Sister Pollard's Faith

Scripture | Matthew 10 (selected verses)

What is at stake for you to call yourself a Christian?

What is at stake for you to practice your faith?

To worship God?

To read the bible?

To come and be here today… to be a part of a church community?

What are you risking to follow Jesus?

What are you risking to continue his ministry in the world? 

What are you risking to be his hands and feet in the context of our society today?

What are you risking in your life to be a follower of the risen Christ?

In our scripture today, Jesus is talking to his closest disciples. These are the people who have been journeying with him from town to town. They have been at every sermon, they have been at every dinner gathering. 

They have seen all aspects of Jesus in action, 
praying in the wilderness, teaching to the crowds,
healing the outcast and unclean, the unsavory types overlooked on the fringes of their community, 
and confronting and healing affluent tax collectors types 
who despite being complete insiders who have so much,
are still broken themselves and in need of God’s redeeming love.

These are Jesus’ closest disciples the one who have left behind their lives old lives to follow a new way, who have chosen to to sit at Jesus’ feet, and commit themselves entirely to learning how to be more like him.
He has lead them into a deeper relationship with their God
He has lead them into a deeper relationship with each other
and He he has lead them into a deeper relationship with their neighbor and even the stranger.
But there comes a point for any student, a turning point, a transition…
where you must go out on your own, and begin to apply all that you’ve learned…
It’s that “fly away bird” moment at the end of the show after the injured bird has been nursed back to health….

Jesus calls his disciples together and says to them… 
I’m giving you the authority now… It is on you now… 

Go out and proclaim to people 
that the kingdom of heaven is here,
Use your words and proclaim to them
that God world has come near, and it is being realized right here right now.

And them proclaim it with your actions…
heal the sick
bring those who are dead into new life
cleanse and renew people outcast because of the conditions of their lives.
Rid the world of the evil you encounter, restore the world’s broken relationships with God.

Jesus tells his disciples… these people who he has trained for so long… 
Its on you now…  Go out and do this critically important kingdom-building work 

But then he warns them….
Be aware of the risks involved…
People are hard set in their ways and fearful of change… 
and God’s kingdom, rooted in sacrificing love, rooted in forgiveness and hope, and peace, 
is radically different.

He says
Everyone will hate you on account of my name.
Your family may disown you because of me…
Even in your synogogues, in your places of worship, in your city councils
people will beat you up because of me…  
You will be brought before judges and leaders 
to be condemned to death because of this work God has called us to do…

Faith for Jesus isn’t a passive thing,
Faith for Jesus isn’t only an exercise of the mind, or a practice of the heart, 
In Jesus’ eyes “our faith,” the intimate inner-workings of our belief, our relationship with God,
should eventually lead us to take the risky move outwards, 
outside of our internal world, 
and into the external world where people are desperate for God’s Redemptive love.
In Jesus’ eyes our faith should ultimate lead us outward… beyond the walls of the church, 
and into a world that is hungry for God’s healing, loving presence.

Faith for Jesus is only as good as the ministry your faith calls you into.
And what Jesus is warning his disciples about 
is that ministry is something that you have to sacrifice for… to have skin in the game for…
Ministry is something that will involve taking risk.

Jesus calls his disciples together says to them…  I’m giving you the authority now…
This ministry is on you now… Pick up your own crosses and follow me.

It is an impossible ask…  love God, love God’s people, love God’s world
And love it to the point that you would risk your life in service to it….
pick up your crosses… 
be willing to follow me… risking yourself even to the point of death.
It is an impossible ask… if it weren’t for one thing…
Jesus says the Spirit of God the father is with you…

He Says:
Those who receive you are also receiving me, and those who receive me are receiving the one who sent me.

It would be an impossible thing…
if it weren’t for the fact that God joins us every step of the way.

Growing up in the south, as I did, it is hard to ignore the context of the long history of racism, of slavery, of segregation, and the hard, and long fought work of the civil rights movement.  

And even though I was born some 30 years after this moment in history, so much of the story of the struggle for civil rights has shaped me. It’s shaped my worldview, and shaped my faith. It shaped me, not only because of the grief I’ve felt along the way at learning the severe wrong done to African Americans though out  the 400 year history of slavery, racial segregation, discrimination, and disenfranchisement. 

But it also shaped me because of the profound courage, and deep faith it took from so many black Americans, to stand up for what is right, to demonstrate even it if meant great risk to themselves in order to heal the broken structures in our society. 

When I think of Jesus telling the disciples…  “take up your cross and follow me,” it is the stories of these people, many of whom were faithful christians and faith leaders that I first think of… people whose faith compelled them to follow Christ outwards to work for a vision of God’s kingdom… even at great risk to themselves.

I think of Students sitting non-violently and peacefully at a “White’s only” Woolworth lunch counter… while being engulfed by the jeers, threats, and shame shouted at them onlookers… and I hear Jesus saying: “Take up your cross and follow me…”

I think of the non-violent march from Selma to Montgomery, choosing to not turn back but to march on over the bridge despite seeing a crowd of Alabama State troopers ready to attack… and I hear Jesus saying: take up your cross and follow me…

So many faithful people courageously risked their lives and stood up to a world that was refusing to change… But God was with them in their fight, God was with them in their struggle, and they never lost faith… And as they took up their crosses… God was with them.

Since Martin Luther King Day, I’ve been trying to regularly read through his sermons… He was a first a foremost a preacher after all, and a very good one at that… I recently read a story in a sermon he preached that I’d like to share… that says a lot about this time in history, and the Christian faith that compelled them to press on in building God’s kingdom. He says:

“I remember down in Montgomery, Alabama, When we were in the midst of the bus boycott, we had a marvelous old lady that we affectionately called Sister Pollard.  She was a wonderful lady about seventy-two years old and she was still working at that age. During the boycott she would walk every day to and from work. Somebody stopped one day and asked her while she was walking, “Wouldn’t you like to ride?” And she said, “No.”  They drove along a little further with her and said, ”Well, aren’t you tired?” She said, “Yes, my feets is tired, but my soul is rested.”She was a marvelous lady. 

And one week I can remember that I had gone through a very difficult week. Threatening calls had come in all day and all night the night before, and I was beginning to falter and get weak within and  lose my courage.  And I never will forget that I went to the mass meeting that Monday night very discouraged and a little afraid, and wondering whether we were going to win the struggle.

And I got up to make my talk that night, but it didn’t come out with strength and power.  Sister Pollard came up to me after the meeting and said, “Son, what’s wrong with you?”  She Said, “You didn’t talk strong enough tonight.” And I said, “Nothing is wrong, Sister Pollard, I’m all right.” She said, “You can’t fool me.” She said, “Something wrong with you.” I said, “Everything is going to be all right, Sister Pollard.” And then she finally said, “Now come close to me and let me tell you something one more time, and I want you to hear it this time.” She said, “Now I done told you we is with you.”  She said, “Now, even if we ain’t with you, the Lord is with you.”And she concluded by saying, “The Lord’s going to take care of you.”

And I’ve seen many things since that day. I’ve gone through many experiences since that night in Montgomery, Alabama. Since that time Sister Pollard has died. Since that time I’ve been in more than eighteen jail cells. Since that time I’ve come perilously close to death… Since that time I’ve seen my home bombed three times. Since that time I’ve had to live every day under the threat of death. Since that time I’ve had many frustrating and bewildering nights.  But over and over again I can still hear Sister Pollard’s words: “God’s going to take care of you.”  So today I can face any man and any woman with my feet solidly placed on the ground and my head in the air because I know that when you are right, God will fight your battle.
— "Three Dimensions of a Complete Life," Sermon Delivered at New Covenant Baptist Church by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.,  April 9, 1967,

Friends… 
We follow a God that through our faith calls us into an outward ministry.
This is a daunting transition… it takes courage and it takes a willingness to risk ourselves to be a part of building God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven..

But now come in close to me and let me tell you something one more time, 
and I want you to really hear it this time.
We are with you…
And even when we aren’t with you, the Lord is with you.
The Lord’s going to take care of you.

Amen.