23 years old.
But one of the most noted marches that John Lewis lead was the march over the Edmond Pettus Bridge from Selma to Montgomery. They were marching for the right to vote. As John led a band of 600 freedom fighters across the bridge… they were met by a mob of angry whites and by Alabama State Troopers on foot and on horseback with billy clubs. People were trampled and beaten… bones were broken… bodies scarred. In fact, a state trooper struck John in the head and cracked his skull. The day became known as Bloody Sunday.
At the time, many folks viewed the march as an abject failure. But John did not lose faith. In fact, he said, “More will come the next time we march”. And they did. The spectacle of brutality and racial injustice that played out on the evening news gripped the consciences of people across nation. And just as John predicted… the next march was joined by hundred more and ultimately led to President Lyndon Johnson signing into law the Voter Rights Act of 1965. After signing the bill, the president ended his speech with the words “And We shall Overcome”.
John continued his fight for justice and equality… not just for black people but for women, the LGBTQ community, workers…In his lifetime he was arrested 45 times. He continued in his fight to build what he called the BELOVED COMMUNITY. It would take more time than we have right now to recount all of his accomplishments and all the causes that he fought and bled.
In 1986 John was elected to serve in the United States House of Representatives where he served until his death on July 17th 2020. He was called the conscious of the Congress.
Over the last couple of weeks since his death there have been many tributes to John Lewis aired on television. One image that I will never forget is of his flag-draped casket being transported on a horse-drawn carriage over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. There were roses strewn all along the way. And as the carriage passed… onlookers were sing the songs of freedom.
Swing Low Sweet Chariot
So I began my talk with today with a question.
What does God require of us?
And the answer…
To do Justice
To Love Mercy
To Walk Humbly
Let us all strive to follow in the footsteps of my hero
Robert John Lewis
Get in the way.
Make Trouble… Good Trouble… Necessary Trouble
Let’s continue his dream of building that BELOVED COMMUNITY.
John leaves us with two questions.
IF NOT NOW, THEN WHEN?
IF NOT US, THEN WHO?