Many of you know that back in April I took part in a Moral Monday protest in Raleigh that resulted in me being arrested along with 9 other clergy types. Last Monday, bright and early, I drove up to the Wake County Courthouse along with Robin Tanner, the minister at Piedmont UU, who was arrested the same time I was. It turned out that this was just the initial appearance and this case will be going on, probably well into 2016.
I didn’t know that Dr. William Barber would be with us that morning. Dr. Barber is president of the NC NAACP and the founder of the Moral Monday movement. He is a national figure. It takes a lot to impress me these days, and this man is beyond impressive. He truly has become one of my heroes.
When I was there for the two year anniversary of the Moral Monday movement in April and we marched to the statehouse, Dr. Barber grabbed my hand and we walked together at the beginning of the procession. I was so overwhelmed that it was all I could do to keep from crying. Up until then, I had only seen Dr. Barber from a distance as he addressed thousands of people with such power and wisdom that he seemed almost superhuman to me.
So, last Monday we were together again, but in a much more intimate setting. We spent a lot of time waiting around, so I had the opportunity to stand and chat with him and I could see that he was just a person like all the rest of us. Well, maybe not like all the rest of us, but he’s a person. He’s kind, and gentle in a way I hadn’t realized. A very sweet man. And pretty funny, too.
I didn’t know that this court case was a big deal until I saw all the TV cameras. After the court proceedings, we gathered as a group with Dr. Barber for a press conference. And once again he grabbed my hand and pulled me close. “I want you standing right here beside me,” he said. And I’m thinking, what’s the deal with this guy, why does he always want me standing beside him and why is he always holding my hand? But then, as I looked up and down the group I understood why. I was the only little, old white woman with silver hair. Dr. Barber is a very large, imposing black man who towers over me, so the visual contrast between the two of us is striking. Both of us standing there, side-by-side, hand-in-hand, shows people the diversity of the Moral Monday movement. Did I feel like I was being used? Nope. I was being useful. And honored to do it.
Well, after things broke up, Robin and I accompanied Dr. Barber out of the building and waited with him for his ride. And here’s where things got really interesting for me. I imagined that it must have felt a little bit like it did for the disciples of Jesus who followed him around. This man is a celebrity. Everyone who saw him wanted to talk to him. They wanted to have their picture taken with him. He was always gracious and took the opportunity to speak personally with people. He wanted to know their name, where they were from, how he could help them. Really, the way he handled people was amazing to me.
In between all of this, he conversed with Robin and me. I hung on every word he said and wished I had a recording device because I wanted to remember it all. Actually, what I’d love to do is take about two months and follow the man around so I could record everything he does and says.
As Dr. Barber, Robin and I were standing outside the courthouse, a couple of guys carrying Bibles approached us and they started telling us about their ministry with drug addicts. Dr. Barber was interested in what they were doing and engaged them in conversation. But then they started on what’s wrong with this country and they were lamenting the fact that this isn’t a Christian nation anymore and we all need to follow Christ and the way to do that is by putting prayer back in public schools. Now, when I hear people talking like this, I get my hackles up. I want to say something like, “Have you ever heard of the Bill of Rights?” and I let them know immediately where I stand. So, I was paying close attention because I wanted to hear how Dr. Barber handled it.
He listened, and he affirmed the importance of prayer, and then he turned it all around by saying something like just saying the name of Jesus and praying isn’t enough. What are we going to do about the cuts in teacher salaries? What are we going to do about taking money from public education and giving it to private schools? We fail to be Christian when we fail to invest in our children’s future. Since I didn’t have a recorder going, I can’t remember his exact words, but that’s the gist of it, as I recall. He didn’t argue with them about school prayer, he met them there and moved the conversation forward.
Afterwards, I turned to Dr. Barber and I said, “How did you do that?”
He explained to me that he always tries to meet a person where they are. For these guys, that’s the only way of thinking they knew, so that’s where he starts. He starts with what they know and he goes from there.
He did it in such a loving way that I wasn’t sure they really heard what he was saying to them. He was disagreeing with them, but he said it in such a way that I suspect they thought he might have been agreeing with them. So I asked, “Do you think they got what you were saying?”
And here’s basically what he said to me. “That’s not my job. My job is to say it. And, whether they realized what I said or not, the Holy Spirit isn’t going to let them forget. The Holy Spirit will take it from here. We’re in this for the long term.”
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
That’s the kingdom of God. It’s like scattering seed on the ground. Once you scatter the seed, there is nothing you can do to force it to grow. You wait. It’s a long process. No one really understands how it works, but the seed breaks open and becomes a stalk. Then there is the head, and then the grain becomes ripe. The sower scatters the seed and waits for God to do the rest.
Dr. Barber was teaching me about what it means to plant seeds.
Planting seeds is not my forte. I’m more about dropping bombshells. Some of you know how true that is. I’ve got some buttons and if you push one of my buttons, look out. I just did it at a meeting last week. Lord, have mercy.
I want to be gentle, I want to plant seeds, I want to be patient and give the Spirit time to work. I really do. But I don’t do so well at planting seeds. Instead, I drop bombshells. Now, the Spirit can use those, too, and sometimes my bombshells may turn into seeds. But more often, they’re just bombshells that explode upon impact. They can do some damage, but they aren’t of much use over the long-haul.
When I think of the people who have changed my life and the people who have changed the world—the ones who have had a lasting impact—it’s not the ones who have dropped bombshells that come to mind. It’s the ones who have planted seeds.
Who are some of the ones who have gone before us planting seeds that have produced the harvest we’re reaping now? And what seeds are we planting today for those who will come after us?
The kingdom of God is about dropping bombshells? Something Jesus never said—ever!
Here’s what Jesus did say: The kingdom of God is about planting seeds.