Today is Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Sunday at Shiloh. We congratulate the HBCU Council for the outstanding work they have done over the years to bring awareness of the vital role that HBCUs played in the freedom struggle of our people. Many leaders in politics, medicine, law, and education, to name a few, are HBCU graduates. Let us again join with the HBCU Council in celebrating the outstanding contributions of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
This week, Vladimir Putin did the unthinkable and invaded a sovereign nation, Ukraine. Over the years, our nation’s tepid response to Russian aggression emboldened Putin that our nation and the Western powers were paper tigers. The four years of the Trump Administration led him to believe that our nation supported him and all his nefarious schemes. We will need to wait to see the outcome of this invasion. Former President Trump’s attempts to dismantle NATO and the Western allies now can be seen for the disaster that those initiatives produced. Mr. Putin wants to restore the glory days of the old Soviet Union. He also recently made a thinly veiled threat that his nation has a nuclear arsenal that he will utilize if the U.S. attacks. We, of course, know that any military engagement by our nation would lead to World War III. What Mr. Pruden hopes to achieve is not well-defined. But it is abundantly clear: he will not cease until he returns Russia to its former glory.
Jesus said, “You don’t build atower without first counting the cost.” Increasingly, it looks like Mr. Putin has not adequately assessed the charge for his war. Arming Ukrainians and giving them economic support is the right thing to do. However, we must also draw on our Judeo-Christian roots. Isaiah declared, “We must beat our swords into plowshares and our spheres into pruning hooks.” People of faith must make war with love and with spiritual power. Perhaps Russian aggression will return us to the realization that the defense we must build is prayer and right living, not B-1 bombers or the Trident missile.
The continuing cat and mouse game between Russia and Ukraine presents a possible scenario the world has not witnessed since the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. Hitler’s game was that his aggression was only against those countries he believed were wrongly taken from Germany after World War I. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain discovered that Hitler’s goals were not to restore Germany’s ancestral borders but to gain total control of Europe and then the world. Western powers like Great Britain, France, and the United States may have made penalties for Germany’s aggression in WWI too harsh, but the fact of the matter is that Hitler operated from a core of pure evil. No amount of death and destruction would deter him, and his thirst for power and domination was insatiable. The corruption, at his heart, would never end without his total destruction.
As we look at what is going on between Russia and Ukraine, the facts are eerily similar. Prime Minister Putin, a career KGB spy, never forgave the west for chipping away at the former Soviet Union. Mr. Putin may not prove to be of the magnitude as Adolf Hitler’s evil, but we must never overlook the human potential for destruction. These are indeed challenging times. The Russia-Ukraine conflict mirrors the hatred among political, racial, and cultural groups. These divisions seem to be worsening, not improving. The great theologian, M. C. Hammer, once sang, “We’ve got to pray just to make it today.” Professor Hammer was right. Christian people must not take wicked behavior lightly. With all that is going on in the world, we must take the words of Jesus literally and seriously. Hebrews 11:1 (KJV) state, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” As the world teeters ever closer to problem-solving with tanks, missiles, and aerial bombardment, we must remind ourselves what Jesus taught; that war is made through faith because faith, no bigger than a grain of mustard seed, has the power to transform the world.
On this the second Sunday of Black History Month, let us focus on a woman who was a true hero in the African American struggle for freedom.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery on a Maryland plantation in 1822. Her owners forced her to work driving oxen, trapping muskrats in the woods, and as a nursemaid for her master’s children. Harriet’s owners frequently whipped her. And she endured the pain of seeing three of her sisters sold. She would never see them again. But when her owner tried to sell one of her brothers, Harriet’s mother openly rebelled. The would-be buyer gave up after Harriet’s mother told him, “The first man that comes into my house, I will split his head open.” Her mother’s actions likely implanted in Harriet the idea that resistance to evil was correct—and could sometimes be successful. As a child, Harriet herself would run away for days at a time. But there were rays of joy in her life, as well. Harriet’s mother told her stories from the Bible, which developed in her a deep and abiding faith in God. When Harriet was about 26 years old, she learned of plans to sell her away from her family.
The time had come to try to escape. Harriet made her way some ninety miles along the Underground Railroad. She traveled at night to avoid slave catchers, following the North Star, until she reached Pennsylvania and freedom. Once there, she dared to make a dangerous decision: she risked her freedom to give others theirs. For eight years, she led scores of enslaved people north to independence. During these trips, she relied upon God to guide and protect her. She never once lost a runaway slave. As Harriet, herself later put it, “I never ran my train off the track, and I never lost a passenger.”
Harriet gave all the credit to God, explaining,” ‘Twant me, ’twas the Lord. I always told him, ‘I trust you. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect you to lead me,’ and he always did.” Her faith deeply impressed others. As abolitionist Thomas Garrett put it, “I never met with any person of any color who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken directly to her soul.”
In the book of Exodus, the 10thh chapter, Moses confronts Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, with ten plagues delivered by God to force Pharaoh to release the children of Israel from their slavery. The Nile River turned to blood, flies, locusts, and frogs confronted the entire nation in dramatic events. After each of these plagues, Pharaoh relents but ultimately hardens his heart and refuses to let Israel go. The ninth plague brings emotional pressure beyond the physical. The 21st verse of the 10th chapter states that the next to the last epidemic was a plague of darkness. Moonlight did not shimmer on the water, and the faint light of twinkling stars ceased. Without light, the entire nation faced the terrifying curse that God delivered to this point.
Those who live in the city cannot begin to grasp how frightening total darkness is. When I visited my ancestral home in rural Virginia, I experienced complete darkness. There were no streetlights or traffic lights, and the only light one occasionally glimpsed was the headlight of an infrequent truck or car.
On this the first Sunday of Black History Month, I want to make the case that a plague of darkness infects our land. Historically black colleges and universities received the bitter breath of bomb threats to commemorate the beginning of this month, which ultimately proved to be hoaxes. Still, the psychological damage of living with the dread and danger of violence unnerved students and parents alike. When President Biden announced his recommendation for the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy of Justice Breyer, right-wing racist bigots began to decry that an appointment of a Black would be reverse racism. Bigoted voices from Fox News gleefully struck the hate-filled posture that seared the nation in the 19th century and ultimately caused the Civil War. This plague of darkness buttressed by unapologetic bigotry from the majority culture is every bit as dangerous as the psychological and moral failures of the nation that led to the deaths of 600,000 American soldiers, both Union and Confederate, during the Civil War.
Our churches must model what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., taught us, that is, to resist the darkness of hatred with every ounce of our being. Notice that God provided the Hebrew children with light in this plague of darkness. I believe this text from Exodus inspired one of the classic spirituals from our ancestral past, “This little light of mine I’m going to let it shine. Everywhere I go, I’m going to let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”