Congressman John Robert Lewis’ name is associated with the Civil Rights Movement, social justice advocacy and “good trouble.” He was a member of the United States Congress representing Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District. He died at age 80 on July 17 after a battle with cancer.
“We are hearing a lot about good trouble right now,” said the Rev. Leslie D. Callahan. She gave the homily at the 9:15 a.m. EDT morning devotional service Wednesday, Aug. 5, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. Her sermon title was “Good Trouble,” and the scripture text was Romans 8:17-25 (NRSV) —
“… and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ — if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Lewis spoke about good trouble, and he lived out its claim on him as an advocate for justice for Black people. He was the last living speaker from the civil rights March on Washington in 1963. He lived out the claim of good trouble on “Bloody Sunday” on the Edmund Pettus bridge, where he was beaten by police.
“Living out good trouble caused him great trouble,” Callahan said. “He fought for the rights of all those who were oppressed and he tried to enlist others in good trouble.”
His faith and hope, she said, were grounded in the traditions of Romans, Chapter 8. “He was a Christian believer, and his radical discipleship was how he got into good trouble.”
Paul, in writing to the Romans, reminded them that they were God’s people, who were frequently on the side of the mistreated by the power structures under which they lived. “God chooses the lowly and despised to change trouble into good trouble,” she said.
In validating their trouble, Paul called the Roman Christians joint heirs with Christ — therefore we are connected to the trouble Jesus got into.
Callahan told the congregation, “When we strive for the right and fight oppression, those actions cause us to get in trouble with powers that uphold the hierarchy where some people have too much and others don’t have enough.”
She continued, “If we stand with Jesus of Nazareth who said that he was there to preach good news to the poor, and the first shall be last and the last shall be first, the hierarchies will collapse. When we stand with Jesus of Nazareth, we choose good trouble because it is the connection with Jesus that makes the trouble good.”
Evil is limited and God is not, Callahan said. Even though it seems like trouble has no end it is faith — the faith of Jesus Christ, John Lewis and St. Paul — that counts. The trouble of this time is not worthy to compare with the glory to come, wrote Paul.
Faith based in hope cannot see the end goal. “My ancestors said, ‘Trouble don’t last always.’ There is an end to the troubles of this world. Hope gives us the courage to stick our noses in places where we might get in trouble,” Callahan said. “We might get into some fights that look like we are losing, and the whole creation is groaning, because we are waiting for God’s children to act.”
Callahan recalled the words of Lewis, sent out on his Twitter account just before his death. “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
This is not just a challenge from Lewis, and not just encouragement from Paul, she said. “This is the mark of faithful, living discipleship. Don’t be afraid to get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
The Rev. Paul Womack, a retired United Methodist minister and co-host at the United Methodist House in Chautauqua Institution, presided from the Hall of Christ. Joshua Stafford, interim organist for Chautauqua Institution, played the Tallman Tracker Organ. Michael Miller, a Chautauqua Opera Apprentice Artist, served as vocal soloist. The organ prelude, performed by Stafford, was “Just As I Am,” by Emma Lou Diemer. Miller sang the hymn, “In the Cross of Christ I Glory.” The anthem was “Adagio for Glass Harmonica,” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Stafford played an improvisation for the postlude. This program is made possible by the Jackson-Carnahan Memorial Chaplaincy and the Harold F. Reed, Sr. Chaplaincy.