by Angela Furlong
“May we prefer nothing to loving God and loving our neighbor. And may our faith make us well. Amen.”
Today, our church commemorates William Lloyd Garrison and Maria Stewart, both devout believers, ministers of justice, and prophetic witnesses.
William Lloyd Garrison was a prominent, white abolitionist, suffragist, social reformer and journalist. He published the well-known abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator (1831-1865) – the most uncompromising American anti-slavery journal and the dominant voice of abolition. He launched this journalistic ministry with the following acclamation:
“On the subject of slavery, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation… I am in earnest — I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—
AND I WILL BE HEARD.”
Garrison’s moral compass was the Bible and he believed in the immediate emancipation of slaves, without compensation for the slaveholders. He spent his entire adult life engaging with social justice head-on… to the point of exhaustion. And his devotion to his vocation sometimes caused him great difficulties within his own social circles as well as in the broader community. As today’s OT reading reminds us, Wisdom protects us from our enemies so that we might learn that godliness is more powerful than anything else. Garrison’s godliness was his devotion to social justice, his vocation to love ALL of God’s people equally: male, female, black or white. As you can imagine, Garrison had quite a few enemies and was frequently targeted by angry racists. Yet he remained steadfast in his vocation to social justice ministry… and he channeled it through The Liberator.
In our Gospel today, we heard about a woman who suffered for many years and had a faith so strong that it impelled her to summon the strength, the audacity, to touch the hem of Christ’s robe in search of healing. Maria Stewart was that woman in the 1800s. She was a free black woman who suffered sexism, racism and elitism. Her faith led her to touch the hem of social justice. Since much of the privileged class of her day did nothing to heal the wounds of injustice, she pioneered her way to the podium and spoke out publicly against the -isms in her community.
She was the:
- First African American woman to lecture about women’s rights, and black women’s rights.
- First American woman to speak to a mixed audience of men and women, black and white.
- First known American woman to lecture in public on political issues.
- First African American woman to make public anti-slavery speeches.
She essentially gave the privileged class a dose of nasty-tasting, but vital, medicine in hopes of instigating a cure to the societal ills of injustice. Her ministry was difficult. It was brave. It was dangerous. And it paved the way for others to speak out against injustices and inequalities.
She spoke of her ministry and suffering in this way,
“I have made myself contemptible in the eyes of many, that I might win some.”
William Lloyd Garrison, Maria Stewart, the hemorrhaging woman, and the man protected by Wisdom were all caught up in a turbulent estuary of vocation and free will. They each heard a call to action and employed their free will to follow it.
May we all bear witness to their faith and devotion. May we but touch the hem of our creator, of faith, hope, and love. And may that cure us of hemorrhaging injustices.
God, in whose service alone is perfect freedom: We thank you for your prophets William Lloyd Garrison and Maria Stewart, who testified that we are made not by the color of our skin but by the principle formed in our soul. Fill us, like them, with the hope and determination to break every chain of enslavement, that bondage and ignorance may melt like wax before flames, and we may build that community of justice and love which is founded on Jesus Christ our cornerstone; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. Amen.