This weekend begins a six-day memorial ceremony to honor Representative John Lewis. The great civil rights icon died on July 17, 2020; my 62nd birthday. A military honor guard will take his body across the infamous Edmund Pettus (hopefully soon to be John Lewis) Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The bridge is where Lewis received a skull fracture from police that could have ended his life on that Bloody Sunday of March 7, 1965. But God had much more to do for this “troubler” before calling him home.
Lewis himself estimated that he had been arrested over forty times. As a “freedom rider” he was also beaten by white people (civilians and law enforcement) who couldn’t believe the audacity of a black man who thought that all people were created equal and should share in the freedom to sit together at “whites only” lunch counters, waiting rooms, and bus stations. He was left for dead after a beating in a bus station in Montgomery, Alabama. Lewis’ drive and tenacity are almost super-human. You can read some of the details of his unbelievable story here: Wikipedia article on John Lewis
In my quiet time with God today, I was reminded that, like all prophets, Lewis was seen by those who wield power unjustly as a “trouble maker.” It reminded me of the prophet Elijah who called out wicked king Ahab in 1 Kings 18. When Ahab saw Elijah coming to challenge him he said, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” Elijah reminded him that it was Ahab who was troubling Israel, by abandoning God and following false idols. Elijah then challenged Ahab and his armies to a seemingly impossible battle. And of course, Elijah proved God right and just by calling fire from heaven on Mount Carmel. And the price on his head for what he had done soon sent him fleeing to another mountain.
Scripture is full of “troublers” like John Lewis and Elijah. The apostle Paul lists numerous arrests and beatings at the hands of authorities on his resume. Jesus himself was the biggest “troubler” of all to the powers of empire. His non-violent resistance to the “powers-that-be” resulted in his arrest and murder at the hands of the religious and government authorities.
John Lewis said, “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” His legacy in the fight for civil rights, along with others like Martin Luther King, Jr., is a challenge to us today. Both men were preachers of God’s word and both were “good trouble” makers. It is on us to decide what kind of “good trouble” we will get into. As I drew and contemplated today, I am asking myself; how much are we willing to speak out, step out, and challenge the powers that continue to oppress and degrade our fellow brothers and sisters of color? How much discomfort, or even danger, are we willing to risk on behalf of those whose voices are being ignored, drowned out, or denigrated? I hope we choose a little “good trouble” to honor John’s legacy.
Watch the service here: John Lewis Service live stream