[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] “I invite you to sing a song that resurrects hope within you,” the Rev. Kimberly Jackson, chaplain and vicar of the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center, Emmaus House Chapel, Atlanta, said in her June 30 sermon to the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church.
Bishop Wendell Gibbs of Michigan presided at the Eucharist.
The following is the text of the sermon:
A few years ago, there was a man scheduled to be executed in the state of Georgia named Troy Davis. Many people across Georgia and indeed, the country, believed that Troy was innocent. And so, people organized to try to halt his execution. My students, young black men and women from Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, and Spelman colleges were among those who literally took to the streets in protest over the fact that our state was willing to kill a potentially innocent man.
My students skipped some classes, but they skipped classes to scale bridges to drop down banners, to sign thousands of petitions, and they chanted themselves hoarse. For many of them, this was the hardest that they’d ever worked, and the loudest that they’d ever protested on behalf of someone who they’d never even met.
Now, I don’t know how often you all get to spend time with college students like the ones we have right here, but if you have – you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say the energy that they brought to the space was electrifying. They believed that they could make a difference. They believed that they could save lives. Their energy was contagious and invigorating… their energy gave me hope.
Despite all of their efforts as many of you know, Troy Davis was executed.
The following day, we gathered at the Episcopal chapel to process and to plan next steps. In the midst of the conversations and the questions about the why and the how, this student, Kareem, a quiet young sophomore, in the midst of the chatter, he raised his hand and he said, “Y’all we need to sing.”
Now, admittedly, I had a nice agenda laid out, and it did not include singing. Like good Anglicans, though, we began with prayer.
But, thankfully, I listened to Kareem and I gave him the floor. He stood and with trembling voice he began singing James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Out of all of the songs that a nineteen-year-old boy from Baltimore could choose from, that young man picked that 100 year-old hymn — and as my southern grandmama used to say, “that chile sang dat song.” And as he sang — as he retold the story of a people who have tread a path through the blood of the slaughtered… as he sang a “song full of the hope that the dark past has taught us,” we all began to feel the hope, we all began to feel God’s spirit revive within us. We started to remember that yes, yes, another world is possible and just maybe, maybe with God’s help we can still make a difference.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, our gathering here — this 78th Convention of The Episcopal Church has been incredible! It has been amazing. We’ve seen history made in the Supreme Court’s decisions of last week. We’ve made history here in the election of our Church’s first Black Presiding Bishop! Friends, the energy in this place is exciting, invigorating and I have so much hope for us, for the Church, our nation and indeed world!
Friends, we serve a mighty God! And we, we are so blessed so abundantly blessed, to be a part of God’s Church!
In the midst of all of this excitement and good news, we have chanted and cheered, shed tears of joy, and some of us have sang ourselves hoarse. These feel like happy times in our Church. So in many ways, today’s readings just don’t seem to quite fit.
Remember the gospel reading? John is calling people snakes and warning about the wrath to come! And then the Epistle has all of this militaristic language about putting on armor so that we can fight. Fight? We’ve been fighting in this Church for decades. We don’t want to fight. These are happy times. But in truth, if we’ve learned anything at all about last week, we know that while many of us were celebrating marriage equality, we were also grieving the racist murders of the Charleston 9.
Now, I know this may make me sound like I’m not an Episcopalian, but friends here’s the truth, “the spiritual forces of evil” that Paul talks about are real. We are wrestling against “rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers in this present darkness.” Those powers, those systems of oppression, and authorities – they have many names! They are named: white supremacy, sexism, trans* and homophobia and racism. We are called to find strength to shield ourselves and others from the fiery darts of classism, environmental injustices, and xenophobia…. We called to reject the notion that some people’s lives are of greater value than others.
So, yes we do celebrate, but we also must fight. For as the young people at Black Lives Matter rallies have reminded us, it is our duty to fight. And I know, I know that I’ve rattled off a long list of -isms and phobias that seem way too big for us to ever defeat. But my friends, I flew out here from Stone Mountain, Georgia with some good news. Friends, the good news is that we do not fight alone. We fight against the forces of darkness with ourselves together. We fight as one. We fight with the power of the Holy Spirit providing us with strength and wisdom.
With the power of our Almighty God, we will tear down the sexism that plagues this very Church. With the strength that comes from standing in truth and righteousness, we will destroy patriarchy, white supremacy and racism. We can and we will.
Beloved, I’ll admit this is hardwork. But most holy work is. Most holy work is hard. What I learned from that young man named Kareem, I learned that when doing hard-holy-work, it’s really important to stop to sing. Now, of course, I’m not inviting you to sing just any ole song… No… That young man from Baltimore taught me to sing the songs that remind of us that the Lord is our strength and our refuge – that the Lord is our Light and our Salvation.
So friends, as we prepare to continue in the struggle, I invite you to find your song. I invite you to sing that song that inspires, that enlivens, that gives you the courage to run on. And don’t just sing it in the shower! Sing in the car and hum it the grocery store. Share your song. Share it with friends and family in times of joy and in heartache. Sing the song that reminds you that we are all just leaning on the everlasting Arms.
My friends, I invite you to sing a song that resurrects hope within you.
The 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church is meeting through July 3 in Salt Lake City, UT (Diocese of Utah). The Episcopal Church’s General Convention is held every three years, and is the bicameral governing body of the Church. It comprises the House of Bishops, with upwards of 200 active and retired bishops, and the House of Deputies, with clergy and lay deputies elected from the 108 dioceses and three regional areas of the Church, at more than 800 members.
The video services of the daily Eucharist during General Convention 2015 have been produced by the Episcopal Diocese of Utah.