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In the News.

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Scripture verses that help your adult Sunday school students see how the news item fits into a biblical context.

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Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter Remembered For 'Life of Service and Compassion'
The Wired Word for the Week of December 3, 2023

In the News

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter (1927-2023), died peacefully on Sunday, November 19, at 2:10 p.m. at her home in Plains, Georgia, at the age of 96. This week, Mrs. Carter was honored in three days of ceremonies across Georgia, at the Rosalynn Carter Health and Human Sciences Complex, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, Maranatha Baptist Church in her hometown of Plains, and other locations. A private interment at the Carters' modest family homestead was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. 

"Besides being a loving mother and extraordinary First Lady, my mother was a great humanitarian in her own right," said son James E. "Chip" Carter III. "Her life of service and compassion was an example for all Americans." He added that his parents had taught them, and many others, grace.

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden released this statement: "First Lady Rosalynn Carter walked her own path, inspiring a nation and the world along the way. … Above all, the deep love shared between Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter is the definition of partnership, and their humble leadership is the definition of patriotism. She lived her life by her faith."

Former First Lady Melania Trump noted Rosalynn's "servant's heart and devotion to her husband, family, and country."

Former President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton wrote that "she was an unwavering voice for the overlooked and underrepresented. ... the embodiment of a life lived with purpose."

Former First Lady Michelle Obama commented, "She reminded me to make the role of First Lady my own, just like she did. … [she] dedicated her life to lifting up others. Her life is a reminder that no matter who we are, our legacies are best measured not in awards or accolades, but in the lives we touch." 

Richard Nixon Library released this statement: "With grace and strength, she was a light in the world."

Eleanor Rosalynn (pronounced ROSE-a-lynn) Smith was born August 18, 1927, in Plains, Georgia, to Frances Allethea Murray and Wilburn Edgar Smith, a farmer and auto shop owner. After her father died of leukemia and her mother went to work outside the home as a dressmaker, 13-year-old Rosalynn assisted with housekeeping duties and the care of her siblings and grandfather. She wed another Plains resident, naval officer Jimmy Carter, in 1946.

When the couple returned to Plains in 1953 to run the Carter family agricultural enterprise, Rosalynn managed the business accounts as well as the household. In the 1960s, with Rosalynn's support, Jimmy entered Georgia politics, winning his race for the state senate, and later the governorship (1971-1975). Two years later, they won the White House (1977-1981).

"At the beginning, she was imprisoned by her shyness," Carter biographer E. Stanly Godbold Jr. said. "Once she started breaking out of her shell, she piggybacked her career onto her husband's. Then she had a foot in both worlds, the liberated career woman as well as the supportive spouse."

While Rosalynn did serve in the traditional role of hostess at official White House events and state dinners, she believed a presidential spouse could make a difference in more significant ways to help create what she called "a more caring society." 

The first lady attended Cabinet meetings and National Security Council briefings, had weekly lunches with her husband to discuss policy issues, and testified before Congress. She represented the president on overseas visits with world leaders and was instrumental in facilitating his successful Camp David summit that brokered peace between Israel and Egypt.

As part of her support for women's rights, she advocated for the adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment and successfully lobbied for formal recognition, staffing and funding of the Office of the First Lady. 

Rosalynn worked to lessen the stigma associated with mental illness and to promote greater access to mental health care. She promoted early childhood immunization, American culture, Cambodian refugee relief efforts and creative solutions for the problems of the elderly.

Though some criticized Rosalynn for being what Melanne Verveer, who was Hillary Clinton's chief of staff, called, an "activist first lady," Rosalynn said, "I had already learned from more than a decade of political life that I was going to be criticized no matter what I did, so I might as well be criticized for something I wanted to do. … you might as well do what's right. … You can't let [criticism] stop you. I didn't let it stop me."

In 1978, Rosalynn told The New York Times: "I'm doing [what I'm doing] for the people I can help. And I really believe that I can help," she said.

Rosalynn was committed, she said, to "use my influence to give voice to those who may be powerless, and persuade the powerful to listen."

"Jimmy and I had always worked side by side; it's a tradition in Southern families, and one that is not seen as in any way demeaning to the man," she asserted. "Once the press and our persistent opponents heard about my attendance at the (Cabinet) meetings, very soon it was rumored that I was 'telling' Jimmy what to do! They obviously didn't know Jimmy!" Rosalynn declared.

For his part, President Carter said, "Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished. She gave me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it. As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me."

Journalist Judy Woodruff stated, "Without Rosalynn Carter, I don't believe there would have been a President Carter."

In their post-White House decades, the Carters founded The Carter Center in Atlanta, to battle disease, hunger and violence, and nurture human rights, democracy and peace missions around the world. For over 30 years they worked with Habitat for Humanity to build more than 4,000 homes for poor families in more than a dozen countries.

In 1987, Rosalynn founded the Rosalynn Carter Institute (RCI) for Caregivers, building on her belief that "there are only four kinds of people in this world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers."

Maranatha Baptist Church, in Plains, Georgia, where she and Jimmy were long-time members, said Rosalynn "selflessly served her congregation and her community as a Sunday School teacher, a deacon, and the founder of the church's food ministry." 

In the hours before Rosalynn died, her husband of 77 years sat beside her in his wheelchair, praying and holding her hand as he expressed his love and gratitude to her. Although she had dementia, her grandson Josh Carter said she never forgot who her husband was. 

Jill Stuckey, Superintendent of the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park and family friend, said Rosalynn wanted to live a long life so she could help as many people as possible. 

Asked once how she would like to be remembered, Rosalynn said, "I would like for people to think that I took advantage of the opportunities I had and did the best I could."

Rev. Raphael Warnock (U.S. Senator, Ga.) told Rosalynn's grandson, "Your grandmother doesn't need a eulogy. Her life was a sermon."

More on this story can be found at these links:

Memorial Service for Rosalynn Carter (Video 1:04:34). PBS NewsHour
Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter Passes Away at Age 96. The Carter Center
Rosalynn Smith Carter. The White House
The Final Hours of Rosalynn Carter's Life, in the Town Where It Began. The Washington Post
Rosalynn Carter Helped Shape the Role of the Modern First Lady. The New York Times

Applying the News Story 

Rosalynn was a dedicated partner to her husband, but also pursued her own sense of calling and purpose, spurred on to love and good works by their relationship and her faith (Hebrews 10:24). As "iron sharpens iron" (Proverbs 27:17), each seemed to benefit from what the other contributed to their life together. Jimmy certainly expressed his own belief that he was a better man because she was by his side.

Whether married or not, we all need to "work out our own salvation" (Philippians 2:12 ESV), discovering, developing and deploying our gifts in ways that honor God and bless others. When we do that, we are more likely to find greater personal fulfillment as well.

The Big Questions

1. How can our faith motivate people to pursue their chosen path in life in the face of criticism and opposition? 

2. How should families determine what the role of each family member should be? What impact, if any, should our faith have on how families operate?

3. What strategies have you found useful in building partnerships, whether in personal, family or work relations, in your church, ecumenical or interfaith connections, or other situations?

4. How do you balance the need for personal fulfillment and self-expression with the call to support and serve others?

5. Rosalynn Carter had many skills, abilities and opportunities that others do not have, but she also had to overcome challenges (such as painful shyness and stereotypical views of what roles are appropriate for women) to achieve so many extraordinary things in life. How has God gifted you, and how have you used your gift(s) to bless others? What challenges from within or without have you faced that could hinder your development and deployment of your gifts, and how have you addressed those challenges?

Confronting the News With Scripture and Hope
Here are some Bible verses to guide your discussion:

Proverbs 31:23, 28-31
Her husband is known in the city gates,
    taking his seat among the elders of the land.
Her children rise up and call her happy;
    her husband, too, and he praises her:
"Many women have done excellently,
    but you surpass them all."
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
    and let her works praise her in the city gates.
(For context, read Proverbs 31:10-31.)

Some have interpreted this passage as an ideal that limits women to childcare and household duties. But in the ancient household, survival and financial health often relied on the competency of women to understand and contribute to the family business. The same can be said of millions of households today.

The precious woman described in this passage is more than a wife and mother, however. The opening verse calls her a rare "woman of strength … far more precious than jewels" (v. 10). Among her characteristics are these:

  • Charitable to the poor and needy (v. 20)
  • Diligent worker and astute businesswoman (vv. 13-19, 24, 27)
  • Homemaker, childcare provider, supporter of her spouse, who trusts her (vv. 11-12; 27-29)
  • Courageous and prepared for the future (vv. 21-22, 25)
  • Wise and kind educator (v. 26)
  • Fears the Lord (v. 30)

This passage seems to fit how Rosalynn Carter lived and how people perceive her, no matter what they thought of the Carters' political views. Rosalynn's husband definitely was "known in the city gates," where major decisions were made and announced, treaties and contracts forged, judgments pronounced and implemented. It's significant that the passage concludes with the charge that the woman's works should "praise her in the city gates." While much of the woman's work might have been less obvious than that of her husband, in the final analysis, she also impacted the society at large. 

Wherever we fit in our own culture, Rosalynn believed, as Dr. Seuss did in Horton Hears a Who!) that each person (no matter how small) can make a difference.

Questions: Which character traits listed in the text, if any, are gender-specific, and which might be adapted to anyone's situation? How might this text inspire anyone to embrace the kind of worldview this woman had and to engage in similar deeds?  

Ruth 1:16-17
But Ruth said,
"Do not press me to leave you,

    to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
    where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people
    and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die,
    and there will I be buried.
May the LORD do thus to me,
    and more as well,
/if even death parts me from you!"

(For context, read Ruth 1:6-18.)
Ruth 2:11
But Boaz answered her, "All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before." (For context, read Ruth 2:11-12.)
Ruth 4:15-16 [Then the women said to Naomi,] "He [your next-of-kin (grandson)] shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him." Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom and became his nurse. (For context, read Ruth 4:13-17.)

As we mentioned in the news story above, one of Rosalynn's interests was in support for caregivers, for she noted that "There are only four kinds of people in this world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers."

The story of Ruth and Naomi illustrates that statement. At the beginning of their story, both Ruth and her mother-in-law are widowed. Ruth refuses to leave the older woman's side, and commits to care for her until death. She goes to work, to support herself and Naomi, and finds a friend in the wealthy farmer, Boaz, who boosts her income surreptitiously, without treating her as a charity case. Ruth is rewarded handsomely for her loyalty and labor.

Ultimately, Boaz and Ruth wed and have a son. It turns out that the care Ruth provided to Naomi after her bereavement healed her broken heart enough that Naomi is able to become her grandson's primary caregiver. The women in the town prophesy that her grandson will return the favor and nourish her in her old age. 

Questions: Who cared for you at different stages of your life? Why did you need care at those times? When have you been a caregiver of others? What were the greatest challenges you faced as a caregiver?

How does your church participate in providing care to those who need it? What kind of support do caregivers in your community need most?

Esther 8:5-6
[Esther] said, "If it pleases the king, and if I have won his favor, and if the thing seems right before the king, and I have his approval, let an order be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote giving orders to destroy the Jews who are in all the provinces of the king. For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming on my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?" (For context, read Esther 8:3-14.)

The rules governing what women could do and where they could go were very strict in the time of King Ahasuerus of Persia. The law under which Queen Esther lived forbade her from approaching her husband without his invitation; she risked her life if she dared do such a thing. She would only be spared if the king extended his scepter to her.

Yet Esther demonstrated great courage when it counted. First, she approached her husband in order to thwart Haman, the mastermind behind the effort to exterminate the Jews (Esther 4:10-16), and then she entered his presence again, to undo the damage Haman had done on the legal system, that would have led to genocide of the Jews, even after Haman's death. 

Esther had shown her love and loyalty to her husband earlier, when she warned him about a plot to assassinate him. Now she capitalized on the trust she had built up with him to affect major policy changes for the entire empire! 

Rosalynn Carter also used her influence to work for policies she believed would help create a healthier, more compassionate world.

Questions: What limitations do you face when trying to work for the common good? What risks might you take if you challenge those limits? What might discourage you from taking those risks, and what would motivate you to accept them? What gives you the right or authority to challenge those limits?

Luke 1:42, 56 
… and [Elizabeth] exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. …" And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home. (For context, read Luke 1:39-56.)

When the young teenager Mary became pregnant, she walked three days to see her cousin Elizabeth, who in her old age was, surprisingly, also with child. Elizabeth became the go-to gal for Mary when the crisis hit, blessing her and her unborn child and helping her to find reasons to praise God. See the "Responding to the News" section below for more on that relationship.

We note that Elizabeth's husband, Zechariah, had the more public responsibility as a priest chosen to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to offer incense (Luke 1:5-25). But for much of Luke's birth narrative, Zechariah is mute, while it is his wife and his wife's cousin who rise to prominence as the salvation story develops. While women were not always visible in the written biblical record, they played a crucial part in God's plan of salvation.    

President Jimmy Carter was naturally in the public eye more than his wife was, but Rosalynn played an important role, whether behind the scenes or by his side. Like Elizabeth (Luke 1:13, 57-64), she was a support to her husband, and just as the older woman mentored Mary, Rosalynn became an example and mentor, not only for the first spouses who followed, but for many others in less prominent positions. 

In the 1988 movie, Beaches, Hillary (Barbara Hershey) and CC (Bette Midler), two childhood friends with radically different personalities, maintain their relationship over the years. CC becomes a boisterous entertainer, while Hillary pursues a quiet career in law. While the extroverted CC becomes widely known, and Hillary lives life "under the radar," both women realize that they need each other to be the best selves they can be. That ability to soar to greater heights on the support of others is expressed in the song, "Wind Beneath My Wings," sung in the movie by Bette Midler (Video 4:18 here and lyrics here). A piano version of the song closed out the memorial service for Rosalynn this past Tuesday.

Questions: Who has been "the wind beneath your wings" to make it possible for you to soar higher in life? How can you be the wind beneath someone else's wings?

For Further Discussion

1. Discuss these quotes on leadership from Rosalynn:

  • A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be … where they need to go.
  • Leadership is not about being in control, but about inspiring others to become the best versions of themselves.
  • Caring for others is the highest form of leadership.

2. Reflect on these quotes on building a strong society from Rosalynn:

  • Do what you can to show you care about other people, and you will make our world a better place.
  • Compassion and empathy are the building blocks of a caring society.
  • The measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members.
  • The best way to enhance freedom in other lands is to demonstrate here that our democratic system is worthy of emulation.
  • It's not enough to simply talk about the issues. We must take action and work towards tangible solutions.
  • There is no limit to the amount of good we can do if we work together towards a common goal.

3. Consider Rosalynn's remarks about personal growth and development:

  • Life's challenges are not obstacles, but opportunities for growth.
  • Set your goals high and work to achieve them. Never be afraid of failure. The tragedy comes not in failing, but in never having tried to succeed.
  • I've learned that you cannot predict the outcome of situations or events, but you can control your reactions to them. You can focus on what's within your control and let go of what's not.
  • I believe that one of the most important things to learn in life is that you can make a difference in your community no matter who you are or where you live. … It doesn't take a former first lady or a former president of the United States to make a difference in our communities.

4. Among the verses read at Rosalynn's memorial service were Philippians 4:13 (KJV), Galatians 5:13-14, and Matthew 5:6-8. Why do you think those particular texts were chosen? What verses would you like to have read at your memorial after you pass, and why?

Responding to the News

1. If you wish, you can convey condolences to the Carter family and make a memorial gift at this tribute website. In lieu of flowers, the Carter family requests that you consider a contribution to the Carter Center's Mental Health Program or the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers.

2. What needs or concerns capture your imagination? What might God be calling you to do about them?

3. As we enter the Advent season, you may wish to listen to Ken Medema's song about Mary and Elizabeth's relationship, "I'll Go Tell Elizabeth" (Video 5:18).


God of all comfort, console President Carter and his family as they mourn. Remind us to care for one another as you care for us. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Other News This Week

The Christian Origins of the Auto Workers' Strike
The Wired Word for the Week of December 3, 2023

In the News

On Monday, November 20, the United Auto Workers (UAW) announced that 64% of workers at the Detroit Three automakers (Ford, General Motors and Chrysler parent Stellantis) voted to ratify new contracts after a six-week strike. The votes give approval to the UAW's tentative agreements with the automakers through April 2028. According to Reuters, the agreements include a 25% increase in base wages and will cumulatively raise the top wage by 33%.

Ford has estimated the new contract will add between $850 and $900 in labor costs per vehicle. Ford CEO Jim Farley said, "The reality is that this labor agreement added significant cost, and we are going to have to work very hard on productivity and efficiency to become more competitive." GM CEO Mary Barra took a different approach, saying that the deal "protects the future of the business and allows us to continue to provide good jobs in communities across the U.S." Stellantis Chief Operating Officer Mark Stewart looked to the future, saying that the company will now "focus our full attention on executing" its 2030 strategic plan that includes launching eight new electric vehicles in 2024.

In a Fox News opinion piece, a former auto worker (now CEO) named John Tillman says of the auto workers, "Their union has pitted them against their employers, and worse, against their own flourishing. Nothing good, much less great, will come of it."

In the days before the beginning of the strike in September, UAW president Shawn Fain made comments that surprised many observers. He began by criticizing the automaker CEOs whose companies, he said, made "a quarter of a trillion dollars" in profits while they "nickel and dime our members every day." But then he paused and said, "Now I'm going to get personal."

According to CNN, Fain started talking about his Christian faith. He cited scripture, including Matthew 17:20-21, where Jesus told his disciples that if they have faith the size of a mustard seed they can move mountains because "nothing will be impossible for you." He said that for UAW members, organizing and making bold demands of automakers was "an act of faith in each other."

"Great acts of faith are seldom born out of calm calculation," said Fain, who often carries his grandmother's Bible with him. Beginning to sound like a preacher, he said, "It wasn't logic that caused Moses to raise his staff on the bank of the Red Sea. It wasn't common sense that caused Paul [to] embrace grace. And it wasn't a confident committee that prayed in a small room in Jerusalem for Peter's release from prison. It was a fearful, desperate, band of believers that were backed into a corner."

Fain's words were remarkable because labor leaders don't typically cite the Bible to justify a strike. But they once did: Fain's approach is straight out of the Social Gospel Movement, which emerged in the 19th century. In the case of the UAW strike, his faith moved a corporate mountain, leading to a historic agreement with the Detroit Three automakers.

So, what is the Social Gospel Movement? In the late 1800s, a group of Christians began a movement that sought to address the economic inequality that was increasing in a time of rapid industrial growth. They spoke out against what they saw as the unjust exploitation of workers and unethical business practices of wealthy and powerful businessmen, such as oil magnate and Baptist philanthropist John D. Rockefeller. They labeled these men "robber barons" after the medieval aristocrats who charged travelers and merchants tolls unauthorized by the emperor. At its peak, the Social Gospel Movement's leaders supported campaigns for eight-hour workdays, the breakup of corporate monopolies, and the abolition of child labor. They believed that saving people from poverty was as important as saving them from damnation.

The trend of people asking WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) did not begin in the 1990s. No, it was the slogan of a popular 1897 novel, In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do. The author was the Rev. Charles Sheldon, a Social Gospel leader. Over the years, the Social Gospel Movement has been advanced by leaders such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated when he was in Memphis in order to support a labor strike of sanitation workers. 

Today, the movement is being guided by leaders such as Shawn Fain, Professor Cornel West, and the Rev. William Barber II. "They are using the Bible," reports CNN, "as Social Gospel leaders once did, to argue in various ways that Christian deeds are more important than creeds" and that Christian teaching condemns the selfish impulses that can be present in unfettered capitalism.

More on this story can be found at these links:

UAW Clinches Record Detroit Deals. Reuters
There's Another Christian Movement That's Changing Our Politics. CNN
The Union Held Me Back, as Auto Workers Will Find Out. Fox News

Applying the News Story 

Use the story of labor organizer Shawn Fain and the Social Gospel Movement as an opportunity to explore the question, "How does an origin story shape our beliefs and actions?" You do not have to agree with the Social Gospel Movement to answer this question, except to acknowledge that Fain's beliefs and actions are grounded in a particular interpretation of the Bible and the Christian faith. What biblical story shapes your beliefs and actions, and why? Such an exploration is appropriate as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

The Big Questions

1. How do you respond when a labor leader, a business leader or a political leader speaks personally about the Christian faith? What type of story impresses you, and what type bothers you? Why?

2. "Great acts of faith are seldom born out of calm calculation," said UAW president Shawn Fain. What has been the origin of the "great acts of faith" in your life? In your family's life? In the life of your congregation?

3. The question WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) arose out of the Social Gospel Movement of the 19th Century. When do you find yourself asking this question in your own life? How does your answer shape your actions? Since Jesus had a particular calling as Savior (Prophet, Priest and King) that none of us has, how does that influence your thoughts and answers?

4. Should Christians and other people of faith tie religious beliefs to social movements? Why or why not? What are the advantages, if any? What problems can arise, if any? What are the implications when strong Christians -- even in the same congregation -- come to different or even opposite views concerning a social issue?

5. If you were asked to describe the origin of your own beliefs and actions, what biblical story would you tell? Be specific.

Confronting the News With Scripture and Hope
Here are some Bible verses to guide your discussion:

Exodus 3:7-8
Then the Lord said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites." (For context, read Exodus 3:1-12.)

When Moses is keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, he travels to Horeb, the mountain of God. There, God speaks to Moses from a burning bush, and reveals that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God tells Moses that he has "observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt," and promises to deliver them from the Egyptians. God appoints Moses to lead the people out of captivity.

Over the centuries, Jews have told this story during Passover, as a reminder of their origin as enslaved people in Egypt. Some would argue that the beliefs and actions of the Jewish people are shaped by the experience of the Exodus. Others would make the case that Judaism has roots in the Exodus, but the modern form of the faith began during the exile in Babylon, when Sabbath worship and reverence for scripture became central to the faith.

Questions: How does this story shape the beliefs and actions of the Jewish people today? How should it shape our lives as Christians, since we share this biblical story with our Jewish brothers and sisters? Is there another Old Testament story that you would consider to be more foundational? Why?

Amos 5:24
But let justice roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (No context needed.)

In this text, the prophet Amos indicates that the Lord will reject the festivals and sacrifices of the proud and powerful people of Israel. Instead, God will be satisfied only by the practice of justice and righteousness.

At his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., encouraged the marchers to continue to move forward and to refuse to turn back. Responding to those who asked when the demonstrators would be satisfied, King quoted this verse from Amos.

Part of King's genius was his ability to call people to be both faithful Christians and patriotic Americans. He began his speech with the words, "Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity."

King continued, "But 100 years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition."

Some will date the origin of our country to the founding of the Jamestown settlement in 1607. Others will focus on 1619, when the first enslaved people were brought to America, or on 1620, when the Mayflower compact was signed. Others will point to 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was issued. Others might consider 1863 to be our beginning, when the Emancipation Proclamation finally freed the slaves.

King went on to say, "When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men -- yes, Black men as well as white men -- would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. … It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned."  

Questions: How are your beliefs and actions aligned, if at all, with the prophet Amos's focus on justice and righteousness? What date do you attach to your American origin story: 1607, 1619, 1620, 1776, 1863, or some other? Tell your story.

Matthew 25:40
And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me." (For context, read Matthew 25:31-46.)

Jesus speaks of the judgment of the nations by telling the story of the royal Son of Man sitting on the throne of his glory, with all the nations of the world gathered before him. He separates people as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. The good sheep inherit the kingdom of God because they fed, welcomed, clothed and cared for the royal Son of Man in his times of need. The bad goats are thrown into eternal fire because they failed to feed, welcome, clothe and care for the royal Son of Man in his times of need. 

When the good sheep ask the question of when, in particular, they saw the Son of Man in need, he answers, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me." In this passage from Matthew, the gift of eternal life is based more on caring for needy brothers and sisters than on having particular Christian beliefs. 

Questions: Is your faith focused more on Christian deeds or on Christian creeds, or perhaps on trust in Jesus or on his own trustworthiness? Or something else? How do you strike a balance? Why is a balance important, if at all?

Acts 11:25-26
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called "Christians." (For context, read Acts 11:1-26.)

As Peter and Paul are taking the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the Mediterranean region, the Jewish followers of Jesus become concerned that the Gentiles are accepting the word of God. Peter defends his missionary work, and the Jewish followers of Jesus become convinced that "God has given even to the gentiles the repentance that leads to life" (v. 18).

The community in Antioch grows so quickly that Barnabas is sent by the followers of Christ in Jerusalem to help the believers there. Barnabas travels to Tarsus to recruit Saul (Paul) to help him, and for a year they meet with "the church" and teach "a great many people." Acts tells us that it is in Antioch that the disciples are first called "Christians."

While we Christians consider Jesus to be our Messiah, some wonder if he ever intended to establish a new religion. Historically, it is under the leadership of Barnabas and Saul (Paul) that disciples are first called "Christians."

Questions: Are your beliefs shaped more by the stories of Jesus or the teachings of Paul? What difference does it make? Are your actions influenced more by the example of Jesus or Paul? Be specific.

For Further Discussion

1. TWW Team Member Ako Cromwell writes, "Over the past few years, two sociopolitical initiatives have come to the forefront of media attention with both claiming to be firmly founded in the principles of Christianity and righteousness. Nevertheless, Christians seldom seem to back their support of these causes with scriptural representation from the Bible that captures a perspective that is well represented, rather than supported by a single chapter or verse. Can you, as a child of God, find support of the 1619 Project or the 1776 Commission to be consistent with your understanding of Christianity? If neither 'extreme,' where does your answer lie on the spectrum between the two? Explain."

2. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has a "Matthew 25 Movement" focused on Jesus' story of the sheep and the goats. The denominational website says, "When we welcome others, we welcome Christ; when we bring together people who are divided, we are doing God's reconciling work. We are called to serve Jesus by contributing to the well-being of the most vulnerable in all societies -- rural and urban, small and large, young and not so young. From affordable housing to community gardens to equitable educational and employment opportunities to healing from addiction and mental illness to enacting policy change -- there is not just one way to be a part of the Matthew 25 movement." What is your response to this movement focused on hospitality, reconciliation, affordable housing, employment and mental health? How do you and your congregation serve Jesus in these ways, if at all?

3. In his blog, TWW Team Member Bill Tammeus writes on the Social Gospel: "Many theologians would agree that the roots of the Social Gospel go all the way back not just to Jesus but to the Torah he learned as a child. In response to those Jewish roots, Jesus urged his followers to pay attention not just to where they might spend eternity but to their home here on Earth and to the many unjust systems that oppressed most citizens of that backwater land in the Roman Empire." Discuss.

4. "Why is it easier to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God?" asked UAW president Shawn Fain. "I have to believe that answer, at least in part, is because in the Kingdom of God no one hoards all the wealth while everybody else suffers and starves. In the Kingdom of God no one puts themselves in a position of total domination over the entire community. In the Kingdom of God no one forces others to perform endless, backbreaking work just to feed their families or put a roof over their heads. That world is not the Kingdom of God. That world is hell. Living paycheck to paycheck, scraping to get by? That’s hell. Choosing between medicine and rent is hell. Working seven days a week for twelve hours a day, for months on end, is hell. Having your plant close down and your family scattered across the country is hell. Being made to work during a pandemic and not knowing if you might get sick and die, or spread the disease to your family, is hell. And enough is enough." Is this an accurate and faithful description of the Kingdom of God and hell, in your opinion? Why or why not? How are you moved to respond?

Responding to the News

Identify the biblical story that best describes your origin as a Christian, and reflect on how it shapes your beliefs and actions. Talk with a friend or fellow church member about their origin story and its role in making them who they are today. 


God our Creator, you have shaped us through the stories of scripture and placed us in this world to be your people. May our creeds and our deeds advance your will and your way. In Jesus' name. Amen.

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