The Bible is full of metaphors, words that we use as a stand-in to help us better understand complicated ideas. For example, we think of a widow as a person who lost their partner to death. They suffered the loss of someone dear to them. In scripture, a widow is any person that finds themselves thrown into circumstances where they need protection. Perhaps they counted on their spouse for more than companionship. They are vulnerable, and their livelihood is at risk.
In either case, the label widow does not means incapable. A widow can be quite capable of taking care of themselves and leading others. However, widows are vulnerable because of the failure of the people and the systems surrounding them. In scripture, God takes a firm stance alongside widows. In the first chapter of Isaiah, God reprimands the people. Calling for justice, God says, “See that justice is done—help those who are oppressed, give orphans their rights, and defend widows” (Isaiah 1:17).
See that justice is done—help those who are oppressed, give orphans their rights, and defend widows.
The Book of Isaiah is a story of prophecy. As the book begins, God’s people are struggling and feeling overwhelmed by calamity. As I read this chapter, I think about what we’re going through and what we’re leaning. It was never about the merit or capabilities of widows and orphans. God condemned oppressive systems, whether political, economic, or religious, that resulted in the suffering of people. And God directs the call to correction squarely at anyone in a position to take action.
In our current series, Risen, we examine inequities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, I can’t ignore the political posturing, deflection, and blatant untruths we hear in the daily news from our political leaders. Rather than focus on what our leaders fail to do, our emphasis is what we are called to do. First, we each have a vote. Demand and exercise your right to vote.
The stories that grab our attention cover real people rather than metaphors.
Chapter 56 of Isaiah begins by answering the question of who is included when it comes to God’s favor. Again we find metaphors that confirm that God’s favor is intended for all persons, all of creation, at all times. We uncover more metaphors, including eunuchs and immigrants. All people, whether they have children or don’t have children, whether we know them or don’t know them. All people, whether they are born in our hometown or immigrated here from another country. All means all in God’s view of creation.
So God includes all of us. None of us are excluded from the love of God. And none of us are excluded from God’s expectations. All of us, including widows, eunuchs, orphans, immigrants, friends, strangers, family, and people we don’t like very much. And each of us chooses. Either we accept God’s grace by responding with love towards others, or we choose to oppose God and suffer the consequences.
“In Louisiana, blacks account for 70 percent of the deaths but 33 percent of the population.”
In a conversation with Sylvia Pittman, I asked her to share her views on the inequities we know to exist and are highlighted by the pandemic. Sylvia is an artist, humanitarian, professional musician, and person of faith. And Sylvia is connected with people throughout the country. People from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
One thing that gives Sylvia hope for all of us is the sense of coming together that she hears in people’s voices. And the many examples of people paying it forward through their generosity and action. On the other hand, she is speaking to persons on the front line of the pandemic who witness, first hand, conditions that create further vulnerabilities for groups of people as a result of systemic problems. One example she cited involved a Native American community. We will hear more of Sylvia’s experiences this coming Sunday.
Senator Bernie Sanders gave up his bid for the presidency, but his popularity remains. No other candidate raised money from as many individuals. But it appears that our nation may not be ready for such radical ideas. I’m not taking a side on whether his ideas solve our problems. But I agree with the headline of an opinion article that appeared in the New York Times recently that reads, “The Foundations of American Society Are Failing Us.” 1 And so are our current leaders in Washington.
The Senator’s article placed the blame for the disparities among us that the pandemic brings to light squarely on our policies and practices. Whether you love or dislike Bernie Sanders, his contemporary articulation serves as a wakeup call. Our policies and practices harm the most vulnerable among us — the widows, orphans, and immigrants. And not because they are less capable or less deserving.
In another article in the same issue of the New York Times, journalist Audra D. S. Burch highlighted a few of the civil rights actions taking place across our nation during the pandemic. These are not large crowds ignoring social distancing to protest polices intended to keep us safe. Instead, these are actions by handfuls of individuals keeping hope alive for policy reform. Protesting policies that benefit the privileged while discriminating against others.
Ms. Burch writes that “The Covid-19 racial disparity in infections and deaths is viewed as the latest chapter of historical injustices, generational poverty, and a flawed health care system. The epidemic has hit African-Americans and Hispanics especially hard, including in New York, where the virus is twice as deadly for those populations.” 2
A few days earlier, in an article by Jamelle Bouie, we read that “In Louisiana, blacks account for 70 percent of the deaths but 33 percent of the population.” Louisiana is not an anomaly. Similar disparities show across the country. Boule takes a definitive position on this issue, writing, “Black susceptibility to infection and death in the coronavirus pandemic has everything to do with the racial character of inequality in the United States.” 3
The article cites specific causes for the higher risks experienced by African-Americans. In his article, Boule notes that “Black Americans are more likely to work in service sector jobs, least likely to own a car and least likely to own their homes. They are, therefore, more likely to be in close contact with other people.”
And these discrepancies have nothing to do with capability and everything to do with opportunity and historical policies that disenfranchised large groups of people. These are living examples of whom the metaphors found in scripture represent. The cases offered by Boule raise awareness of our obligations to a Creator who takes the side of the oppressed, standing against policies that result in oppression and the people who benefit from them.
Our obligations to a Creator who takes the side of the oppressed, standing against policies that result in oppression and the people who benefit from them.
I chose the title, Risen, for this series because, as Christians, we believe that God lived among people, was convicted, and then executed. I believe that His conviction came as a result of systems, policies, and people who opposed this idea that privilege is held accountable for the wellbeing of the more vulnerable. But death did not and cannot stop God’s judgment and radical redistribution of wealth and power. Executing Jesus did not stop the movement that He pronounced. Jesus has risen, and Jubilee is already underway. The good news is that we are all invited to join God in paying it forward.
For more information our series, Risen, see the article, Coming up in worship on our website.
I invite you to join us this Sunday. We plan to be live via webinar, through Facebook live, or you can call (929) 436-2866 and enter the meeting number — 324 841 204. We go live at 10:30 am. You can find these links along with more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.
A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to info@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.
1 Bernie Sanders. “The Foundations of American Society Are Failing Us.” © New York Times, April 19, 2020.
2 Audra D. S. Burch. “Why the Virus Is a Civil Rights Issue.” © New York Times, April 19, 2020.
3 Jamelle Bouie. “Why Coronavirus Is Killing African-Americans More Than Others.” © New York Times, April 14, 2020.