We have a tradition at Trinity of having members of the congregation prepare Lenten mediations on the readings for the 40 days of Lent. Today was my day, and here was my contribution:
Psalm 51: 1-10
Is not this the fast I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Last year, the United Kingdom celebrated the 200th anniversary of the end to the slave trade. The story of the hard fought battle was also celebrated last year in the movie Amazing Grace, which focused on the long struggle of William Wilberforce, a committed Christian and member of Parliament who made ending the slave trade his life’s ambition.
Given that I too am a former elected official, I have long found Wilberforce to be my inspiration. Aside from the fact that Wilberforce is one of the few (perhaps the only?) politician recognized in the Book of Common prayer with a day on the church calendar, what is fascinating to me about Wilberforce is that as a young member of Parliament, he had a crisis—not a crisis of faith, but rather a crisis of calling: After his conversion to an evangelical faith, Wilberforce struggled with how best to serve God—as a Priest or as a politician. The decision he made was that he could best serve God by remaining in Parliament—but only if he decided to take on the “lost cause” of ending the slave trade.
Regardless of our profession, we don’t need to become priests to serve God by our careers. And it seems to me that today’s lesson from Isaiah offers a pretty good list of things that God expects us to do in our own lives: work toward justice, feed the poor, house the homeless, and otherwise answer the “call for help.”
Now we can’t all have careers that allow us to have the same impact for justice that Wilberforce had in his life. It certainly appears that I won’t. But we need to remember that Wilberforce did not win the fight against the slave trade all by himself. In 1807, the year that Wilberforce was finally successful, he presented the House of Commons a petition with over 390,000 signatures that were collected by activists from all over Great Britain. He was but one leader among many in a campaign that energized Christians all over the country with the singular aim of ending this horrific trade. And the story of the civil rights movement in our own country is not only that of Martin Luther King, but also the story of tens of thousands throughout the South and the rest of our nation who spoke out for equality.
As is often the case, Robert F. Kennedy said it best in a speech to students in South Africa:
“Give me a place to stand," said Archimedes, "and I will move the world." These men moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. Thousands of Peace Corps volunteers are making a difference in isolated villages and city slums in dozens of countries. Thousands of unknown men and women in Europe resisted the occupation of the Nazis and many died, but all added to the ultimate strength and freedom of their countries. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
To look at the devotions by the Trinity Cathedral, go here (pdf file).