I Will Not Keep Silent! I Will Not Rest!
Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40 and Isaiah 62:1-5
February 24, 2019
Rev. Dr. Theresa S. Thames for Princeton University Chapel
During our most recent choir tour in Morocco, out of all of the places we were visiting, I was most excited about Marrakech. Not because of any particular historical significance, but honestly because I was promised that there would be good shopping in the souks and medina. Shortly after our late afternoon arrival, our knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and seemingly omnipresent country guide, Muhammad, had us load the bus because he wanted us to experience the market scene at night. At night, the souks and medina square was alive with sights, sounds, smells and people buzzing and moving about. The displays of produce, flowers, oils, fabrics, and artisan crafts were only a vivid backdrop to the sweet smells of pastries and perfumes and the body swaying rhythm of live Moroccan music. I simply wanted to dance, and eat and buy all of the beautiful things.
As you would expect of any market scene there were street performers enticing people to come close for every kind of act you can imagine. Our large group caught the attention of a couple of guys handling monkeys. At first sight, these monkeys were cutely dressed in their performance wears ready to entertain the crowd. However, as I continued to watch the monkeys dazzle and amaze the crowd, I noticed the chain around their necks. As the monkeys performed with their bodies, they often did so with only one hand because their other hand was holding tight to the chain. You see, there was a knowing, a fear, that if they did not hold tight to that chain, that the chain around their neck would take their lives.
As the monkeys performed they were also working to keep themselves alive.
In 1619, 20 African slaves set foot on the shores of this land in the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia. It’s highly likely that they too had chains around their necks. These people of high intellect, skilled laborers, rich in culture and language, with bodies sculpted by the gods and skin kissed by the sun, melaninated with greatness were now enslaved in this foreign and strange land. Torn apart from family and friends, displaced from kin. Once a mighty people now seen and treated as wild savages.
400 years later and we are still entangled in the chains of racism that permeates every facet of life here in these disjoined States of America. We cannot even grasp our very existence beyond the isms because it is in the very air that we breathe. Narratives, systems, and daily ways of living are all structured around the politics of race. Even now, you are squirming in your pew because the very topic of race is uncomfortable for us all, no matter your hue. For people of color we often loathe the spotlight it brings and for whites; the guilt and shame is like the blood on Pilates hands that can’t be easily washed off.
400 years later, on this last Sunday of February, Black History Month, we find ourselves uncomfortable and listening to the words of the psalmist and Isaiah. Both the psalmist and the prophet have drawn frustrated and weary with this seemingly absent God. The psalmist is being patient with this silent God while the prophet declares that they will preach and pray until the promises of God are made evident.
Both of these texts are from a tired, frustrated and worn out people ready for change.
Next month, on March 29 & 30th, our Office of Religious Life will host a conference, “Christianity & White Supremacy: Heresy and Hope” where we will gather together theologians, scholars, activists, and faithful people from across this country in this very space to sit with “America’s original sin.” To wrestle with scripture and Christian tradition and to hope together anew about how to equip ourselves with scripture, faith and new traditions that can set us free from the chains of racism. With the words of civil rights ground roots activist Ella Baker pushing us forward, “We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest Until it Comes.”
I Will Not Keep Silent! I Will Not Rest!
The psalmist says, “Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.”
Yet, I find it hard to believe these words when 400 years later the struggle and the pain has been passed from generation to generation. Why oh God in 2019, are we still fighting the fights of our foreparents? I fret because the wrongdoers are still…winning.
Yet, the homily of the psalmist proclaims faith and reminds us of a deeper truth. The truth is that the psalmists believes and preaches eschatologically and does not only live today for the future promises, but more importantly, lives by the future. The psalmist is living the words of Paul and “calling the things that are not, as though they were.” The psalmist is believing and proclaiming the salvation, the promises and the fulness of God. The psalmist is daring us to believe that “justice will prevail” and that God will indeed show up. The psalmist says to be still, but not to remain silent!
It is an interesting time we live in. Warnings and dire predictions about the future combined with the uncertainty of the present has created a frightening world for many people. If you ever want to take the pulse and temperature of humanity, just turn on the nightly news. There are fires, floods, earthquakes, freak ice storms, and tornadoes. The United States federal government is unstable, the European Union is disbanding, there is still no peace in the Middle East, Chicago, Crimea, Venezuela, nor Princeton.
There is a crisis of immigration. Belonging. Citizenship. Who is in and who is out.
Who can we accept and who must we deny. Them vs. Us. The man made borders that we have constructed to keep others out have only served to trap us into our ideologies of exceptionalism, capitalism, and phobias of every destructive kind.
There is the crisis of homophobia and sexism. Women of every socioeconomic background are declaring #MeToo from domestic workers to nuns. Women are still seeking an equal wage and an equal voice. Women are standing together and speaking their truths about sexual violence at the hands of influential and powerful individuals in every industry. LGBTQIA+ people still face discrimination in institutions, especially our churches. At this very moment the United Methodist Church is gathering to vote on whether the denomination will accept LGBTQIA+ people as full beloved children of God. Our LGBTQIA+ siblings are still unsafe and are facing federal erasure. Young girls from every nationality and hue are trapped in the prison of sex trafficking. Women and girls are suffering. Trans women of color are dying at an unprecedented rate. Friends, there is a crisis.
There is the crisis of racism in this country. #BlackLivesMatter has become a movement for justice and equality that is lead by the young who have become tired of dead Black bodies on their city streets. We see the crisis of racism from how we educate Black and Brown children to the racist corruption of the criminal injustice system found evident across the land. Our leaders are more willing to fund prisons than fund playgrounds. Black faces and BlackFace are not the same. Yet we wait.
There is a crisis of violence and gun control in this country. When people cannot gather for Sunday worship in Sutherland Springs, TX nor Bible Study on a Wednesday night in Charleston, SC nor for a Saturday morning Shabbat service at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. When children cannot attend elementary nor high school in peace. When there is fear at the grocery, the movies, the coffee shop. When it is easier to purchase a handgun than to adopt a puppy, my Friends we have a problem.
The Israelites knew what it was like to live in a time of crisis and uncertainty. Our text from Isaiah was written close to the end of exile and the people were returning home. This transition was chaotic and Isaiah knew that the people needed a word from God. He also knew that the people were struggling with starting over and establishing a new beloved community in the midst of division and a shot economy. Isaiah preached against the disorder and discord by proclaiming the promise of God. The promise of God was that the exiles would come home, and a prophet would appear to bring liberation to the poor. Even though times were hard and people of faith had lost their way, God’s promises would stand. It was a word of hope spoken in the midst of a very uncertain time.
Not only did Isaiah declare God’s faithfulness, but he also committed himself to the cause. He announced that he will pray continuously until God restored Jerusalem completely to its former glory. He spoke of his personal commitment to see the flourishing of God’s people and to not rest until it came to past. These words of Isaiah reminded me of the songs of the Civil Rights Movement. Songs with lyrics proclaiming change, declaring hope, and committing to the cause. Songs such as Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “We Shall Overcome,” and “How I Got Over” sang by the late greats Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin. Songs that helped the people march to the beat and lift their spirits as the dogs barked and the white crowds yelled and spat. Songs like “Oh Freedom” and “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
I Will Not Keep Silent! I Will Not Rest!
This commitment of Isaiah was necessary because it birthed a hope in the hopeless and faith in the faithless. This commitment of Isaiah is what revolutions, not just mere moments, are made of. This was the resolve of the prophets, of Mary, of Haggar, of Miriam, of Jesus, of Harriet Tubman, of Malcolm, of Fannie Lou Hamer, of James Baldwin, of Marsha P. Johnson, of Bayard Rustin, of Erica Garner, of Sandra Bland, of the people in Standing Rock, of the people in Flint, and those in the caravan and those on the border. This is the resolve of those who will never be named, but who have vowed, “I Will Not Keep Silent! I Will Not Rest!”
There is a great cost for being a prophet. Ask Isaiah. Ask John the Baptizer. Ask Paul. Ask Jesus. Ask the people who do grassroots justice work across this country and the world. Look at the life of any prophet, and know that there is indeed a blessing and burden to be called to speak justice and truth to power. Yet, through it all, today Isaiah says, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.”
A few contemporary prophets and hymnist gathered an penned a hymn that encapsulates the passion of the psalmist and the prophet. The hymn is one of justice, faith, and proclamation…
“My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great,
And my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait. You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight,
and my weakness you did not spurn,
So from east to west shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?
My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the
fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the
dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn!”
My friends, “You have the right to remain silent.”
Isaiah refused that right.
So did Jesus.
So do I.
But, will you?
 Reference to Matthew 27:24
 Isaiah 62:1 NRSV
 “Canticle of the Turning” by Rory Patrick Cooney, Gary Daigle, Theresa Donohoo (1990).
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