Friends, to honor our Justice and Witness ministries we engage in as a conference and also to encourage us to speak and work for justice with even greater boldness, I’d like to lift up and share one of St. Paul’s letters to the Ephesians. In a time of oppression, injustice, and imperial violence St. Paul said to the early Christians:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, says Paul, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil… Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness… Fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. For your shoes put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Take up the shield of faith to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one… and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray also for me, so that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.” – from Ephesians 6:10-18
In our current time, speaking out for justice and bearing witness might seem like daunting and overwhelming work, and yet we are called to declare justice boldly. We must speak. St. Paul’s words speak to the church today. Hearing St. Paul’s words we are reminded that as the Body of Christ in the world our legacy, our purpose, and our mission continues to be what he identifies as a holy struggle against oppressive rulers and authorities. We have nothing to fear. We have no reason to be afraid or shy or sheepish about speaking out for justice and struggling against the powers of the present darkness because in our ministry of living the love and justice of Jesus, we are dressed in the armor of God and protected by the sword of the spirit which is the word of God.
… A living word that declares, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born,” a word that declares, “all people as being made in the image of God,” A living word that anoints us to, “bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and liberation for the oppressed,” a word that pronounces our human destiny as the beating of our swords into ploughshares.
We have so many challenges as a church today, but in our ministry of Justice and witness, as a community, as the RI conference, we are protected by the whole armor of God… And in that armor let us stand firm against the powers.
In a sinful time when full military strength is being leveraged against homeless refugee families and children caged and abused, as a conference of the United Church of Christ we are putting the whole armor of God on humanity by reaching out and sponsoring refugee families, sending delegations to witness life at the U.S. Mexico border, providing sanctuary, and advocating for the rights, humanity, and dignity of migrant people and refugees. Against the powers, we are in the armor.
Against the powers of systemic ecological devastation we are lifting up the sword of the spirit with earth activists and water protectors and defending Mother Earth from the Godless moneyed interests that would destroy her; whether our witness be with the water protectors praying down the pipeline at Standing Rock or the natural gas plant right here in Burrillville, RI, we stand firm. Our congregations are engaging their extended communities in efforts that care for creation, like the pollinator Garden in Westerly. Against the powers, we’re in the armor.
In the face of systemic poverty and inequality we are fastening the belt of truth around our waist and loving our neighbors. We are making our churches into overflow shelters, providing donations of food, clothing, health, and hygiene products. We are advocating for local and federal programs and legislation that uphold the common good, insure justice for the disadvantaged, and protect equal rights for everyone.” Against the powers, we’re in the armor.
Against the powers of systemic and perpetual war, as a church, we are putting on our feet whatever makes us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Our churches are teaching non-violent interventions, and nurturing networks of individuals and organizations that are working for peace, educating and training communities about solutions to violent conflicts, and encouraging reconciliation both locally and globally. We are in the armor.
Against the flaming arrows of the evil one, all his words of bigotry, misogyny, and hate that he shoots at us to divide us and lead us astray; we are lifting up the shield of faith by being an open and affirming community, by marching and protesting alongside women, LGBTQ, and marginalized peoples. We are protesting and declaring God’s love and justice for all in our homes, our churches, and at the crossroads of our cities and towns! Against the powers of systemic racism, a force of evil embedded in the foundation of our nation’s social architecture, we are putting on the breastplate of righteousness to build and protect God’s Beloved Community. At this last year’s annual meeting; this body passed a resolution requiring anti-racism and racial justice training for all authorized ministers, members in discernment. Against the powers, we are in the armor.
Friends as we go forward in our struggle against the powers, let us speak out with even greater boldness so the world can hear and know that hate has no home in our hearts, our homes, our places of worship, or our communities; Hate has no home in a world that rests in the hands of a God whose name is Love! As we go forward, Together as one, in our struggle against the powers of this present darkness let every one of our congregations join in the work of unmasking, dismantling, and eradicating racism. In the coming year, let each and every one of our churches in this conference commit to having one member of their church trained to facilitate anti-racist and racial justice trainings. This would make it possible to engage all our congregations and communities in healing from the social sins of racism and nationalism that divide us from each other and separate us from the realm of God. As we go forward, together as one in our justice and witness ministry, let every church in this conference make it a goal this year to invite our conference minister, Rev. Marilyn Kendrick to come and preach about the injustice of mass incarceration. These are immediate things we can do together to meet all the flaming arrows with the armor of God.
Though the present darkness might seem overwhelming, in our ministries of justice and witness, together as a beloved community, together as one, we are wrapping our hearts, our communities, and our world in the whole armor of God’s love in this time of oppression and hate.
God empower us to declare your love and justice and live it with even greater boldness. Amen.
The Rev. Brendan Curran is Associate Minister at the Barrington Congregational Church UCC in Barrington, RI.