As I suspect many of you did, I spent much of the day watching the funeral for John Lewis, a remarkable service for a remarkable man. It was long, very long, but I don’t remember the last time I heard so much eloquence — beginning with the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and ending with President Barack Obama. In between them we also heard equally profound remarks from former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and another American hero, Lewis’ mentor, the Rev. James Lawson.
George Bush reminded us that people with political differences can still treat one another with dignity and respect, something we haven’t seen in the White House for almost four years now. Each of our former presidents, (including a note from Jimmy Carter, whose health prevented him from being there) reminded us that there was a time when decency, compassion, and empathy for all Americans was the standard for our nation’s leaders.
I also appreciated that each of the speakers, not just those who were ordained, fluidly wove scriptural references throughout their words, reminding us that John Lewis was, indeed, a man soaked in faith, soaked in the words and deeds of Jesus.
John Lewis truly was a hero and a saint, which does not mean that he was perfect, but does mean that he tried to live as faithfully as he could, to follow God’s call even when it could potentially lead to his death. Through it all he never lost faith in God or in the country that so often falls short of its ideals.
We heard a lot about “good trouble” today, a phrase that will forever be associated with Lewis. Good trouble, necessary trouble, is moving ahead with what is right, even when it means getting in trouble. Jesus, of course, is the role model for good trouble. He healed on the Sabbath because the person in front of him needed healing, even though doing so violated Jewish law. He hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors, people deemed “unclean” by the religious authorities. He treated women with dignity and respect at time when that was certainly not the norm of his religion or his culture.
Lewis, like Martin Luther King before him, followed in that divine tradition of good trouble. The truth is we are all called to do that, to not let fear of retribution prevent us from doing what is right, what we are called by God to do.
John Lewis had one last surprise for us. The New York Times today carried a final essay by him, written days before his death, with the stipulation it be printed after he died. I commend it to you. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/30/opinion/john-lewis-civil-rights-america.html
And I leave you with his last words:
“Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”
“When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression, and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”
Well done, good and faithful servant.