Just over eleven hours after I finish preaching on Sunday, I will board an American Airlines jet bound for Heathrow, and from there a British Airways connection to Edinburgh.
Naturally I am very excited about the opportunity to participate in this international pulpit exchange. I’m deeply grateful to Doug Orr for first suggesting the idea, and humbled that this exchange between our two churches — Warren Wilson Presbyterian and the Dunkeld Cathedral — is helping to inaugurate a broader cultural and economic exchange that is expected to arise following the signing last fall of a formal Sister Cities partnership between Asheville and Dunkeld-Birnam.
(Sidebar: Sister Cities International was founded in 1956 by then President Dwight Eisenhower. It aims to advance peace and prosperity through cultural and educational exchanges and through humanitarian and economic development efforts. This exchange between our two congregation is one of the first such exchanges of this new relationship between Asheville and the joint community of Dunkeld-Birnam.)
I hope — no, I know — you will welcome Fraser warmly to our pulpit. I also know that hearing his voice and gaining his perspective will enrich the life of this congregation. But these exchanges are meant to benefit not just the communities involved but the individuals, too. So if you’d like to help introduce Fraser and Susan to the joys of Asheville and the surrounding area, you are welcome to call the church office and schedule an outing with them — maybe dinner at your favorite restaurant, or a hike to see a waterfall, or a visit to the Folk Art Center. Just use your imagination, and follow where it leads.
All of that is true: I’m excited to participate in this international pulpit swap, and I’m honored to represent our congregation as part of this broader cultural exchange. But I must also say that I feel a little remorse that I am leaving at this precise moment in the life of our country. For many of us, it feels like decisions have lately been made (or are continuing to be made) by all three branches of government that assail our values and undermine our sense of what America is about, and what we stand for as a country.
These actions and decisions are making many of us feel acutely anxious about the future. So, part of me wishes I could remain here with you to help shepherd us through what feels like a foreboding wilderness. But two things: One, I will only be gone for two Sundays. (I’m reminding myself of this, perhaps more than I’m reminding you.) And two: There is cause for hope. To illustrate this point, I need to draw on a specific example from the political world for just a moment.
Earlier this week, a young Latina candidate ran in a primary to represent a congressional district that stretches across parts of the Bronx and Queens in New York City. Her name is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I’m not endorsing her as a candidate, nor am I necessarily endorsing her policy positions. But I am endorsing her story. She is just 28 years old. Coming from a working class background, she has no personal fortune of her own of the kind that so often fund political campaigns nowadays. So, an inexperienced newcomer, with no name recognition and no money at her disposal, went up against a highly placed, well-funded, long-standing incumbent. And guess what? She won. She did so — and this is the point I’m getting to — in large part because she employed one of the best campaign slogans I have ever heard: “They have the money,” she said in one of her campaign ads. “But we have the people.”
That sentiment is inspiring in and of itself. In a democracy, the power is always, ultimately, with the people. We just have to use it, and make common cause with others who share our commitment to a bright, hopeful future for Americans of all kinds — including newcomers who aspire to join us as citizens. But we have something else, too. We have faith. The scriptures are filled from start to finish with stories about how “the little people” go up against big powerful interests — sometimes literal giants — and win. And they win because they are not alone. God is with them and for them.
It is true that defeating powerful interests who work against God’s divine purposes is rarely easy and it’s often not quick. Looking back over the historical record, we see that the moral arc of the universe does indeed bend toward justice. But sometimes bending that arc can feel like bending a steel rod. It’s takes lots of people, exerting a lot of effort, sometimes over a sustained period of time, to usher in the reign of God and to realize the kind of progress we all wish to see in the world.
So, be brave and wage hope. Keep singing and praying, and working and worshiping together, and I will see you again very soon!