Love, Justice, and Mercy — Rev Dr William Barber
I don’t know a salvation apart from social justice. I don’t know how you encounter Jesus—when Jesus said in Matthew 23—for instance he said to those who tithe and went through the religious performance. . . He said, but you have left undone the more weightier matters of the law, which is love and justice. There’s no way to have a crisis conversion of the spirit and not be engaged in an argument with the world. The art, to be saved or born again or Holy Ghost feel is to be called into opposition with injustice. So that, for instance, when I got arrested with seven other Christian brothers for asking one question in our general assembly—when they passed the budget that would put 45,000 people out of the work, that would cut Medicaid and mental health service for people who are were the most vulnerable, that would take a billion dollars in education—we asked one question, what does the Lord require? And that so upset the political structure that they arrested us, because we said you put your hand on the Bible when you swear in the office, but do you know what’s in the Bible. Do you know that that same Bible says, whoa unto those who do who create unjust laws that affect the poor.
So, the reality is that to be holy spirit lead is not just to have an internal personal feeling, but it is to be produced and shaped to be a prophet for the time. Not just individually, but as the church. So, the church cannot turn its eye away from injustice. Jesus never did, whatever he saw and met on the road, whether it was Caesar, whether it was someone crippled, whether it was someone blind, whether it was someone that needed food, he dealt with it. And his first sermon, not his second, third, fourth sermon, his first sermon of all the places he could have chosen, he reached back to Isaiah 58,60, 61. He reached back to the prophets that were challenging the kingdoms and the structures of injustice and the hurting of those on the margin. He says the spirit of the Lord is upon me. And it was a deeply political sermon. Not political in the sense of Democrat versus Republican, but that is deeply spiritual deeply political. And what did it happen the Bible says and that day they tried to kill him. They didn’t try to kill him three years later, but the moment he preached his first sermon, his own home church that had become so blinded by structured religion that had spoke nothing of the social condition that they themselves were suffering of. Rather than hear his lip message of liberation, they actually heard it as being offensive and his own people wanted to kill him that day. Of course, the Bible says, and he walked through the midst of them.
So, I don’t know of any way to talk about being Christian and not be concerned about injustice. I think it’s an abdication of my Christian responsibility not to remind politicians that the budgets you pass in these legislators is a moral document. You can’t serve God and mammon. But that if you pass a budget that hurts poor people and takes health care from sick people, that in fact you are violating fundamental values of the Christian faith, which are love, justice, and mercy. And I think that it’s just no way to be somehow Christian in a bubble and not be concerned about the larger world. There are times we need to come like we are here today, gather among ourselves refresh, refine, revive, but never is a Mountaintop experience left on the mountain. It’s always to go back to the valley and always go back to the valley. In every age we are called witnesses. You know the Bible says in Hebrews, that there is a cloud of witnesses cheering us on to remain faithful. And so, it hurts, but when it hurts you look up and you remember that the baton has been passed. And so, each generation has to say, not on our watch.
You know the Bible says—one of the standout things about Pentecost is not just the tongues of fire and the fresh wind and the new languages, but the Strategic plan—and they continued, and they continued. And part of what we are as Christians I believe, is to continue and to push forward. To continue the doctrines, the truths, the victories, that we’ve already pushed forward in, and we’ve already come to and to push forward. So, we stand on the shoulders of the Rosa Parks and the Martin Kings and the hundreds of other unnamed people. Who by faith, not by politics, but by faith, engage God’s Politics as my former Professor Herzog used to say, when he talked about God Walk, you know God’s politics of justice and mercy and love. And we are the continuation. And to not continue to press forward with hope and love and justice and mercy, is not only to abdicate our calling as Christian, but it’s to dishonor those who came before us.
If you dare to stand for love, justice, and mercy; to believe the spirit of Lord is upon you, preach good news to the poor you, release the captive, healing to the broken hearted, and you receive opposition; the opposition is your confirmation. The opposition to the truth of justice and love and mercy is the confirmation. If you didn’t get the backlash, then you’d be on the wrong track. See, you know in Luke chapter 11 it says, that when Jesus was healing and blessing, it says, and at that point the opposition rolled, and they sought a way to destroy him. You know, and that’s when he pulled his disciples aside and said, don’t fear; only fear the one who can take your soul and cast in the hell. In other words, only fear God. And then he said, when the opposition dragged you into the seats of power and the rulership or put you in jail, the holy spirit will then teach you what to say.
You know, I went through a piece some time ago in my spiritual formation called Last Words and we practice Last Words. I hope that when my day comes, if others are around, that I can say, it is well. Not because I’ve done everything perfectly, but because there has been an attempt by way of the empowerment of the spirit, because of my love for Jesus Christ, to care for the poor, to care for the brokenhearted, to help those who have been captive, and to declare acceptable the year of the Lord. More importantly, I hope not so much what I’m able to say, but because of my conservative focus on my faith, I hope that the Lord himself will speak on my behalf. And those who remain here will be able to speak in terms, not in need for them to get up and declare how perfect, but hopefully they will at least be able to say that I tried to be a part of the community that kept believing in faith; that kept believing in love, kept believing in mercy, kept believing in justice, and held true to the gospel plot .