Yesterday morning in worship, when I gathered with the children of the church on these front steps of the sanctuary, I asked them how they thought it feels not to know if there is enough food in the house to feed the family. We were dedicating the non-perishable food collected by our congregation and donated to the Salvation Army for families that need assistance, and I wanted to engage them in what these donations would mean to the people who received them. The children offered beautifully empathetic answers – sad, worried, confused, scared. It went about how I thought it would go. Right up until one of our fourth graders declared, “Angry!”
She was right. I hadn’t thought about it, but she was right. And she also sealed the deal on the gospel Scripture I would share this morning.
In my first six weeks or so here at Fox Valley Presbyterian Church I received as many Monday morning phone calls from Linda Williams. She had somethings to tell me – the pavement was uneven at the automatic door used for people in wheelchairs or with walkers, the sound system wasn’t quite projecting my voice evenly around the sanctuary, I had missed an announcement about the Third Friday Community dinner, and how were our friends in the Fruto de Vida church, a Latino immigrant congregation that nests here at Fox Valley, doing after the elections. On maybe the second to last call Linda told me, “I really don’t want to be that grumpy lady who calls every Monday morning to complain, but we have work to do!”
Linda was, for many of us, our own personal Micah. A voice speaking up, speaking out, calling us to right faith through right action. Whether it was with Loy engaged in civil rights actions even into this last year, or at home raising her son, Carl, and welcoming a shared daughter, Vero, at work teaching and leading the school for special education, or at church involved in as many outreach ministries as possible, Linda herself made it her mission to do justice, to love with steadfast loyalty, and to walk humbly with God, all while inspiring the rest of us to do the same.
Linda was passionate about pondering and talking theology. She was a regular participant in the mid-week Bible study that prepares both the preaching pastor and participants for the worship text the coming week. And Linda always had a way of asking a pointed question at just the right moment, to either bring us back on track when we wandered off or get to the heart of God’s Word in a way that was convicting, challenging, and attentive to the needs of the least of these.
That posture that Linda chose, the role she agreed to play, when called to it by her Lord Jesus, isn’t an easy one, the prod-er, the questioner, and yes, even, the agitator. Sometimes it makes you seem like the grumpy old lady who called every Monday morning – which of course she wasn’t, neither grumpy nor old in any negative sense of the word. But seeing the world through the eyes of Jesus, seeing the world with a heart full of love and a spirit full of justice, that can bring about a sort of righteous and holy anger, the anger of Jesus himself.
Mark leaves out some of the details that John includes when he tells this story. But this isn’t a story of Jesus just tipping things over, quietly disrupting the business taking place in God’s house. This is a story of an angry man. A man who made a whip out of cords, who drove people and their corruption away from the temple. A man who scared the chief priests and the scribes with his passion. A man who couldn’t stand the thought that the temple of the Lord would be a place where people were overcharged, taken advantage of, and robbed in the name of God. This is Jesus maybe at his most passionate moment, and we would do well to pay attention to what drives him to this sort of holy anger. We have a wonderful example of someone who did pay attention in the person of Linda Rich Williams.
Linda did not wait for the world to suddenly get better. She didn’t hide her head in the sand about the matters of injustice around her. She didn’t shy away from the difficult issues and problems of the days in which she lived. Instead God stirred up in her passion, even some holy anger, that she used to fuel the work of the kingdom.
Friends, we have work to do. There are troubled students who need attention and supportive love. There are newcomers to this community and this nation who need welcome. There are racial, gender, ethnic, ability, and language minorities who need to be recognized and heard. For many of us there is privilege to be acknowledged and dismantled. And yes, while there are people who are hungry to feed, people who are naked to clothe, people who are sick to heal, and people without homes to shelter, there are also systems in place that make these things a reality that need to be overturned. This is the witness of the life of Linda Williams. This is the call of the prophets and the work of our Savior. To him be all praise and glory, now and forever. Amen.