Radical Preaching

Can preaching again have something to say?
This blog marks the attempt to bring the theological vision of Radical Orthodoxy into the worship and preaching of the local church.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Enough Is Enough: A Devotion in Honor of Rosa Parks

Enough is Enough:
A Devotion in Honor of Rosa Parks

Acts 16:16-40

16As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17She followed Paul and us, crying out, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation." 18And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And it came out that very hour.

In the telling of the stories of the saints, we most often seek to narrate their lives through the stories given to us in the Holy Scriptures. This devotion is no exception. As I reflect on the life of Rosa Parks, immediately this narrative of Paul in Philippi came to mind. Paul is called to "help" in Macedonia, a place devoted to the cause of the Empire and the worship of Caesar. In other words, Macedonia was enemy territory, a land enslaved by the prinicipalities and powers. Of course, as the Book of Acts reveals time and again, slavery and imprisonment are not defined by chains and bars. Paul and Silas are followed daily by a slave girl who made her owners a great profit through fortune telling. Every day, she follows Paul and Silas and announces their identity to the crowds. One particular day, Paul decides that enough is enough and speaks, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And the demon came out that very hour.

So who is Rosa Parks in this story? On one hand, it would be easy to compare her to the servant girl, forced by sheer power to serve unjust people to make them a profit. Certainly, the Jim Crow South established both legal and social structures to force African Americans to live in conditions little different than while slavery existed. Certainly, Mrs. Parks was set free by Christ to live free of the principalities and powers in a bold way. However, that is not the comparison I want to make this morning.

For me, Rosa Parks much more closely resembles the Apostle Paul. She was a woman of deep faith, and also a woman who worked hard. One day, on the bus ride home after a long day at work, a white man approached her and demanded that she give up her seat. That was the law after all. When asked, black people were expected to move to the back of the bus, without comment and without complaint. To do so would warrant arrest or far worse. On this particular day, Rosa Parks was probably not only tired but also irritated. She looked at the man, in the eye, and said, "No." She refused to give up her seat! Her act of public defiance of segregation was the first salvo in a battle to liberate the United States from the spirit of racism and exploitation that so thoroughly possess it. This shot heard round the world would not result in the instantaneous expulsion of the evil spirit, but it did begin the process of exorcism.

She was arrested, booked, and placed in jail. The principalities and powers probably imagined that the prospects of jail would frighten a woman into ending her defiance and do anything to escape imprisonment. However, bars do not a prison make. Far from being intimidated, Parks' arrest led her young pastor to stand up and join her in jail. Her announcement that enough is enough sounded a call to a generation of young students who were also both irritated and fearless. Within ten years, they would storm the bastions and redoubts most heavily devoted to the service of the spirit of racism. They conquered this spirit in a most unique way. You see, when Paul and Silas were locked in the deepest belly of the Philippian jail, chained and bound, they sang hymns and prayed to God. And then came a holy earthquake that shook the very moorings of the prison and of Roman society itself. I am sure that Rosa Parks and her young pastor prayed and sang because a great earthquake soon began to shake the moorings of a racist and exploitative social structure known as Jim Crow.

Casting out the evil spirits that possess not only individuals but also social structures is both an instantaneous and progressive movement. On that day in Philippi, the demon was cast out of the girl, and later that evening, the jailer was released from his imprisonment. It would take another three hundred years for Paul's command to be heard throughout the Roman Empire. On that day when Rosa Parks said no, the thralldom of the South to the spirit of racism began to wane; however, the collapse of principalities and powers takes time, is costly, and they do not go quietly into the night.

In remembering Rosa Parks, we must remember her call. Just as the Macedonian man spoke to Paul, asking for help, so too does the voice of Rosa Parks also speak to us some fifty years later. Enough is enough. The time has come for us to begin again to imagine the beloved community. The time has come for us to be willing to challenge the principalities and powers on their home turf, where they are most entrenched. It is time for the church to rise up together, sing our hymns, chant our Psalms, receive Christ's body and blood and be made into that body ourselves. For too long, when confronted by the evil spirits that have captured our age, we have stood and moved to the back of the bus. Rosa Parks was an ordinary woman, yet her actions emboldened a young pastor to step forward and be what his church demanded, a prophet leader who would stand firm and sound the call of justice and judgment, of peace and healing, of tearing apart and building up again.

Are we capable of hearing the wonderful testimony of Rosa Parks?


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