“He or We?”
Pastor Bob Graetz was called to Trinity Lutheran Church, a Black congregation in Montgomery, AL.
The year was 1955, and it was his first call out of seminary.
Pastor Graetz was excited to begin his ministry at Trinity with his new wife Jeannie.
Little did he know that he was entering the maelstrom.
The Black community in Montgomery strained under the psychological, physical,
and financial affects of racism for decades.
Blacks could be maids and laborers, but people with training in higher learning
often could not find work in their fields.
Only 7% of Blacks had a high school education;
random tests and poll taxes kept Blacks off the voting rolls.
Racial violence was a part of life;
14 year old Emmett Till had been killed just a few months prior for allegedly flirting with a white woman;
his killers had gone free.
White society was predicated on keeping Blacks in their place, and Graetz’ parishioners knew it.
It was only a few months into Pastor Graetz’ ministry that Rosa Parks was arrested
for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery bus.
Pastor Graetz had to decide where he stood.
When he had met with his Lutheran supervisors in Ohio before leaving for Alabama,
he was specifically instructed not to get involved with politics.
“We are about preaching the Gospel,” his mentor said.
But Graetz couldn’t see how the Gospel of Jesus could be preached without addressing
the discrimination, lack of opportunity, and belittling that came to his congregation every day.
It was clear to Graetz that the segregation laws were unjust.
So he went to mass meetings and joined the Black clergy association,
though he was the only white minister to do so.
He used his car as a taxi for Black people who needed to get to work.
He and his family, which grew to include 3 small children,
were threatened daily with phone calls and ostracized by white society.
Their oldest child was refused entrance at the local school, and their house was bombed three times.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott is what I call a “We” story:
it could not have happened without the collective effort of many people.
The Civil Rights movement is often thought of us as MLK and Rosa Parks, the martyr and the hero.
But you only need to scratch the surface to see that there were many martyrs and heros.
For over a year, the overwhelming majority of Montgomery’s Black community
attended mass meetings three nights a week, and walked miles to work every day.
They organized carpools and pick up places, which constantly had to change due to police harassment.
They donated money from their meager earnings to support training sessions in non-violence.
They risked intimidation and the loss of their jobs for participating.
And yet together they did it.
Literally thousands of local citizens made great sacrifices to effect change.
After 13 months of organizing, the segregation laws were repealed.
If the Montgomery Bus Boycott had been just a ‘He’ story about young MLK’s catapult to leadership
or a ‘She story’ about Rosa refusing to get out of her seat
none of us would know anything about a bus boycott in Montgomery.
What made this effort a success that it was a mass movement, hundreds of people working together for change.
It was a ‘We story.’
Our OT testament lesson is a “We” story, too.
The text speaks of the Lord’s servant, the chosen one who would bring justice to the nations.
Scholars have long debated just who the servant is—
some ways the servant is a hoped for king from David’s lineage, and others say it’s Jesus himself.
But chapter 41 identifies the servant as the people of Israel, not an individual.
“You, Israel my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen…
whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners…
do not fear, for I am with you,
do not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious hand.” 41:9-10
The servant that will bring justice to the nations is the whole people of Israel.
It isn’t the job for one person no matter how charismatic or hard working or inspired.
God’s plans for the world depend on the work and faithfulness of the community
It depends on the people of God living out their identity as God’s chosen.
Being God’s chosen means two things.
First of all, these chosen people are the ones “in whom God’s soul delights.”
Even before these chosen people do anything, they are claimed by God, and God loves them.
God takes pleasure in calling them God’s own.
Secondly, these chosen people are servants.
Their job is to be “a light to the nations to open the eyes that are blind”
They are to be a community of care that brings the prisoners out of the dungeons and sets people free.
Together they are led by God’s hand to bring about a new reality
that means greater life and greater freedom for all God’s people.
It’s the ‘We story’ that brings God’s will into the world.
Here at Our Savior’s we got a ‘We story,’ too.
It started 50 years ago, in 1967, when two congregations had the audacity to join forces
because they believed they could do more together than they could by themselves.
Together these families of Swedes and Danes worked to share Christ’s light
in ministries such as refugee resettlement, youth mission trips, and liturgical dance
Thousands of quilts were sent as gifts of love around the world
scholarships were funded and awarded for seminarians and college students
money was raised to provide heat to poor families in Newington and livestock to families across the ocean.
The ‘We story’ has been a story of God working through this community for greater justice and care.
The ‘We story’ will continue.
Though we are at a juncture of change in the life of this congregation,
the work that you have done together will not go away.
Your learning to appreciate difference rather than judge has made this community more welcoming.
Your work to address the root causes of homelessness through organizing Family Promise
is coming to fruition.
The able and committed leadership in finance, personnel, and council that you have built will stay.
and the partnerships that you are developing with other churches such as Neuva Creacion and ICCMM
and other institutions like the Grace Friday Night Gathering, the Town of Newington, and GH Conference
will continue to grow because this is a ‘We story.’
A ‘We story’ does not go away, because the ‘We’ includes God
and it is God who empowers the community and opens up change for the world through them.
So I can say in good prophetic style with Isaiah:
You, Our Savior’s, are the servant in whom God delights.
You are chosen for ministries of welcome and care in this time and place.
You are a light to the world.
Yes, the former things have come to pass, but God now declares new things.
New chapters in God’s ‘We story’ with you.