Our community spurred to action by faith

The following reflection was shared by Imam Ali Roach at our 8th Annual Rally of the Justice Ministry Networks.

It’s certainly inspiring to see so many of us gathered here this evening…

It’s inspiring to see a community spurred to action by faith-not one driven to apathy by despair.

It’s inspiring to see a community busy cooperating and working together—not one distracted by competition and rivalry…

…to see a community by caring and compassion—not one divided by selfishness…

…to see a community committed to giving and helping—not one obsessed with taking and hoarding.

Let’s give praise to the Lord for this gathering, and let’s give thanks for all the spiritual and material abundance he has showered us with.

But while we give thanks for our numbers, and we pray and hope that we continue to grow

Let’s remember that there are things more important than numbers…

Let’s remember that it is our faith in God that has brought us together tonight, and that it is His glory we celebrate, not our own…

Let’s remember that His purpose is always triumphant, and that the cause of faith and good is always the winning cause, no matter how many or how few of the children of Adam appear to be behind it.

Let’s remember that His side is the one we always want to be on, whether we can look around and see hundreds of others with us, or whether we appear to be alone.

And let us always remember that our God is vast and abundant, and that we are always poor, small, and few before Him.

Lord, bless us and strengthen us,

Be with us, guide us and forgive us,

Blessed is Your name, and we have no god beside You. Amen.

Abraham’s Stars


The Rev. James Richardson

St. Paul’s Memorial Church

April 9, 2013

Abraham’s Stars

Genesis 15:1-6

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great…” He brought him outside and said, “Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

I want you to look around – look at each other tonight and count the stars among you, for you are Abraham’s stars. The Lord has reckoned you as righteous and good and beloved. Do not be afraid, God told Abraham, and God tells us: Do not be afraid. You are Abraham’s stars.

Tonight I want to spend a few minutes talking about IMPACT, what we are, how we got here, what we’ve accomplished and why we do what we do the way we do it.

I’d like to start with a show of hands.

How many of you are here at the rally for the first time?

How many of you will be going to the Nehemiah Action for the first time?

How many of you will be bringing people to the Nehemiah Action who have never gone to a Nehemiah Action before? How about everyone?

So let’s have a little refresher on IMPACT.

We were founded in 2006 by a group of congregations who came together wanting to make a difference in our community.

Many were already involved in ministries of mercy like PACEM and the Salvation Army. They wanted to see if they could change the system so that ministries like PACEM and the Salvation Army would no longer be necessary one day.

The group affiliated with a training organization based in Florida called DART that began showing our congregational leaders and clergy how to create a listening-based community organizing structure that would tackle tough issues in Charlottesville.

Rabbi Dan Alexander of Congregation Beth Israel came up with the acronym, IMPACT, which stands for:

Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together.

IMPACT’s method is based on listening to members of our congregations to find out what issues are most on their minds and hearts.

We do that every year in our congregations. In my congregation we have a series of house meetings.

From there we narrow the issues. In the fall, we hold the Annual Team Assembly and hear presentations on the problems we’ve heard about from you.

Everyone in our congregations is invited, and we vote to narrow the issue to one or two for the year.

Then members of our congregations volunteer to serve on research teams to find out all we can about the issue for the year.

They come up with proposed solutions, and they meet with decision makers to further refine these solutions. Our goal is to not blindside anyone.

That’s where we come in tonight – to hear about the progress on the two issues we are working on this year: youth unemployment and homelessness – and how we are pushing for action with decision makers in our community.

You will hear more on these topics soon.

Then comes the Nehemiah Action where we ask you to bring at least three people with you to fill the John Paul Jones Arena.

We ask that the decision makers who can make changes in the system come to the Nehemiah Action and appear in on stage.

We ask them if they will commit to the solutions. We will applaud them for positive answers and remain scrupulously polite at all times.

We do this in public because this is a public process we are engaged with. We ask they make their commitments in front of you, the people who have raised these issues and worked on finding solutions.

We ask that you bring as many people as possible to show that there is support in our congregations for these solutions.

This is about grassroots support for realistic solutions, but that also can make some people very uncomfortable because it may not be the way they are accustomed to conducting business.

There is another level to this that I want to talk to you about.

What we do with IMPACT is to share the influence that we have together – power that we have by being together rather than working apart.

We are being asked to come together to share our collective power especially with those in our community who are not accustomed to having much influence or having their voices heard, like our unemployed young people or the homeless.

And IMPACT is remarkable for another reason: In world torn apart by religious differences, we come together looking for what we have in common as heirs to Abraham.

That may make some of us uncomfortable for many reasons.

But this is not about our personal comfort.

You are being asked to be uncomfortable by standing with those who don’t have much influence on their own.

All of us are being asked to stand up with one voice, to use our voice, and to use keep standing together to change our world.

And you know what? We already have, right here in Charlottesville. Let’s count our successes in the last four years:

In 2007, IMPACT won new bus routes serving low-income neighborhoods so that people can get to school and work, or go to the grocery store.

In 2008, IMPACT won approval of a free dental clinic serving thousands of people who have no dental insurance.

In 2010, IMPACT won approval from local law enforcement agencies to develop translation services for non-English speaking people who encounter the Justice system.

Many of our successes take more than one year.

It took two years to win expansion of pre-school education programs.

It took two years to win approval from the city and county for the healthy transitions program for the mentally ill.

It took three years to win approval of an affordable housing trust fund and the refurbishment of hundreds of housing units for low-income people.

And now we are engaged in the most difficult and complex issues we have ever engaged with: jobs and homelessness.

The outcome of this year’s Nehemiah Action is still uncertain. You will hear more on these issues a little later, but let me underline this year – more than ever – it especially important that you bring as many people as you can to the Nehemiah Action on April 29.

Last spring, we brought 1,537 people to the Nehemiah Action to speak with one voice and have an impact in our community, and that got us part of the way on our issues.

But we still have a long distance to go. We will not get there without you.

If we were to bring the equivalent of one day’s average worship attendance we would have 4,000. Think of the impact we would have with that many voices and the bigger issues we could tackle in the years ahead. Think of what we might accomplish together.

Tonight we are on a journey like our ancestor Abraham. We are walking together on a road with many bumps and curves. We will make our share of mistakes and a wrong turn or two.

But know this: This same God, the God of Abraham, the God of Moses, the God of Jesus, the God of Mohammed is with us, and will guide us, and will bring us safely through. Do not be afraid, God told Abraham. Do not be afraid, God tells us.

You and I are Abraham’s stars.

Sharing Abundance & Spiritual Gifts

The Very Rev. James Richardson
Rector, St. Paul’s Memorial Episcopal Church
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Epiphany

Isaiah 62:1-5,
Psalm 36:5-10,
1 Corinthians 12:1-11,
John 2:1-11

+ + +

“They feast upon the abundance of your house; you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the well of life, and in your light we see light.”

Psalm 36:8-9

          Many years ago, Lori and I took our teenage youth group on a mission trip to an Indian reservation through an amazing organization called the Sierra Service Project.

We were camped at the Shoshone-Piute reservation in the middle of Nevada – and it is about as far from the comfortable suburbs where our kids lived as you can get.

We would fix houses by day and then in the evening we would have an educational program.

One evening, a Shoshone-Piute elder came to tell us stories of the tribe. These weren’t just any stories, but stories about how the Great Creator brought the people to this place to live.

Our universe was about to expand beyond our imagining.

He began each story this way – and I want you to hold onto this. Here is how he started each story:

“I don’t know if this happened exactly this way, but this is a true story.”

Let me say that again:

“I don’t know if this happened exactly this way, but this is a true story.”

This morning we hear the story of Jesus going to a wedding and turning water into wine.

I don’t know if this happened exactly this way, but this is a true story.

Cana is about a day’s walk east from Nazareth, in the hill country on the road that descends to the Sea of Galilee.

The story of the wedding feast appears only in the Gospel of John, and it is the first miracle story in John’s gospel.

Before you get too hung up on the chemistry – or alchemy – of turning water into wine, please hold this thought:

I don’t know if this happened exactly this way but this is a true story.

In the story, Jesus is at a wedding feast, and the guests have consumed all the wine. His mother, Mary, asks him to save the party by doing one of his miracles, so Jesus converts six large stone jars of water into wine.

Biblical scholars will tell you this story from the Gospel of John has many theological layers pointing to the meaning of the Eucharistic meal, and so it does.

But I want to point out two simple elements to this story that make it a true story:

First, it is a story about hospitality – the spiritual gift of hospitality; expansive enormous hospitality – about how God’s grace extends beyond the limits of our imagination.

It is a story of how God feeds us and sustains us even when we are at our lowest moments. It is about how our Great Creator will turn the water of our tears into the food that is wine that will carry and sustain us.

Second, Jesus gives the guests the good wine.

God is not cheap. God opens the best bottle, not the worst. God gives not the leftovers, but the first fruits.

And the guests notice this, and they are startled. They expect the cheap wine, but at this party, they get the finest. They expect stinginess, and they get a feast.

Here in Charlottesville, many of us enjoy a very high standard of living. We have schools and roads and health care. Many of us have enough money to take vacations and enjoy the best that life has to offer, and some us can afford to buy the good wine.

We have all that we need and more. We have a feast.

But there are many around us who don’t share in this feast. Twenty-percent of the population in Charlottesville lives below the poverty line.

We are called to share our feast, and not the cheap wine, but our first fruits. We are called to share the best of who are, and the finest gifts that we have, to bring God’s Kingdom alive in this world, and not just the next.

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, and there is no better way to honor Dr. King than by sharing this feast in our community.

We can do no better to honor his memory by sharing the best of who are, as Dr. King did with us. We can do no better by bringing the best of who we are to neglected islands and hamlets of this earth.

We can open our hearts, open our hands, and open checkbooks and do what needs to be done.

We are doing that in many ways here at St. Paul’s. Many of you are involved in through PACEM providing emergency shelter for the homeless in the winter, and the Haven, a day center for those who live on the street that also provides counseling and other services.

Some of you work on one of our Salvation Army teams feeding those in need.

Our parish is involved in IMPACT, a coalition of 26 congregations here in Charlottesville working on systemic issues that hold people down. We’ve won funding for a dental clinic and transitional services for the mentally ill.

This year we are working on the knotty issues of solving homelessness and joblessness.

And look beyond Charlottesville by considering how we are called to turn our wine into water.

Turning wine into water is a miracle that happens every day. Here is how: Episcopal Relief and Development provides safe drinking water and sanitation in many rural impoverished countries. ERD suggests taking the money you might have spent on a bottle of wine and sending to ERD to buy water filters.

So here is my pledge: A bottle of Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley costs about $75. I will send that amount to ERD today. Will you join me? Write a check to St. Paul’s, put ERD on the memo line, and we will get it there.

My friends, the church is not a sanctified social club. It is a place to give thanks to God, to find sustenance for our souls, and then get up and get out and share our hospitality with the world as God gives us the spiritual gifts to do so.

The most important words we hear on Sunday morning might be these: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

In this new year, ask yourself: What is stirring in your heart that will make your faith come alive and change lives around you and far away? What spiritual gifts has God given you? How will you share yours?

What will expand your universe beyond your imagining?

I bring us back to the story of the wedding at Cana and our Eucharist – our Communion meal. The word “eucharist” means thanksgiving, and so it is that we give thanks this day by how we share our gifts.

So let us give thanks for all that we have, and give the best of who we are, and then get to work making our Lord’s prayer real: “thy will be done on earth as it is heaven.”


Seeking Justice in Charlottesville

Reflection for the 2011 Rally

Pastor Halliard Brown, Jr.

of Zion Baptist Church-North Garden, VA

February, 2011

To the executive board members, to the angel of the Church of Incarnation, to all my brothers and sisters in Faith, I greet you in the name of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

It is good to see so many of you here tonight and I want you to take the time to give yourselves a big hand…for we are doing a mighty work for God and the people of our respective communities. My question to you tonight is what are we come to do? And our answer should be “Make an IMPACT!” So whenever you are asked the question “what are you going to do?” your answer should be “Make an IMPACT!”

As I look back upon how IMPACT has influenced our church’s ministry at Zion Baptist North Garden, VA, I recall the first meeting that I attended which was actually the first big Nehemiah action of 2008 in Charlottesville. My daughter and son-in-law invited me as a guest for Union Run Baptist Church. I stopped by here tonight to let you know that to see justice ministry in action for myself, had a profound effect on me.

I had made it a goal when I became pastor to take a holistic approach to ministry and I thought I had all the bases covered. After experiencing the Nehemiah action I soon realized that I had not included justice ministry as part of the ministry plan. It also became plain to me after meeting the people involved and learning more of the workings of IMPACT that this organization would soon be an intricate part of our justice ministry at Zion Baptist.

Would the folk from Zion please stand so the people can see that you came tonight to make an IMPACT! We are few in number but filled with determination to do our part to grow, make our voices heard, and make an IMPACT. These are Zion’s Justice Network Members who are committed to bringing three persons each to the Nehemiah action.

All of you that are here tonight that are Justice Network Members and are committed to bringing three persons to the Nehemiah Action will you please stand tonight and be recognized. Let’s bless them tonight with a thunderous handclap. God bless you all. “Now, for those who have not made a commitment we challenge you tonight to get excited and make that commitment before you leave.”

God said something in Jeremiah 29:11 that stirred my spiritual juices in this justice ministry arena. He said

“For I know the plans I have for you…” “…They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

As I began to look around the community I began to see things that pertained to making living this everyday life more bearable not being attended to, and being taken for granted. This was an injustice to those involved. I heard folk talking about how they did not have transportation to and from work because the bus did not come to their areas or the scheduling of the buses did not accommodate their schedules.

I heard folk talk about how their schools were not meeting their children’s physical, nutritional and educational needs. As I told them of the recent accomplishments of the IMPACT organization I saw an expression of hope come on their faces. They had a hope that God’s plan is being implemented through this process.

At one of the Pastor’s meetings, which came out of our being part of IMPACT, Pastor White of Union Run said he compared IMPACT to washing clothes. When you put clothes into a washing machine they had to go through a washing cycle in order to become clean. You had to put in the proper ingredients and the machine began to agitate the clothes in order to get them clean. There had to be a shaking going on to get the desired results. I found out that this organization is likened unto that metaphor.

There has to be a shaken up of the powers to be in order to get justice done. Many times in the process of doing the business of justice you will run across some very nice folk that are council members or are members of the committees that we bring our issues to.

Yes, they are very nice folk but we have an agenda laid down by God that says yes we are our brother’s keepers. Sometimes you have to agitate, and aggravate, educate and sometimes irritate in order to adjudicate the problem at hand.

 And there has to be a unity of the people to make it happen. And there is no stronger connection to the area’s communities than the faith based community within them.

I am reminded of Nehemiah who is the biblical example for our justice ministry model and he shows us that sometimes we will come up against confrontations.

And when we face those moments of tension and confrontation we don’t need any more gripers, complainers, self-proclaimed prophets, and armchair quarterbacks. We need some folk who are going to get up off their rusty dusty and do something about the problem at hand.

Nehemiah saw a problem and was distressed. Instead of complaining or wallowing in self-pity and grief, he took action. Nehemiah knew that God wanted him to motivate the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, so he left a responsible position in the Persian government to do what God wanted.

Nehemiah knew God could use his talents to get the job done. Just like God knows He can use your talents here today to get the job done.  From the moment Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, everyone knew who was in charge, and that’s how we at IMPACT have to be. Nehemiah organized, managed, supervised, encouraged, met opposition, confronted injustice, and kept going until the walls were built. Nehemiah was a man of action. What are you going to do? (“Make an IMPACT!”)

The concerns I had about having a holistic approach to ministry is now fulfilled through IMPACT. As children of God we are to have compassion for our fellow man and be the instruments in the earth to fulfill God’s plan for us. His plan is not for His people to live through one disaster after another all alone, but to have a hope and to have a future.

 God’s plan for His people is for all things to work together for their good. Jesus said in the gospel according to John 10:10b,

“…I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

My brothers and sisters of IMPACT, we are called out soldiers in God’s army placed here to fight injustice so that all may have the abundant life Christ sacrificed for us to have.

 We are called out to fight injustice everywhere. As one great justice fighter put it, “If there is injustice anywhere, there is injustice everywhere.” We as called out fighters against injustice are to keep fighting until justice flow down like mighty rivers of water. Fight, until we have heard every concern of all the people! Fight until every concern is met.

Fight until every injustice has been rectified, fight until the people have been made whole and God has been glorified. Fight the good fight of faith until our Father’s work is done.

The apostle James said in his letter 2:26

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

This body of IMPACT should never grow tired of working justice ministry. We have the faith in God, and the power of His Spirit, so now let’s produce the fruit with the power given to us from that faith.

Let’s fight together to rectify the injustice being done to our people in the community with mental health issues. Let’s stand together as one body in the Spirit of Almighty God to fight against injustice everywhere. So I ask the question again, “What are we going to do?” “Make an IMPACT!” What are we going to do?” “Make an IMPACT!” 

 I thank you IMPACT and all my brothers and sisters in faith for your works in justice ministry through the interfaith community. Let us not get weary in our well doing and let us thank Almighty God, His Son, and the Holy Spirit for keeping us in His Word, His will, and His way. God bless you all, and may heaven smile down upon you.

Reflection on The Exodus

Reflection on The Exodus

by Fr. Dennis McAuliffe

Pastor, Catholic Church of the Holy Comforter

February, 2011

The images that keep me on the journey for justice come through the book of Exodus.

One: it tells us what we have to do. Two: what we can expect. And three: assures us that we will get there.

What do we have to do?

First of all, we must step out trusting in the LORD. This means we must at all times put ourselves under divine protection and guidance. And if we do, there will be a divine cloud leading us by day, and a pillar of fire by night.

Two. To say the least, the journey of the Israelites had numerous difficulties. Their struggles even came down to the basics—food and water. We are struggling with folks who at times need the basics, which comes in the form of access to social service agencies, healthcare needs, and education, to name but a few.

Like the Israelites, on their journey, we can not always be sure what lies before us. So our issue [campaigns] have taken twists and turns and for a time, even elude us. But look at the number of times we’ve gotten to Mount Sinai.

Three: We will get there. This happens when a new congregation signs the covenat that binds us together in God. And yes, we will make it to the land of milk and honey. Where people will exchange bondage for liberty, poverty for plenty, and bias for justice.

We might get struck at times by complacency towards working for justice.

We might feel too weary to work for justice on a given day.

We might even come to doubt our efforts on a given day.

Like the travelers of Exodus, we can be predisposed to complacency, weariness, and doubt.

But we are NOT predestined to be dragged down by them. Do not let negative feelings take the lead in your life.  Instead, take yourself to the one who gives you the strength and courage to keep on keeping on.

As we continue the march of justice, let us join Moses who sang out:







We Need a Moses

“We Need a Moses”

IMPACT Listening Process Kickoff, August, 2012

Min. Erik W. Wikstrom

Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church-Unitarian Universalist

So . . . anybody feeling excited?   Inspired? Okay, but is anybody also feeling a little bit of dread? 

What I mean is, is anybody feeling that they’ve got a bit of a slog ahead?  That it’s not as easy as it should be to get folks from the congregation as involved as you know they should be?  As they, themselves, say they want to be?  Is anybody feeling a little bit weary about returning to the fray to once again battle people who are overscheduled, and under-motivated, and misinformed, and otherwise difficult to get to the table?

If so . . . you’re not alone.  It’s obvious that there are others here who can “feel your pain.”

And this puts me in mind of someone who isn’t here.  The guy was an early organizer, and a really successful one at that.  He was able to mobilize a pretty impressive number of people to make some really substantive changes, not only in their own personal lives but in the systems that ruled the country where they lived.  I mean huge.  This was a guy who set a really ambitious goal of totally transforming conditions for a large group of people . . . and hit the mark.

So why do I think he knows anything about what I’ve been talking about here?  Because change takes time.  The initial change?  Oh that can sometimes come pretty easily.  But the “rooting” of that change?  The establishment of this as the “new normal?”  That can take some time and some real, on-going work.

And as soon as these people hit that phase of the process they started complaining.  And backsliding.  They stopped following through on all of the commitments they’d made.  They even started saying that all this work wasn’t worth it, that they were better off before, and they started saying that the organizer of demanding too much of them, that he had is own agenda and wasn’t really listening to them, that he was too confrontational. 

Can you guess who I’m talking about?

The guy I’m talking about, of course, is Moses who was able to mobilize the Hebrew people to essentially overturn the Egyptian way of life and to free themselves from their bondage.  And this story has resonances all over the place, because there are lots of kinds of bondage, and all kinds of Pharaohs.  And because the very folks who should be most involved in creating the needed transformative changes often grumble the most about them.

“Why didn’t you leave us in Egypt?” they cry.  “At least there we knew where our food was coming from!”  “This manna tastes terrible!”  “What?  Weren’t there any graves in Egypt that you had to bring us out here to die?”

Doesn’t that sound kind of like, “I’d like to help change things in Charlottesville, but I really can’t take two hours out of my schedule to talk about ways of making a difference.” ?  Or what about, “I really can’t commit to asking three of my friends to attend the Action – they’re all way too busy.”?  Or, “I really do want to make a difference, but I just don’t want to have to deal with the traffic at the JPJ Arena.”?

It’s hard to deal with that kind of thing.  And some of you here tonight have been dealing with this kind of thing in your congregations for years now.  Even successful organizers get discouraged.

Yet here we are.  And we are facing a tremendous task.  Not only carrying on the effort we began last year to create something really, radically new in the way the folks in this area collaborate for the good of our youth (and, of course, our entire community),but also to once again mobilize people to dream together of a new challenge for us to engage.  And we do all of this within a context of IMPACT no longer being the new kid on the block – having passed through the initial years of excitement-because-it’s-new to the harder period of sustaining on-going effort – and while we hold up a goal of growth in both depth and breadth and in numbers – can you imagine 4,000 people at the Nehemiah Action of 2017?  We’re talking about doing again what we’ve always done while we create “IMPACT 2.0.”  IMPACT is at a turning point to dream bigger…do you want to be a part of it?

We need a Moses.

And luckily, we’ve got a few of them here.

Now I know that some of you are thinking that any kind of comparison to Moses is overblown.  Well, maybe not so much.  As a Rabi friend from Maine liked to remind people, “Even Moses wasn’t . . . well . . . ‘Moses’.”  For one thing he stuttered; terrible public speaker.  And he had low self esteem.  And he seriously doubted that he could take on the job.

And then, once he had it, it was pointed out to him, by his helpful father-in-law, that he couldn’t do it himself.  He needed to delegate the job, to spread the work around, to involve others.   No one can do it all by themselves.

We need a Moses to lead IMPACT into the next phase of it’s evolution, and to lead Charlottesville into more good for more people, and friends I am here to tell you tonight that we are the Moses we need.

Let Justice Roll – Amos 5:24

Let Justice Roll
A Reflection on the Occasion of the 2011 IMPACT Annual Assembly

Rev. Erik Walker Wikstrom
Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church – Unitarian Universalist

I have to say that I am really proud and grateful to be standing here tonight.  And by “here” I don’t just mean up here at this podium, with the opportunity of sharing some thoughts with you all.  By “here” I mean here – with all of you, among all of you, a part of this incredible gathering.  Thirty-one different faith communities have sent hundreds of different people to do one thing – to work together to do justice.

I’m new to Charlottesville.    My family and I moved here this summer when I began serving the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church – Unitarian Universalist.  I have to say that one of the things that drew me to TJMC was its involvement in IMPACT.  Let me tell you, they did a real good job of representing this relationship prominently in the packet of materials they sent to prospective clergy people.  I read everything they had to say.  I followed up by reading the IMPACT web site.  And that led me to the DART Network site.  I suppose I should have been paying more attention to the congregation’s own budget and history, but I was fascinated by this stuff.  Drawn to it.

It’s not too hard for a congregation to be involved in social action.  Lots of congregations of all kinds would say that they’re interested in it.  They have a Social Action Committee.  Maybe there’s a Director of Social Justice Ministries.  Maybe checks get written to good causes.  Maybe some folks volunteer to bring food to the Food Bank once in a while.  Oh, it’s not too hard at all for a congregation to be involved in social action.

But for a congregation to be involved with others who are involved in social action?  To intentionally seek out other congregations, other communities – and not just others who are like us but also others who are not like us? And then to join with these  others – even those who are not like us – not simply to work toward those issues that we’re most excited about getting involved with but to try to determine the issue which actually is most pressing for our entire community?  Wow.

No wonder I feel proud to be standing here tonight.  Protestants of so many stripes, Roman Catholics, Jews, Unitarian Universalists, Muslims – we’ve come together to try to do something that will benefit not only our own communities but, more importantly, the wider Charlottesville  – Albemarle County community.  That’s something to be proud of.

Are you proud of being here tonight? 

¿Se siente orgulloso de estar aquí esta noche?

I’m grateful, too, because this congregation based community organization, this CBCO, isn’t just one more opportunity for a bunch of well-meaning people to get together and moan about everything that’s wrong “out there” and then wring our hands because “they” aren’t listening to all of our good ideas.

No!  In the eight years since its inception here in Charlottesville, IMPACT has . . . well . . . had an impact.  Things are different because of gatherings like this.  There have been substantive changes because of this work; and there are no doubt more to come.  Although Charlottesville has recently been described as the #1 city to live in in the country — #4 for book lovers! – and has been called “the healthiest place to live” and “the number one city for retirement,” we all know that there’s still work to do here.  Lots of it.  We all know that this can be a tough place to live if you’re African American, or a refugee, or have a mental illness, or are poor.  We know that it’s not all like the glossy magazines portray it.

So let me not hold up the work we’re here to do much longer.  I would like to share one thing with you, though, an observation I made while working on a sermon for a congregation I was once serving up in Maine.  The text for the morning was the well-known passage from the Hebrew Scriptures, the book of Amos, Chapter 5, verse twenty-four:  “ ¡Pero corra el juicio como un río, la justicia como un torrente inagotable!”  “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

I can’t tell you how many sermons I’ve heard that used this as a starting place.  Can’t tell you, even, how many sermons I’ve preached that have used this as a starting place.  And they all end up at pretty much the same destination – encouraging the congregation and the individuals that make it up to getmore active in working for social justice. 

Oh, most of them have had a particular focus – a new project the congregation’s taking on, or an old one that appears to be running out of steam – but the general outlines are usually the same.  Amos is telling us to get out there and get busy doing justice in the world.  As a friend of mine likes to say, “Am I preaching to the choir?  Sure I’m preaching to the choir.  And what I’m preaching is, get out of your chairs and sing!”  ¡Salir de sus sillas y cantar!

Like I said, I’ve preached that sermon myself.  More than once.  Every choir needs a little encouraging now and then.  But this one time I had an honest-to-goodness revelation!  Suddenly I didn’t hear Amos telling us to get out and work building justice in the land.  I didn’t read those words as an encouragement to put more energy and more commitment into some social justice project or other.

But let justice roll on . . .  Pero corra el juicio . . . 

Suddenly I saw this river – fast and free-flowing.  Almost at flood stage.  Unstoppable.  A seething torrent.  Roiling.  White water of a class V or VI.  A get-out-of-the-way-because-I’m-comin’-through-and-nothing’s-gonna-stop-me-now kind of river.  You get the picture?

This is the river of justice, rolling on like a never-failing stream.  Flowing on.  Rich, and full, and life-giving.  A little dangerous too, maybe, but powerful.  And beautiful.  Awe-inspiring.

Except that it’s not flowing.  It’s dammed up.  I don’t know how.  Maybe some beavers got to it.  Or it was buried during a mountaintop removal.  Or some folks built a dam thinking that it could generate power for I don’t know what.  Or maybe people got to littering and stopped it up, and fouled it up, and filled it up so full of sludge and slime that now that river’s all backed up.  I don’t know how it happened; I just know that it happened.  That mighty river, that never-failing stream, has been clogged up and it just isn’t flowing anywhere like it used to.  Oh, maybe a trickle here and there, but nothing like it’s supposed to be – swollen with spring melt and flowing free.

I got this picture and suddenly realized that Amos wasn’t telling us to go out and make a river of justice.  He wasn’t telling us to construct a concrete culvert and to start pumping water into it.  Not at all!  The river’s already here, he’s telling us – we just got to get out and let it flow!

That’s the message I want to share with you tonight, my new friends.  Justice, righteousness . . . we aren’t responsible for going out and making them.  Creating them.  Building them.  Developing them.  They’re already here.  All we have to do is clean out the muck, get out the gunk, jettison the junk that’s been damming up the works for far too long.    That’s what our job is.

I want to remind each of us and us all that we’re not responsible for it all.  The river can take care of itself, thank you very much, and if given half a chance it can wash away any obstacle.  To mix my metaphors, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  We just have to get it rolling.  We just have to clear away the things that are damning it up – the things that have gotten there by accident, the things we’ve put there on purpose, the things that some people think make life better and more enjoyable for them (even while there are people dying of thirst just a few feet downstream).  Our job is to do what needs to be done to let justice roll.

Nothing more.  And, of course, nothing less.

¿Es una buena noticia?  Is this Good News?

Let the people say, “Amen.”