This past Monday, on MLK, Jr. Day, Scott and I went to see the movie Just Mercy. It is the true story that chronicles the early journey of Bryan Stevenson, attorney, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative headquartered in Montgomery, Alabama. I think it was 2017 when I heard Stevenson speak at a conference and was introduced to his work at the EJI and his book, Just Mercy, on which the movie is based. This fall, I watched an HBO documentary, True Justice, about Stevenson’s life and work and learned that the movie was coming out. It felt right that I would see this movie on MLK Day as Stevenson’s work is a contemporary expression of King’s work for equality and justice for all in this country.
Warning: this is a hard movie to watch. I knew that going into it. But that didn’t help. I cried – a hard, ugly cry. I was stunned, angry, speechless at different points throughout the movie. Why? Because it’s impossible to see this story unfold and not be confronted with the reality that race is still an issue in this country. It’s impossible to watch this story unfold and not be confronted with the racial and economic biases that swirl around in our criminal justice system. It’s impossible to watch this movie and not be challenged to think about the role of justice and mercy not only in the criminal justice system but in our hearts.
It was not a comfortable, fun movie. But I would see it again, and I would encourage you to consider seeing it or to watch the HBO documentary True Justice. Why? Because as both Pastor Allee and I talked about last Sunday, the only way for us as followers of Jesus to carry on Christ’s work of healing and reconciliation in our neighborhoods and our world is if we are willing to be uncomfortable. We must be willing to hear the whole story of racial division and injustice. We must be willing to sit with our discomfort long enough to feel the pain of others and to develop compassion, mercy, and empathy. We must be willing to allow our brothers and sisters of color to speak their truth, even when it makes us uncomfortable. For in hearing the truth, in feeling the pain, the grace of Christ flows and we discover the truth that we really are brothers and sisters, bound together for better or worse on this fragile planet. As we begin to acknowledge the pain of racial bias in our culture, we can begin to reach out to one another in mutual love, respect, and grace to build new, healthy, life-giving neighborhoods and communities for all.
I keep thinking about the words to the Mister Roger’s Neighborhood theme song, “Would you be mine, could you be mine, won’t you be my neighbor? Won’t you please, Won’t you please, please won’t you be my neighbor?” We follow a Savior who was constantly reaching across cultural and religious boundaries and divisions to love and serve his neighbors, to offer healing, hope, and grace. And he gave his life for us that we might be reconciled to God and one another. As we will read from the book of Ephesians this week, “he is our peace, … and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (Ephesians 2:14) This week as we continue in our message series “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” we will explore more about the power of Christ to dismantle the walls that divide us and how the church can be an instrument of healing and reconciliation in our world.
I want to be a good neighbor to all God’s children, regardless of color, creed, age, ability, gender or social class. I know that this church wants to be a good neighbor as well. This church is filled with people who have been walking and working and standing up as advocates for racial justice and reconciliation for more years than I have been alive. Seriously. I’m humbled by that reality and that gift. Today, with Christ as our hope and peace, we are called to carry on that work that leads to the day when Paul’s words are fulfilled and we are all no longer strangers, but true neighbors.
I look forward to seeing you in worship this week!
Grace and Peace,