Sunday, January 21: The Spirit Says ‘Do’



“We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ( * )






(photo credit:


“Each day provides us with an opportunity to love again,

To hurt again, to embrace joy,

To experience unease,

To discover the tragic,

Each day provides us with the opportunity to live.

This day is no different, this hour no more unique than the last,

Except…Maybe today, maybe now,

Among friends and fellow journeyers,

Maybe for the first time, maybe silently,

We can share ourselves.”

(by Kristen Harper) ( * )

Come then, into worship, with your whole self, and know that this is worthy.



Our chalice makes a ring of light

And we around it,

Make a ring of love.

May our ring of love

Be like this chalice,

Sharing its warming glow.

(by the Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson)

OPENING HYMN: Woke Up This Morning


Love is the doctrine of this church,

The quest for truth is its sacrament,

And service is its prayer.

To dwell together in peace,

To seek knowledge in freedom,

To serve humankind in fellowship,

To the end that all souls

Shall grow into harmony with the Divine.

This is our great covenant,

One with another, and with our God.


From all that dwell below the skies,

Let songs of hope and faith arise,

Let peace, good-will on earth be sung,

Through every land, by every tongue.




Go now in peace, go now in peace;

may the love of God surround you,



you may go.




RACE, POWER AND PRIVILEGE: “Why It Matters to Me” (Garin B.)


READING: from “The Third Reconstruction” (by the Rev. Dr. William Barber II) ( * )

I needed something more than Christian realism to guide me in the task of leading people who have lost a fight but still knew that the Lord was on their side. Thankfully, I had the time-tested prayer book of the Hebrew children that has been written down in exile, centuries after God had brought Israel up out of Egypt. The words of Psalm 94 kept resounding in my ears “Who rises up for me against the wicked? Who stands up for me against evil doers?”

Psalm 94 insisted that moral dissent is still necessary even when there is no reasonable expectation of political success. When we stand for right, even if we feel that we are standing by ourselves, we are in good company. When we raise a voice of moral dissent, we don’t only stand with Moses against Pharaoh. We also stand with William Lloyd Garrison the nineteenth century abolitionist who denounced slavery when its abolition was a political impossibility. When the mayor of Boston had him jailed, supposedly for his own safety, Garrison wrote these words on the wall of his cell: “William Lloyd Garrison was put into this cell on Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 21, 1835, to save him from the violence of a ‘respectable’ and influential mob, who sought to destroy him for preaching the abominable and dangerous doctrine that ‘all men are created equal’ and that all oppression is odious in the sight of God.”

The nineteenth-century abolitionists didn’t stand up against slavery because they knew they had the numbers to defeat it. They stood up and raised their voices in moral dissent because they knew that slavery was wrong. Likewise in 1846, when Mexican forces fired upon US troops who had been sent across a disputed border to provoke just such an incident, President James K. Polk asked Congress for a declaration of war because “American blood had been shed on American soil.” But a freshman Congressman from Illinois who did not know that it wasn’t his place to raise a moral dissent introduced the “Spot Resolution,” which would have required President Polk identify the exact spot on US soil where the attack had occurred. The resolution was defeated, and many seriously questioned Congressman Abraham Lincoln’s patriotism for introducing it. But nearly two decades before his second inaugurals addresses, Lincoln had stood up in Congress to raise a moral dissent.

In the American struggle for justice and freedom, moral dissent has always seemed impractical when it began.


READING: “The Low Road” (by Marge Piercy)

What can they do

to you? Whatever they want.

They can set you up, they can

bust you, they can break

your fingers, they can

burn your brain with electricity,

blur you with drugs till you

can t walk, can’t remember, they can

take your child, wall up

your lover. They can do anything

you can’t blame them

from doing. How can you stop

them? Alone, you can fight,

you can refuse, you can

take what revenge you can

but they roll over you.

But two people fighting

back to back can cut through

a mob, a snake-dancing file

can break a cordon, an army

can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other

sane, can give support, conviction,

love, massage, hope, sex.

Three people are a delegation,

a committee, a wedge. With four

you can play bridge and start

an organisation. With six

you can rent a whole house,

eat pie for dinner with no

seconds, and hold a fund raising party.

A dozen make a demonstration.

A hundred fill a hall.

A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;

ten thousand, power and your own paper;

a hundred thousand, your own media;

ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,

it starts when you care

to act, it starts when you do

it again after they said no,

it starts when you say We

and know who you mean, and each

day you mean one more.

HYMN: “We Are…”


The Spirit Says Do

The Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson (copyright)

In American history we tend to talk about the heroes. The special people who made a difference. At least that is how it was taught to me, and that is how we still tend to speak about it. I’m not suggesting that it isn’t important to know about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abigail Adams, but the way we tell it, it is as though they thought the things up that we cherish about them, all by themselves, and did the things for which we are grateful, or sorry, as though they happened without a context, without a community of which they were expressions.

And then when we who are white tell the story of other peoples, we do it the same way. But truthfully, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was groomed and carried by the black community. Knowing that does not diminish his contributions, it helps us to understand them. It tells the truth about how leaders are formed – by a community.

And so it was with Rosa Parks, whose story of refusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white man was what catapulted the civil rights movement into high gear. It is a great story, but told that way, it is not a true story, and not helpful. Rosa Parks was a wonderful and courageous woman. Absolutely. And she was a woman who experienced herself as being a part of a community with a story, a story with a past, a present, and yes, a future…a future for the people, not just Rosa.

Christopher Klein put together a list of ten things you may not know about Rosa Parks.[1] I want to share them with you, because the message that the Topic Team wanted you to understand this morning, is that there are no solo heroes. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before, and we are embedded in the communities that give us life and sustain us, and through which together, we craft a future.

1.) Parks was not the first African-American woman to be arrested for refusing to yield her seat on a Montgomery bus.

Nine months before Parks was jailed, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was the first Montgomery bus passenger to be arrested for refusing to give up her seat for a white passenger. (Parks was involved in raising defense funds for Colvin.) Three other African-American women – Aurelia Browder, Mary Louise Smith and Susie McDonald – also ran afoul of the bus segregation law prior to Parks. The four were plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle case that resulted in the Supreme Court ruling bus segregation unconstitutional.

2.) Parks was a civil rights activist before her arrest.

Parks was a long-time member of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)…. At the time of her arrest, she was a secretary of the local NAACP chapter, and the previous summer she had attended a workshop for social and economic justice at Tennessee’s Highlander Folk School.

3.) Parks had a prior encounter with James Blake, the bus driver who demanded she vacate her seat.

In 1943, Blake had ejected Parks from his bus after she refused to re-enter the vehicle through the back door after paying her fare at the front. “I never wanted to be on that man’s bus again,” she wrote in her autobiography. “After that, I made a point of looking at who was driving the bus before I got on. I didn’t want any more run-ins with that mean one.”…

4.) Her act of civil disobedience was not pre-meditated.

Although Parks knew that the NAACP was looking for a lead plaintiff in a case to test the constitutionality of the Jim Crow law, she did not set out to be arrested on bus 2857. Parks wrote in her autobiography that she was so preoccupied that day that she failed to notice that Blake was driving the bus.

5.) Parks was not sitting in a whites-only section.

Parks was sitting in the front row of a middle section of the bus open to African Americans if seats were vacant. After the “whites-only” section filled on subsequent stops and a white man was left standing, the driver demanded that Parks and three others in the row leave their seats. While the other three eventually moved, Parks did not.

6.) Parks did not refuse to leave her seat because her feet were tired.

In her autobiography, Parks debunked the myth that she refused to vacate her seat because she was tired after a long day at work. “I was not tired physically,” she wrote, “or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

7.) Weeks after her arrest, Parks was jailed a second time for her role in the boycott.

Parks was on the executive board of directors of the group organizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and she worked … as a dispatcher, arranging carpool rides for boycotters. On February 21, 1956, a grand jury handed down indictments against Parks and dozens of others for violating a state law against organized boycotting. She and 114 others were arrested, and The New York Times ran a front-page photograph of Parks being fingerprinted by police.

8.) Parks was forced to move from Montgomery soon after the boycott.

Weeks after her arrest, Parks lost her department store job, although she was told by the personnel officer that it was not because of the boycott. Her husband quit his job after being told that there could be no discussion of the boycott or his wife in the workplace. Throughout the boycott and beyond, Parks received threatening phone calls and death threats.

9.) Parks was the first woman to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.

After Parks died at age 92 on October 24, 2005, she received a final tribute usually reserved for statesman and military leaders when her body was brought to the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. More than 30,000 people filed past her coffin to pay their respects.

10.) Bus seats were left empty to honor Parks on the 50th anniversary of her arrest.

On December 1, 2005, transit authorities in New York City, Washington, D.C. and other American cities symbolically left the seats behind bus drivers empty to commemorate Parks’ act of civil disobedience.

Rosa Parks was part of a movement that went as far back as abolition and the fight for freedom by the enslaved. She was not doing this alone and always understood herself as part of a community pressing toward a better tomorrow.

I am struck by how much more resilience and fortitude we have, when we understand ourselves as part of a stream of history and not as though our lives are given meaning only by that for which we can personally take credit.

African American writer Gloria Wade-Gayles, who after growing up in Memphis, had lived for years in the affluent white suburbs of Boston, writes in her memoir;

“I remember how movingly women in the old church sang my favorite song, ‘I’m gonna do what the Spirit say do.’ …I am returning because that is where our elders are. Because that is where we sing the songs. Because that is where we can lay strong and loving hands on our young. Because that is where we can be renewed in spirit and in will. Because that is where we can recite in unison the epic of salvation and liberation, and pass it on to future generations. I no longer believe in God the father-he, or in Jesus as the son of God, or in an actual place called heaven. But that doesn’t matter….

With new hands and new feet, I am returning to the black church as an elder….Emulating the elders of my day, I want to teach the young the Beatitudes, the Ten Commandments, and the commandments of empowerment:

“You must love yourself and your people.”

“You must believe you can do anything you set your mind to.”

“You should let no circumstance remove you from the center of your dreams.”

“You must never forget from whence you come.”

“You must reach back to others.”

“You must serve.”[2]

Teaching the children the lessons of empowerment. Powerful lessons, lessons from the church, the black church that so deeply embodies Beloved Community, the Beloved Community we here seek to create.

We have so much to learn. So much to do. And the Spirit, the Spirit, says do.

May we be so wise – and do. Amen.

CLOSING HYMN: “When the Spirit Says Do” (#1024 )

EXTINGUISHING THE CHALICE (read by the congregation):

We extinguish the flame but not the light of truth,

the warmth of community,

or the fire of commitment.

These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.



May the long time sun shine upon you,

all love surround you,

and the pure light within you

guide you all the way home.


( * ) = indicates the author is a person of color


[2] Gloria Wade-Gayles, Pushed Back to Strength, Beacon Press