Sermon and Reflections – October 18, 2020
Rev. John Steitz
Barbara Deming was a feminist and nonviolent activist who wrote about the “Two Hands of Nonviolence.” One hand is lifted up to say “Stop!” This is the hand that resists harm. This is the hand that says “No!” to the structures of injustice, oppression, and violence.
The second hand is outstretched to the other person. This hand says “Come join us!” This is the hand that says “Together we build a hopeful future. Together we empower and build on the assets we already have. Together we care for each other and join in each other’s liberation.”
The Biblical scholar and UCC minister, Walter Brueggemann in his very influential book, The Prophetic Imagination, highlights two roles of prophetic ministry: prophetic criticizing and prophetic energizing. The voice of prophetic criticizing seeks to challenge the numbness, denial, and fear that lock people into accepting harm and injustice.
The voice of prophetic energizing is to move people to hope. As Brueggemann puts it, “It is the task of prophetic imagination and ministry to bring people to engage he promise of newness that is at work in our history with God…The task of prophetic ministry is to cut through the despair and dissatisfied coping that seems to have no end or resolution.”
Prophetic energizing reminds us that we are God’s people and that God’s presence is with us. If God is with us, if God is for us…there is nothing that is against us that we need to fear.
The prophetic imagination is not only that it is possible, with one of Deming’s hands of nonviolence, say no to harm and to work to stop injustice. The prophetic imagination uplifts us with purpose, cutting through despair, joining together with Deming’s second hand of nonviolence, to say yes to hope.
This prophetic energizing is an essential aspect of all faith-rooted justice work. This prophetic energizing is at work in Moses’ interaction with God in the Exodus passage this morning. God’s presence is with us. We are God’s people.
We so used to the prophetic voice, the social justice voice saying “NO!” that we can forget there is an equal side that says “YES!” Nonviolence does not only resist, nonviolence also constructs.
The hand of nonviolence showing stop is balanced by the hand showing come join together. Prophetic criticizing is balanced by prophetic energizing.
Saying stop and no can wake us up to injustices that are happening. Saying yes and offering hope move us to a positive vision of what is possible when we embrace that God is with us and God is for us.
Imagine the potential that can come when we appreciate our strengths and build on our assets. Imagine how hope can move us to build a healthy and just community.
There is a wonderful book by Ben Hewitt, The Town that Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food. Hewitt shares the story of Hardwick, Vermont, a small rural town with a depressed and declining economic base, that come together to develop an economy based on sustainable agriculture. In the face of economic decline and despair they built hope together.
One of my guides when I was learning the ins and outs of faith-rooted organizing is Gordon Whitman. He is a deputy director at Faith in Action, a national network of faith-rooted organizing groups. I worked with the POWER Interfaith affiliate in Pennsylvania. There are several Faith in Action affiliates in upstate New York, the closest in Syracuse.
Whitman outlines the faith-rooted organizing process in five steps or stages: Purpose, Story, Team, Base, and Power. This is a prophetic energizing process. Being faith-rooted it always connects itself to God’s presence and God’s Call within the faith community that is leading the organizing journey.
We often see people of faith who are working for justice as only having one hand, the hand of nonviolence that says no. We often hear people of faith who are working for justice as having only one voice, the cry of prophetic criticism. There are times we need to cry “No” to thing harming people and Creation that we need to stop. There is a place for prophetic critique.
There is also the hand of nonviolence that reaches out to others to say let us come together to build what we can celebrate as a “Yes!” There is an energizing prophetic imagination that can move us to hope and to envision a better world. This prophetic vision is rooted in knowing that God is present with us, and that we are God’s people.
Growing into Discipleship:
An Energizing Prophetic Vision for Food Justice
Let me share a vision process to map one way that prophetic energizing can move us from despair to hope. I’m going to walk us through Whitman’s five faith-rooted organizing process.
To do this I’m going to use Food Justice as my visioning example. Food justice is very broad, including everything from sustainable agriculture and local food to healthy eating and addressing food insecurity. People might only work on one aspect of food justice or there might be an integrated program with multiple projects and campaigns.
The purpose of sharing this visioning example is to work through how the energizing power of prophetic imagination becomes concrete in a congregation and in a community. You don’t need to be energized by food justice for this visioning example to be helpful. The faith – rooted organizing process: purpose – story – team – base – power can be used to address other issues as well.
We could apply the faith-rooted organizing process to our Open and Affirming work for example.
Purpose. A person in the congregation is concerned about food justice. This person wants to do something about food justice at some level.
They connect to the emerging Chenango Food Coop that is now forming. This local food coop will provide healthy food at low cost. They begin to build relationships with others at the food coop.
Story. This person shares their concern with others in the congregation. This involves public narrative, the sharing of story with and among people in public spaces.
Public narrative involves three stories – story of self, story of us, and story of now. Story of self – why you feel called to a concern, and how you are following your call. Why you are moved to work for food justice and how connecting with the food coop is part of this call.
People share their stories with one another. This involves many one-to-ones. Out of many stories of self a story of us emerges. The person with the initial concern for food justice discovers others in the congregation and in the community who are also concerned about food justice.
They decide to act together. A story of now emerges. They might ask for a congregational forum or gathering focused on food justice. They might develop a strategy to encourage others to join the food coop.
Team. In the process of sharing their stories they form a team. They are no longer individuals each acting separately on their concern. They are a team working together on a common purpose, and common goal.
As a team they can work to support the food coop. They can approach the local ministerium to share about food justice and the food coop. Working with local ministers the initial team in one congregation seeks to help form food justice teams at other congregations.
Base. This network of food justice teams in several congregations forms a base. There might be secular teams formed as well. These teams work to support and build a solid local base for the food coop.
As the local food coop develops it becomes an institutional partner toward a broader food justice vision. A team might form to focus on local sustainable agriculture. A team might form to focus on supporting families that are food insecure to join the food coop.
Power. What began as one person with a concern for healthy food, or sustainable food, or low cost food, is now a network of teams with a growing base of support.
An organized base has power. This power might be directed toward the local chamber of commerce or a state legislator. This power might be directed at empowering people who are food insecure in ways that they too can enjoy healthy, sustainable, and low cost food. This power can be directed at generating local jobs as happened in Hardwick, Vermont.
Gordon Whitman outlines faith-rooted organizing process in his book Stand Up! The prophetic energizing vision becomes a discipleship process as we move through purpose – story – team – base – power.
The early Christians basically followed this faith-rooted organizing process. They had purpose: to share God’s love through Jesus Christ. They shared story: how the Holy Spirit led them to follow Jesus. They formed teams: small house churches where disciples loved one another, and took care that everyone was fed. They developed a base throughout the Roman Empire as the house church teams networked together.
They generated power. Power to help people survive the cruelty of the Roman Empire. Power that in time transformed so many lives that the Empire itself adopted Christianity.
Questions for Reflection
What does it mean to be an “imitator of Christ”
Who has influenced your life by the way that person “imitates” Christ, and how?
What needs to happen within you to help you become an imitator of Christ?
Household Prayer: Morning
I listen quietly, Lord,
and the morning sounds of creation draw me to you.
It is then that I hear your voice,
“I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
Sometimes it is difficult to fully receive your pleasure in me,
to grasp that you are fond of me,
even when I have nothing to show for myself.
May I remember that I am yours today. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
I fold up this day with gratitude,
holding close to my heart
those whose faith helped carry me through this day. Amen.