- by Sophia Agtarap, ReThink Church, minister of online engagement-
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.
The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. -Isaiah 62:1-4
I was raised in a home where conversations around justice and equality were as common as conversations about how we were doing in school or what was happening in the world that week. That’s what happens when your dad, a United Methodist clergyman was active in the underground anti-Marcos movement in the Philippines while in seminary, and believes that the church has always had a prophetic voice to speak for those who could not. Liberation theology was, and still is a well used, but not worn out phrase in our family. How many elementary school-aged children do you know who knew the name Gustavo Gutiérrez?
Having been raised with five siblings by a single mother, widowed from the war, I'm sure he had his share of feeling and being cast off. Their family was poor, he was the youngest sibling and he spent time living in a United Methodist orphanage because his mother couldn't afford to have one more to feed and clothe. It was the United Methodist Church who reached out to his family.
I can’t say I understand what that must have been like. Though I was born overseas in Papua New Guinea, where my parents were serving as missionaries, I was raised here in the United States. I acknowledge the privilege that comes with that. We are in positions of privilege.
But I am in the minority. I do not live as the other half lives.
I am not counted in the 900 million people who do not have access to clean water. I am not of the 12.3 million adults and children in forced or bonded labor working in agriculture fields, factories and streets in the United States. I am not told, you are not welcome here, you are not whole, you are not enough, you do not have the same privileges, because you choose to love someone of the same sex. I am not the cast off. I am not the forgotten. I am not the voiceless.
One of the dominant themes of Isaiah’s writing is liberation from captivity. Isaiah reminds the forgetful people of God time and time again of God’s saving acts in the exodus--a reminder to trust God’s promises and that God would act similarly in their present situation. A reminder for us, even today. A reminder that has fueled many liberation movements in our time, from the Puritans to the Civil Rights movement to the current struggle for equality and affirmation of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. In recalling God’s redemption of Israel, we are reminded that God’s redemption is for all, equally and without distinction, but most especially for God’s preferred: the poor, the oppressed, the vulnerable, the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, those being pushed and waiting in the margins; in the closets. God desires justice in this world, not only salvation in the next. And we are called to usher in the kindom of God by attending to these preferred in this life. Liberation promises that those who benefit from injustice will lose power.
Things are about to change, not because of anything the people can do, but because of what God will do, stemming from God’s love for God’s people. I cannot imagine the desolation, the isolation and the forgottennes Israel must have experienced for generations, wondering when God would step in and rescue them. I cannot help but remember those in our communities, in our schools, in our workplaces, in our families today who have been asking, "When is it our turn?" But that time is approaching. With the past election's victories for same-sex marriage, with more states considering similar legislation, with bishops and pastors and laypersons offering a prophetic voice that will not be silenced in the face of hate and bigotry and the challenge that they are creating disunity in the church, the time is coming. In this season of epiphany, what a revelation of good news that in the midst of this mess, our God is near. Our God will not keep silent. Our God will not relent.
This God. Our God of the poor, of the afflicted, the enslaved, the abused, the outcast tells Israel--tells us today, of our chosennes. That not in spite of, but because of who we are, we are singled out and selected. Called God’s own. God’s preferred. God’s delight.
Who are they in our midst? Who are the silenced, the marginalized? What do they look like?
It is and always will be God’s consistent love that calls us in and through these times when we are tired of singing the same song. But we are, as God’s people and agents of change, called to be prophets in our time. We are called to sing those songs and issue those invitations to wholeness. To God's shalom, until their voices, too are recognized.It is our charge to continue raising our voices for those who are not here, who haven’t found their place at the table, maybe for those who haven’t even been born but will be born into a world not ready to receive them.
Poet and activist, Audre Lorde, wrote:
I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood...
She believed that our silence would not protect us; would not save us. She spent her life calling marginalized people in the LGBT community from the outskirts and closets to come and speak out and share the truth. Our silence will not save us.
Larry Hollon, General Secretary of United Methodist Communications speaks of this silence in the context of the absence of the voice of the mainline church regarding issues of justice and openness and inclusiveness. "Clearly, we have abdicated our responsibility to participate in the conversation where it is taking place." We have left this conversation to someone else. We have been silent.
Our silence doesn’t let us off the hook, either. If we don’t speak, the exclusion that plagues our world and our church will not go away, for we are called to be the standard bearers of God’s justice and mercy, not those who settle for what’s convenient. And when we are working for justice, it will almost always seem inconvenient.
Those who have been cast off will be brought back. They will be given a new name and a new identity. Beloved. God’s delight.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote:
Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people; but we also will have to repent for the appalling silence of good people.
As we go forth as people called and chosen, may we also remember to continue to call others out from the closets and margins and hiding places where they find themselves or where they have been placed, reminding them that God is a God of love who will not keep silent. Who will not rest until all God’s people have found a sense of belonging and their hope restored. Amen.