As I started work on my sermon for Palm Sunday, I thought about how well the week started out for Jesus … and how it all went wrong by Friday. It made me remember the first time a congregation turned against me quickly.
I grew up in South Georgia in the 1960s. It was a turbulent time when our nation was struggling with issues of equality and justice. I was just a boy and watched most of it from the safety of a black-and-white television. Even then, I wondered why all the stuff I saw on TV was never talked about in my white Methodist church. Adults explained to me that politics didn’t belong in church.
That is where that value comes from, you know: the white, Southern church defending their refusal to get involved in the struggle for civil rights. The church insisted that it was not a place for politics. The church is where we are supposed to learn to pray and read the Bible and follow Jesus.
The trouble is I did, but praying, reading the Bible, and following Jesus led me to a different place. Perhaps that is because, even then, I knew that I was different. I was only 19 when I preached the first sermon that got me in trouble. I already had written a sermon that was safe enough, but, on Saturday night, I watched the movie “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” This first made-for-TV movie to deal with the issue of race tells the story of a woman named Jane who was born as a slave but was set free by President Lincoln while she was still a baby.
She lived long enough to see other forms of slavery, though, including the political, economic, and religious racism that oppressed and marginalized her and her people. The movie’s theme is to fight against injustice, and Miss Jane Pittman did just that, right up until the end of her life at age 110.
The next morning, standing in the pulpit of a white-framed church out in the country between Cochran and Eastman, Georgia, I got myself in trouble by calling those white, South Georgia farmers to join me in making our world more just. They said I’d brought politics into their church. Maybe so …
Yes, it would be nice to avoid politics as people of faith, and to keep these issues out of the church, but if we’re really going to follow Jesus we are going to get into trouble, too.
Rev. Michael Piazza