“We need to get into good trouble.” John Lewis
“These men…greatly trouble our city” Acts 16:20 (speaking of Paul and Silas)
“These men who have upset the world have come here also.” Acts 17:6 (speaking of Christ-followers) – “upset” is a political word meaning “revolt”
“They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” Acts 17:7
“We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect.” Acts 24:5 (speaking of Paul)
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” Luke 1:52 (Mary’s Annunciation Song about God)
Seutonius (69-140 CE), a Roman historian of the Imperial House under the Emperor Hadrian, wrote of Christ and Christians and the “disturbances” caused by them, namely not worshipping idols and, get this, “loving all, including their tormentors.”
Yes. Loving our enemies can cause disturbances. Weird, isn’t it?
What do John Lewis, Paul, the early Christians, and God have in common? Troublemakers. All of them.
John Lewis was a preacher before he was a politician.
His first congregation was a flock of chickens under his care as a child. Being a Baptist, he tried to baptize them. Ha!
Since 1963 the country has been his congregation as he was introduced to the nation as one of the speakers at the “March on Washington” on August 28, 1963.
Since 1987 the United States Congress has been his congregation as a U.S. Representative of Georgia’s 5th Congressional District.
His sermons were stirring.
His teachings caused trouble to the status quo.
Do you think it’s ok to be a troublemaker? We were taught and told, “Don’t make trouble.” But, as John Lewis, Paul, and Jesus show us, there can be good trouble.
John Lewis’ journey along the path of trouble is instructive. Let’s start with the August 28, 1963 speech. What he actually spoke is not what he originally wrote. His first draft of the speech was considered by the march’s organizers to be too radical. (Maybe I should have that group look at some of my sermons before I deliver them!)
For example, they asked him to remove a section in which he pledged to “burn Jim Crow to the ground” and “fragment the South into a thousand pieces.”
“Too much…A bit harsh,” they said. He altered it to: “We will march through the South…with the spirit of love and with the spirit of dignity we have shown here today.”
Which version do you like? Which approach do you prefer?
The version we heard in his speech and watched in his life showed “a spirit of love and dignity”.
He exchanged the way of violence for the way of nonviolence.
Lawmakers attending a memorial service for Rep Lewis, burst into a standing ovation on Monday after listening to a recorded commencement address by the “Conscious of the Congress.” You can read it here, or listen to it here.
You might just want to stand and applaud as well, or sit there and cry.
Here are the closing words from John Lewis’ speech:
In the final analysis, we all must learn to live together as brothers and sisters. We all live in the same house. And it doesn’t matter whether we are black or white, Latino, Asian American, or Native American. It doesn’t matter whether you’re straight or gay. We are one people. We are one family. We all live in the same house.
Be bold. Be courageous, stand up. Speak up. Speak out and find a way to create the beloved community, the beloved world, a world of peace, a world that will recognize the dignity of all humankind. Never become bitter. Never become hostile. Never hate. Live in peace. We’re one, one people and one love. Thank you very much.
Thank you, John Lewis, very much for following in the way of “good trouble.”