And Still We RisePosted in Equality, Religion, Sermons, Social Justice
So they said, Let us rise up and build. Then they set their hands to this good work.” Nehemiah 2:18b “So I said, “Who are you Lord?” And he said, “Iam Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet…26:15-16a
As we prepare to move into another month long celebration of African American history month, we should pause to give for our many achievements and give thanks to our creator God for bringing us a mighty, mighty long way. ” We have come, in the majestic words of James Weldon Johnson in our Negro National Anthem, over the way that with tears that has been watered. We have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.”
Yes, we have come beloved with broken heads and broken hearts, sometimes crawling, sometimes limping, but always seeking in the words of Jesus in his command to Paul, to rise and stand,and do a good work. So many things we have endured as a people; so many problems, so many set backs, so many detours and so many derailments but still through it all we have managed to rise.
It is true, and we know our history, we have come through many dangers, toils and snares. We have come over highways, byways and rough ways, rails ways, trail ways and no ways. We have come believing that God could make a way out of no way and we have come trusting and believing that God’s mighty hand would guide us and deliver us like the Hebrew Children from the perils of slavery and the indignities of enduring hardships.
As we pause this day to recount our blessings and to celebrate our past, let us remember that it has only been by the strength and mercy of God that we have come this far. The words of that great hymn of the church ring ever so true, “We have come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord, trusting in his only word and he’s never failed us yet. Oh, Oh, I can’t turn around. We’ve come this far by faith. “We have come a long, long way, but we still have a long way to go to reach that promised land of our greatest hopes and dreams; the new heaven and earth where freedom, justice and equality for all people is living and enduring reality.
Some people have said that we have only come by sheer determination of will; that we have come only by the force of nerve and the nerve of force. Yes, we have come of our own will, but we have come to this place not only of our own accord for we could not have come without almighty God guiding our steps, without other helping hands of white folks, black folks, indian folks and other folks picking us up when we were down and out and without a greater higher spirit directing upward our paths.
We could not have come without the grace of God drying our eyes and healing our wounds and giving us hope. We could not have come without looking out for one another and taking care of one another and respecting one another and trying to do right by one another. We had a common mission to rise out of slavery; to rise out of those systems of denigration and devaluation that subtracted our worth when we kept adding value to society. We have had a mission to rise; to rise above inhumanity, indignity, disparity and other forms of oppression that would limit our value and demean our self worth.
We have come a long, long way and still have a ways to go. And as we travel this journey, we must never forget that it was God who brought us this far along the way. All we had was God. We had nothing else but angels wings and a prayer. That’s all we had. We had a choice of looking down or looking up; of throwing away our hope and living with a suspended hope that one day God would set us free.
We must understand that is our belief in God, and the creative practice of an adaptive spirituality that has enabled us to adjust to a variety of conditions and circumstances and to develop the resources to overcome those conditions with our dignity and sanity in tact. It is a spirituality rooted in a firm unwavering belief in God; a spirituality that has taken the virtues of the larger culture and melded it with our own culture; a spirituality that has compelled us to create our own unique culture and empowered us to take what little we had and make much of it. It is a spirituality of innovation and adaptation that allowed us to take the leftovers from the master’s table and make a tasty meal of them. It is a spirituality that has enabled us to endure some of the worse forms of individual and collective suffering and still come away with a sense of what Garth Baker Fletcher has called hopefulness and “somebodiness.”
Some have talked about a tradition of dressing up in their Sunday best and going to church. Well a long time ago, when black people worked as domestics and were only allowed on the lower rungs of society, when they went to church they dressed up in their Sunday Best. Whatever they were from Monday to Saturday and however shabbily they dressed, when it came to Sunday, they were somebodies; children of God, dressed to nines shining the light of Jesus.
This peculiar spirituality has enabled us to create blues and jazz and other art forms. Jazz along with Western Cowboy movies are the only art forms originating in America. This unique spirituality is not esoteric and contemplative spirituality but one that has had social function which has allowed us as a people to adapt, overcome and survive in a culture that did not take readily take to us. This spirituality and belief in God has been our greatest asset; our strongest force for it has given us soul force and soul power to face and overcome our worst nightmares. Our spirituality has given us creative soul force; which is the power to a reality and culture of survival; and resistant soul force which has enabled us to resist the complete devastation, annihilation and domestication by adversarial forces in society.
However many people believe that they have come on their own, let me say, we would not have come without God looking out for us and watching over us. We could not have come this far without belief in a higher power, a higher authority who would right wrong, correct injustice, give hope to the hopeless, power to the powerless and bring about a newer and brighter day for all people. We could not have come this far without prayer, without pooling our resources, without a faith community of caring and sharing. We could not have come this far without the fellowship of the saints who were bound together in a single garment of purpose.
We have only come this far by the grace of God, the love of God, the power of God, the mercy of God, the ingenuity of God, the sanctity of God, the creativity of God and even at times the mischief of God. Only god could work us in when others were working us out. Only God could raise us up when others were pushing us down. Only God could make the cornerstone rejected the chief cornerstone. Only God could take the darkness of the night of slavery and discrimination and turn it into the noonday of freedom and justice. Only God, very God, through his infinite grace and omnipotent power could have done this because we could not have done this on our own. We cannot forget God. We must not forget all that God has done for us, all that God has done through us and all that God has done through others to help us.
Who but God could do this? Who but God could steady our steps and direct our paths and give us the physical and moral courage to keep fighting the good fight? Who but God could heal our wounded hearts, mend our shattered brokenness, soothe our pain, comfort us, love us, keep us, save us and give us hope and a desire to never give up?
Who but God could bring us through some of the most difficult experiences human beings have ever faced and give us the desire to keep on keeping on? Who but God loves us and lifts us, guides us and chides us? He who knows every hair on our heads; he who knows us by name and calls us by name; he who has loved us and kept us when nobody loved us or cared to keep us, and still we rise. We must never forget that it has been God, very God . who has brought us this far along the way.
Our greatest asset is God. Our greatest hope is God. Our greatest resource is God. Our greatest power is God. Our greatest opportunities still come from God. Without God we could not have come. Without God we cannot create. Without God we cannot cultivate the resources and develop ourselves accordingly and still we rise.
It has been God all along whether we acknowledge that is has been God or not. It has been God. We could not rise without God.
Ask people who know. Ask Phyliss Wheatley, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth; ask Reverend Richard Allen, Frederick Douglass, and Reverend Henry Highland Garnet; ask Booker T and W.E.B.and Ida B; ask Mary McCloud Bethune; Marian Anderson, and Mary Church Terrell; ask Victoria .Jackson Gray, Annie Devine and Fannie Lou Hamer; ask AL Sharpton and Jessie Jackson; ask Langston Hughes,Maya Angelou and James Baldwin; ask Paul Robeson,Thurgood Marshall,A. Philip Randolph and M.L.King .Jr; ask Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Milton Henry and Marcus Garvey; ask Rufus Youngblood, Fred Shuttlesworth, Abraham Lincoln Woods and C.L.Franklin; ask Jackie Robinson and Jackie Vaughn; Larry Doby, Mamie Peanut Johnson, Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell; ask Curt Flood and Henry Aaron; ask .Joe Louis and Joe Frazier, Elijah Muhammad and Muhammad Ali; ask Charlie Parker and Maceo Parker; Miles Davis and Charlie Mingus, ask the Buffalo Soldiers, Tuskegee Airmen and the761st Tank Battalion because still we rise.Ask Isaiah and Jeremiah,Obadiah and Nehemiah; ask Paul and Silas,and ask .Jesus himself.
As we travel this journey, we must never forget that it is God who will take us farther into the future.
We cannot do it without God. We cannot make it without God. We cannot progress without God. Look at the ways in which we have a paid a price by leaving God out of our equations of life. Where does it take us? What does it get us? Look around you and see that the greatest devastations to our community have to do with hopelessness and despair hopelessness can never prevail as long as a people have a firm faith and belief in God. Look at the generations of young people and older people who do not have God as a spiritual, physical, material or psychological resource. Some people live their entire lives without ever referencing God, knowing God, living God, hoping in God. They are lost, for in this world they cannot make it without belief in a higher power, without trust that God will make a way out of no way; without hope that God will still make things right in the sweet bye and bye.
God is the greatest resource that we have ever had and ever will have. He is the ultimate provider. He who has made the heavens and the earth; the water, trees, and sky; he who makes possible the impossible and the possible impossible is he whom we cannot live without.
The greatest mistake that we can make as a people is to live as though God does not exist; to act as though God were not alive; to pretend that God is not watching and holding accountable our every step and every thought. The greatest mistake that we can make is to turn our children loose in a world without God; a world that will eat them alive, and throw them away; world that can take away their self confidence and leave them devoid of the spiritual power and material power that can compel them beyond their circumstances and conditions.
And when Italk about God, Iam riot talking about a religion that stifles people rather than grows them; that impedes their development rather than empowers them; that enslaves them rather than frees them; that hampers their spiritual transformation rather than enhancing and nurturing it. Iam not talking about a religion that seeks to bind and control and snuff out the Christ light of human beings.
I am talking about a living, loving, life transforming religion and spirituality; that teaches people that they are somebody, they can be somebody and they have the power through God to be shaped into people of promise and power and make a difference in this world.
I’m not talking about a religion that pretends to connect people with God, when in reality it only cuts people off from God. I’m not talking about a religion that teaches people to discriminate against other human beings because they are different. I ‘m no talking about the organized practice of religion that suffocates the life out of people through some mind conforming ritual and protocol that causes them to dumb down and dumb out. I’m not talking about a religion that glorifies the messenger over the message; that places man above God; that seeks the cheap thrills of cheap grace and cheapens the life of the earnest believer. Iam not talking about a religion that is long on law and short on grace; big on condemnation and small on forgiveness; good at separation but bad at elevation of the spirit of man. I am not talking about a religion that simply makes people feel good but does not challenge them to do good. I’m not talking about a feel right without doing right religion. Iam not talking about a religion that does not welcome challenges or questions from people seeking knowledger and advocates a “Do as Isay do and not as I do,” philosophy and theology.
Iam talking about a living religion and spirituality; a higher faith and belief system that will encourage and enable people to find hope; that will challenge them to believe in themselves no matter what society or individuals try to do to take that belief away; a spirituality that will make them more compassionate and caring, more daring and innovative; more prosperous and generous; a spirituality that will lift their spirits, heal their hearts, unify their familes, strengthen their communities guide their steps and direct their paths to the places of God. It is a religion and spirituality that teaches them that they can rise above the doldrums of poverty; rise above the dregs of defeat; rise above the catacombs of indifference; rise above addiction and affliction and become somebody with direction and purpose that will lead the world back to its true spiritual self.
I am talking about a spirituality that creates unity in the human community; transforms the internal conditions of men and the external conditions of society. The internal conditions of man are reflected in the external conditions of society. I am talking about a spirituality that will truly empower and transform every true believer and make him or her happy, healthy, positive, productive citizen in society and the world.
It is this kind of spirituality that has brought us thus far and will take us farther into the future. It is a spirituality that believes in challenging and changing each individual for the better and making society as a whole better. It is a progressive spirituality that values hope and healing, joy and justice and says after being down and out We still can rise!
It is a spirituality that says no matter how bad it gets, how dark it seems, how long the journey, how big and great and formidable and intractable the opposition, how lacking the material or physical resources, how high the mountain, how hot the desert, how steep the valley, how deep the rivers, how short the time, how impossible the odds, how old we are, how forlorn we are, how isolated we are, how beat down we are, it is a religion that will say in the words of Nehemiah,
Let us rise up and build however great the opposition. Let us rise up and grow. Let us rise up and learn! Let us rise up and pray.
Let us rise up and consolidate our resources. Let us rise up in confidence and hope, in faith and determination. Let rise up because God still make will make a way because still we rise! Like cream in coffee we rise. Like the sun we rise! Like wings of the morning we rise. Like smoke into air we rise. Like wind we rise. Like eagles we rise. We rise like Jesus from the grave we rise, and still we rise.
Keep rising! Keep moving up! Keep growing up! Keep standing up! Keep speaking up! Keep looking up, for still we rise and as we rise so too will America!