A Renewed Call to “Rise Up” by Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace

“Arise, Your Light has Come”
(Isaiah 60:1)

With Labor Day behind us, Fall is now upon us. We are mindful that the warm days of summer will soon be a distant memory. Backpacks have been blessed and school buses are again picking up our children. Educators of all ages have embarked on another academic year in hope of making a difference on some young mind and heart. And for us in the church, this new rhythm and year is marked by rally days as we come together in our congregations to affirm our belonging to a community that offers the hope of Christ in a world clearly wrestling with despair. This movement into a new season, in many ways, rhythmically echoes the prophet Isaiah’s words to those returning to their beloved Jerusalem from exile, “Arise, your light has come.” These words remind them and us that we are called to rise up from our knees and our prayers as a people of hope – even and especially when faced with uncomfortable choices. That is our call as the Church of Jesus Christ – to stand with our Biblical Jesus values – even and especially when it feels unpopular or inconvenient.

As I shared with almost 2,000 women last month at the National Presbyterian Women’s gathering, I believe we – the church today – finds itself at a historical and critical crossroads (yet again). These crossroads are defined when Christians of all backgrounds, cultures, races and traditions come face to face with a fork in the road that requires believers to choose a way forward – the way of holy defiance or the of silence and cultural complicity. As a nation, the importing of a people from western Africa and enslaving them is one example of the church’s dance with silence and complicity. These critical intersections have occurred over and over again throughout history. As people after people are reduced to a place of non-being or second-class citizenship, the church has been called and compelled to rise.
Consider the dislocation of our indigenous north American siblings; the internment of our Japanese American siblings; the inhumanity of our current immigration reality, the rise of modern slavery through human trafficking, forced labor and child slavery, the promotion of fear as a way of vilifying one another. The list goes on – as the church is again called out of its comfort bubble – more often than not, with some resistance.

I was reminded recently of an old country song I loved when I was 18 – Jesus was a Capricorn; he ate organic food. He believed in war and peace and never wore no shoes. Long hair, beard and sandals and a funky bunch of friends. Lord knows if he’d come back now, we’d nail him up again. I suspect there is truth to these words even today.

The truth is, we Christians, not unlike our ancestors who were exiled to Babylon, have a high tolerance for co-existence with the culture around us – we like our comfort bubble. It takes a lot for the larger church to hear the voice of our contemporary prophets; to choose between faith and grace over the powers of the world. But here is the good news – when the church does claim its voice, when we break our silence – history has proven that mountains can be moved.

I believe this is one such moment. And this is not about popular politics and political parties – this is not about red, blue or even purple states. I love and serve people across these states and shades. This is about reclaiming our Jesus state of mind and heart – to let that voice be heard at a time such as this. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the church, the conscience of the state. I believe our corporate conscience today is telling us that something is not right; that something is broken; that something must change – and we realize (perhaps reluctantly) that as a Jesus people, we are called to be part of that change. We can no longer let words that shape our identity be hijacked by interpretations that are not of Christ. Like the prophet Isaiah, God’s voice is breaking into our reality – calling us to rise up and invite others to rise up with us.

So friends, using the mental tempo of Hamilton – An American Musical, we are called to rise up; when we’re living on our knees, we rise up. Tell our sisters that we’re gonna rise up; tell our brothers that they have to rise up; when are folks like you and me going to rise up? So may we rise – like colorful kites adorning the sky, understanding as Winston Churchill reminded us – kites fly highest against the wind, not with it. So as we begin our new seasons of ministry in our various contexts and congregations…..

  • May we rise up against the wind – and be church – who in hope faithfully grow and disciple our children of all ages in the ways of Jesus – clearly affirming what we do as part of who we are – because of whose we are.
  • May we rise up against the wind – and be a church that embraces evangelism not as a program but as the incarnation of the proclamation.
  • May we rise up against the wind – and in holy defiance – take our teachings out into the world.
  • May we rise up in hope – embracing all humanity across gender, sexual orientation, age, race, ability, nationality or culture.
  • May we rise up in hope – affirming the uniqueness of our races and diversity as an expression of God’s love for the beauty of colors and threads that together weave the full tapestry of creation.
  • May we rise up in hope – giving voice and presence to those who cannot speak nor stand for themselves.
  • May we rise up in hope – providing food and shelter to all who are hungry and homeless
  • May we rise up in hope – breaking the silence in the world and church that has perpetuated the abuse of so many – children, youth, women and men
  • May we rise up in hope – embracing the stranger – building bridges instead of walls.
  • May we rise up in the hope of the resurrection – trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit as she compels us forward into new life.

This is our call – as we together rise up from our pews- standing for a world that God wants – one of love, mercy and justice. May we rise – boldly in divine defiance of the brokenness around us. As Maya Angelou reminds us – in the midst of all the challenges – “You may trod me in the very dirt – But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”