Power at the Crossroad
Fifty years ago yesterday, power stood at a crossroad. Hundreds of African-Americans were supposed to begin a peaceful march from Selma, AL to the capitol in Montgomery. Marching to protest the systematic lynching of their most basic right to cast a ballot, they prepared to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge – a bridge that was named in honor of a leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Power stood at a crossroad.
As the 600 people left Brown Chapel led by John Lewis and Hosea Walker, they walked in front of neighbors and friends. They, arm in arm, took those strides toward freedom. They marched through their home town headed to the steps of the state capital. But as they approached the steel dragon of a bridge, they came to a crossroad. Sheriff Jim Clark and his posse were stationed on the other side of the bridge – the other side of the Jordan.
Barking his order through a megaphone that caused his voice to take on the timbre of machinery – he demanded they turn around and head back to town. And at the top of the bridge – the promised land in sight – the marchers stood a crossroad. There was power at the crossroad. The power of Jim Crow come face to face with the power of Liberating Love.
Hesitating, breath bated, the power of Love moved forward. Determined to get to the promised land. But it was too much this time. Pharaoh Clark released his plagues. The dogs and horses, batons and tear gas began to fly. Faces were smashed. Bodies beaten. Blood and vomit; tears and urine filled the street. The powers of chaos and brutality tore and the frail human body.
And in that instant – power stood at a the crossroad. Images from the incident at the Edmund Pettus Bridge interrupted a news program about Nazi atrocities. People who had never known the power of Jim Crow were disgusted. They saw the police they were supposed to trust attacking non-violent marchers. They watched in horror as those commissioned to protect and serve sent their beast along the crossroad attacking those who wanted their freedom. And in that instant – though to those on the bridge it seemed a defeat – love began to win. In that instant – Jesus came into the temple and began turning over the tables. Clearing the temple of those things that keep us away from God. In that instant – in those horrific images, the temple of Jim Crow was dealt a crippling blow and the cornerstone of the Temple of Christ’s Liberating Love was laid.
Dr. King arrived and put out the call for all clergy all over the country to come to Selma, and they did. Instead of the power of Pharaoh laying waste to the marchers – there at their crossroad they – through their tears and blood – heard Jesus calling to them. March on. The tables have been turned. March on. The temple of Love is now. There is power at the crossroad.
Jesus takes that which seems impossible and turns the tables. Jesus takes all that seeks to keep God’s people from being fully the people God intends and turns the tables. Jesus turns the tables on all those things that get in our way. That get in your way – that want to keep you from God.
Jesus went to the temple that day to prepare for the passover. The sight he encountered was not an unfamiliar sight, and according to John was an accepted practice. In the court of the gentiles before one would enter into the court of the men or the court of the women to offer their sacrifice – there were vendors. These vendors sold birds and lamb and cattle. To save families from having to bring their offerings from home – they could purchase them at the temple. As far as we know in the Gospel of John – there was nothing wrong with this practice. For the people, the Temple was the crossroad of the Divine and the World – and these animals were the toll to be on that road.
Jesus went to the temple that day to prepare for the passover, and zeal, passion, fire for God’s house overtook him. The walls of the massive edifice seemed to grow like weeds in the sun of the summer. Looking around he saw people consumed with right practice; money changers and priests obsessed with right rules; he saw the walls that divided the gentiles from the Jewish women and the walls from the women to the men and from the men to the priests and the priests from the Holy of Holies. He saw the walls keeping people from being in the very presence of God. Blocking the crossroad of the Divine and the world. And fire consumed him. Holy rage and he began overturn the systems in place that kept people from God. He turned over the tables promising to rebuild a new temple. A temple where the veil is torn and there is nothing that can separate the people from the power of God’s liberating love. There was power at this crossroad.
We have spent this entire Lenten season on the crossroad. We have come through the waters of the Jordan to be throw into the wilderness were the beasts test us and tempt us – only to have the voice of God carry us to safety. Calling us Beloved.
For those of us here last week we stood at the crossroad. Ready to follow Jesus to the cross. Promised that though the road is rough – we go with Jesus.
And now in the confidence of the cross – called beloved, promised we go not alone but with Jesus himself – we are given a power at the crossroad. We stand at the door of the temple, and what do we see? Do we see a status quo that burdens people with guilt or do we see the temple of Liberating Love that has the tables turned and grants access to God to everyone? Do we stand at the top Edmund Pettus Bridge determined to cross to the other side, or do we turn away in fear. Are we bold enough to say I am God’s and nothing can keep me from God, or do we hid behind rules and good order trying to earn God’s love?
We have power at the crossroad.
That power is rooted int he foolishness of the cross. It is rooted int eh absurdity that we stand and fight with a God who was crucified – killed. The power we have is the power of Jesus who had the audacity to storm into the temple and turn over the tables. Tables that kept God’s people from fully experiencing God.
Jesus at the temple is foreshadowing the day he is nailed to the cross. When his arms are stretched out on that beam and the nails pounded into his wrists, all of the walls that keep us from God come tumblin’ down. The veil is ripped. The bridge is crossed. The walls we build to keep God to ourselves fall like the walls of a sandcastle meeting the rising tide. The power of the cross is that it turns the tables on the entire world as we know it.
When you have had it drilled into your head that you are not good enough. That because of something that happened in your past, that you somehow have to earn God’s love. God’s Grace…Jesus turns over the tables.
When abuse upon abuse is heaped upon you. When the words cut into your soul like a knife through linen. When the hand that you thought loved you, stings like a bee…Jesus is there turning over the tables. Telling you are are loved. You are special. That the pain you feel is all too real, but you are not alone. For there is nothing that can keep you from the love of God.
When you have been abused by the church – told that because you are gay or that you have had a child out of wedlock or that you are divorced – told that you are somehow not worthy to be in the church. Jesus turns the tables. Tears down the walls of arrogance and ego and brings you into the Holy of Holies.
When the walls of the world seem to be growing too fast: the racialized polices; the agist mentalities; the sexist ideologies; the classist methodologies; when they meet you like turns in a maze – Jesus overturns the tables and clears the path way.
And when you come face to face with God. When the overturned tables make a way to the Holy of Holies you are given a power that allows you to stand with your arms raised in praise of the one who does nothing but fully love you for who your. Who fills you with Holy Fire. Who gives you power to turn over the tables and make clear the way of the Lord.
There is power at the crossroad. There is power on Pettus bridge. There is Power in the over turned tables. There is power in Emerson Avenue Baptist Church. Where we are the church on the corner that turns over the tables that would keep any away from the Liberating love of God. There is power in this this place when we look at each other as beloved community. When we carry each others burdens and pain. When we dance with joy and keen with sorrow. There is power when we say to all we meet we love you because God loves you.
There is power on the crossroad.
Those 600 people did not turn and run. No they trusted in the power of the overturned tables and they returned two days later and dropped to their knees in prayer. Several days later the mourn the murder of James Leeb, a white ally who came to march in solidarity. Then they came back 2 weeks later 8,000 strong and crossed the river toward the promised land. They marched to Montgomery, turning over the tables of Jim Crow. Demanding their humanity be acknowledged. The marched with the power of Jesus leading the way.
Dr. King on the standing on the steps of the Capital in Montgomery said as much:
“Today I want to tell the city of Selma, today I want to say to the state of Alabama, today I want to say to the people of America and the nations of the world, that we are not about to turn around. We are on the move now.
“Yes, we are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us. We are on the move now. The burning of our churches will not deter us. The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. We are on the move now. The beating and killing of our clergymen and young people will not divert us. We are on the move now. The wanton release of their known murderers would not discourage us. We are on the move now. Like an idea whose time has come, not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. We are moving to the land of freedom.”
Beloved, the power of Jesus is on the crossroad. Turning over tables. Tearing down walls. The power of Jesus is the foolishness of the cross. The power of Jesus is the voice that calls you beloved. The power of Jesus is the promise you are not alone. The power of Jesus is the turned over tables – forever uniting us with the liberating love of God.
Thanks be to God.