On the Workings of the Holy Spirit for Justice

On the Workings of the Holy Spirit for Justice

On the Workings of the Spirit for Justice
January 14, 2024
Traceymay Kalvaitis

Psalm 29

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor. The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders over mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!” The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Mark 1:4-13

John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Today’s sermon is titled On the Workings of the Spirit for Justice.

Today we are offered, as we are this time each year, the story of Jesus’s baptism. For some religious traditions, Jesus’s baptism is more important than Christmas or Easter, because it marks the moment when Jesus received the gift of the Holy Spirit. In his receiving, the gift of the Holy Spirit became even more available to humankind. It seems to me that the gift of the Holy Spirit comes with an unquenchable thirst for justice.

I believe it has been the work of the Holy Spirit through countless people over the long history of humankind that have led us towards a more just society. I believe it is the work of the Holy Spirit, still, that is propelling us forward in our quest to fully live into the high ideals expressed in our Declaration of Independence. One of the self-evident truths is that we are all created equal, with certain unalienable rights. Those words were written in June of 1776 when women did not have the right to vote and human beings were being bought and sold as property. We have come a long way, Friends. We have a long way to go, still, before every person has an equal rights. We still have not managed to pass the Equal Rights Amendment after 92 sessions of Congress, but we press on still, seeking equality, fairness, truth, and reason…the hallmarks of a just and free society.

We have, in our teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, the perfect light to guide our way forward in creating the world we dream of. Jesus, too, dreamed of a better world. On the occasion of his baptism we read that heaven was torn open and the Holy Spirit decended on Jesus. Biblical scholar Matthew Skinner writes that “Jesus’s baptism endowed him with power to unseat the powers of the world.” I had to think long and hard about what might be the powers of the world that are the most difficult to unseat. Of the long list, I could trace them all back to either greed or fear… greed that leads to economic disparity, oppression and misuse of resouces, and fear that leads to judgment, hatred and violence…these are the powers of the world. Greed and fear are the powers that separate us from one another and separate us from experiencing the liberating love of God we see exemplified in Jesus. He welcomes the outcast, uplifts the downtrodden, makes a place for those who have been pushed aside, and gives a voice to those who have been silenced. Through his example, Jesus has inspired generations upon generations of revolutionaries demanding social change.

Today we mark the anniversary of the birth of one such revolutionary, Martin Luther King, Jr. The teachings of Jesus were his guideposts, even from a very early age. I invite you to listen to the following account, written in his own words, from the King Papers archived at Stanford University:

“I went to high school on the other side of town—to the Booker T. Washington High School. I had to get the bus in what was known as the Fourth Ward and ride over to the West Side. In those days, rigid patterns of segregation existed on the buses, so that blacks had to sit in the backs of buses. Whites were seated in the front, and often if whites didn’t get on the buses, those seats were still reserved for whites only, so blacks had to stand over empty seats. I would end up having to go to the back of that bus with my body, but every time I got on that bus I left my mind up on the front seat. And I said to myself, “One of these days, I’m going to put my body up there where my mind is.”
In 1943, when I was fourteen, I traveled from Atlanta to Dublin, Georgia, with a dear teacher of mine, Mrs. Bradley. I participated in an oratorical contest there and I succeeded in winning the contest.
My subject, ironically enough, was “The Negro and the Constitution.”
We cannot have an enlightened democracy with one great group living in ignorance. We cannot have a healthy nation with one-tenth of the people ill-nourished, sick, harboring germs of disease which recognize no color lines—obey no Jim Crow laws. We cannot have a nation orderly and sound with one group so ground down and thwarted that it is almost forced into unsocial attitudes and crime. We cannot be truly Christian people so long as we flout the central teachings of Jesus: brotherly love and the Golden Rule. We cannot come to full prosperity with one great group so ill-delayed that it cannot buy goods. So as we gird ourselves to defend democracy from foreign attack, let us see to it that increasingly at home we give fair play and free opportunity for all people.
Today thirteen million black sons and daughters of our forefathers continue the fight for the translation of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments from writing on the printed page to an actuality. We believe with them that “if freedom is good for any it is good for all,” that we may conquer Southern armies by the sword, but it is another thing to conquer Southern hate, that if the franchise is given to Negroes, they will be vigilant and defend, even with their arms, the ark of federal liberty from treason and destruction by her enemies.
That night, Mrs. Bradley and I were on a bus returning to Atlanta. Along the way, some white passengers boarded the bus, and the white driver ordered us to get up and give the whites our seats. We didn’t move quickly enough to suit him, so he began cursing us. I intended to stay right in that seat, but Mrs. Bradley urged me up, saying we had to obey the law. We stood up in the aisle for ninety miles to Atlanta. That night will never leave my memory. It was the angriest I have ever been in my life.
I had grown up abhorring not only segregation but also the oppressive and barbarous acts that grew out of it. I had also learned that the inseparable twin of racial injustice was economic injustice. Although I came from a home of economic security and relative comfort, I could never get out of my mind the economic insecurity of many of my playmates and the tragic poverty of those living around me. During my late teens I worked two summers in a plant that hired both blacks and whites. Here I saw economic injustice firsthand, and realized that the poor white was exploited just as much as the blacks. Through these early experiences I grew up deeply conscious of the varieties of injustice in our society.”
In closing, Friends, let us pause to remember how far we have come in our fight for equality and justice. As we look to the future, and the work that is yet to be done, I pray that the workings of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of humankind will take us closer to the world Jesus dreamed of, a world where the powers of greed and fear are overcome, a world where love of God is central, and all beings are seen as miraculous expressions of the One Divine. So be it. Amen.
Pastoral Prayer Beloved God, I thank you for the precious gift we receive when we look to Christ as the embodiment of your highest wishes for us and for our fulfillment as human beings. Lead us through these dark times with your holy light and divine love. Lead us in the ways of righteousness. Lead us in the ways of peace. With devotion, I pray in Jesus’s name. So be it. Amen.

Benediction I leave you with these words from the book of Colossians, chapter 3:
“Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and forgive one another, as the Lord has forgiven you.” Amen.