By Jacqui Lewis.
As we stand on the precipice of a new presidential administration; as the discourse in the public square is mired in vitriol and violence; as the lack of value of the lives of Black folk, immigrant folk, and queer folk is plainly demonstrated by the piling-up of dead bodies; as women are characterized Mr. Trump either nasty or as objects to be rated for their looks, berated for their weight or grabbed by their vaginas; as too many Americans participate in racist, xenophobic, dehumanizing rhetoric, many of us all over the nation feel confused, fearful, frustrated, demoralized, and hurt. We are asking the prophetic question, “How long, O God?”
It is in this atmosphere that my colleague Graham chose to preach Haggai. Haggai is a book, I will confess, that I rarely read, and judging from commentaries, it seems I am not the only one. And yet, it now seems that Haggai is speaking across the centuries to us for such a time as this.
The people Haggai is preaching to have been through a lot. They live in a tenuous political time, where domestic unrest has ravaged communities, where the temple has been destroyed and the Ark of the Covenant—the very seat of Gd—has been lost, and drought, hunger, and near-poverty are ever-present realities (Interpretation, Elizabeth Achetmeier, 98). And it is in this reality that Haggai calls them to rebuild the Temple. Graham writes,
“I am thinking about this moment we are in, as a community, as a Church, and as a country, and how resonant it feels to be at this moment where things are shifting and cracking and changing. We remember, some of us, this former glory. We are mourning the changing of things, and the place we find ourselves. People want the kingdom of Gd to be here now, for peace to be here now. And instead it feels like lots of things are broken. And what do we do with that brokenness?
The good news Haggai brings us is the reminder that our Gd is a Gd of things in process. Our Gd transcends this moment, and all the things in this moment are encompassed by Gd. We are not the architects; we are the general contractors. The old ways are passing—they are failing upon closer inspection.
Some of us knew that they were failing. Some of us knew the house was never sound. Some of us are only seeing it now, and are learning how to see and listen to the people who have known it longer. And some of us are grieving the loss of the illusion of “How It Was.”
But I firmly believe that Gd has something so much better—and so do the scriptures. Every possible piece of the lectionary this week is talking about Gd’s vision of a new world, and about singing a new song. That new world doesn’t come if things don’t break and change.”
You see, Graham, Middle Church, and I are dreaming God’s dream for a healed world, a whole world, a world free of divisiveness, a world in which all of the children of God flourish, and care for each other, the creation, and the planet. A world in which everyone has enough.
We are committed to work for justice as part of our walk of faith. We know that what Martin Luther King, Jr. said was true, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We work against racism and xenophobia and firmly believe that though we stand in the Christian tradition, there is more than one path to God. We work against economic injustice and for a living wage, paid sick leave and the right for folk to organize. We stand up for our LGBTQI family and for the rights of women to earn what men earn for the same work, to choose what they do with their bodies. Graham’s right to be seen, known, and loved for his beautiful self is deeply personal to me, for me. It is as essential as my right to be a subject, not an object, and for my chocolate-brown Black life to matter.
But that world is still in formation, and so things are shifting, and changing. Our hearts are broken and it can feel as though our lives are cracked wide open. We can understand this time as a birthing time, a generative time. We are a work in progress, our nation and our globe are works in progress. And our God is present, using us to repair and rebuild what is broken, to heal our souls and heal the world so that each of us and our world can be the spaces in which the Spirit of God can take pleasure and be honored. Together we can live fully into John’s prophecy: “See the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them” (Rev. 21.3).We have work to do. No matter who wins the election this week, there will be healing to do, breaches to repair, bridges to build, relationships to develop. Self-reflection will be required, prayer will be essential, as will be community organizing.
We are a work in progress, friends. Our progressive work? To build the house that God designs, to be the abode in which God abides, to create the world God wants.
Bible Study Questions:
- When you sit still, and notice your heart for a moment, where is it broken? What about the state of our nation is deeply troubling you?
- How is America today like ancient Judah then?
- When you ask God’s advice about what you might do about what troubles you, what are you hearing in your prayers?
- Who are partners and allies who share your deep concern? How might you collaborate on work that heals and repairs what is broken, including your heart?
For Further Reading:
The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics and the Rise of a New Justice Movement. The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II
The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right. Lisa Sharon Harper
Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis is the Senior Minister of Middle Collegiate Church and Executive Director of The Middle Project in New York City. The Rev. Dr. Lewis is an activist, preacher, and fierce advocate for racial equality, economic justice, and LGBTQ equality. Ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA), Lewis is the first African American and first woman to serve as senior minister at Middle Collegiate Church, which was founded in New York City in 1628. She is the author of The Power of Stories: A Guide for Leading Multi-Racial and Multi-Cultural Congregations and the children’s book, You Are So Wonderful!
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