One of them is a guy named Terry Tennens, the executive director of the International Justice Mission UK (that's their little banner over to the right). What a great organization and a really good guy leading it. We met because it fell to those of us who are taking part in the Thanksgiving service to choose a charity that will be the recipient of the offering we take that day. Since 2007 marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain, we looked for an organization that represented that ongoing work. I actually heard of IJM on Facebook, and after some research we chose them to receive not just the offering, but the significant amount of attention that will come from being mentioned in a service attended by 2500+ people. I invited Terry to give the introduction to IJM at the service, and so we'll be working together in the future. If you haven't come across the work of IJM, click the 'Relentless' banner and check them out.
Then a few weeks ago a member of our church said that we had an opportunity to host Rev. Jesse Jackson here at ACL, and that he was willing to preach for us. I have to say that I was a little concerned, partly because we only had 3 weeks to get ready (added security and Sunday School teachers, press releases, etc.), but also because I wasn't sure how things would go if he said something overly controversial. The date he offered was 11 November, which is Remembrance Day over here and a very special holiday throughout the UK. The entire nation stops for a 2-minute silence at 11am, no matter what day of the week it falls on. Buses stop, radios and TVs go quiet, and people literally stop in their tracks. The fact that it fell on Sunday this year only raised the stakes for us more. This was the wrong day--perhaps the worst day imaginable--to have something controversial happen at the church. So I was worried, and did a lot of work to shape the service and prep the staff for as many problems as I could predict.
It turned out to be one of our best Sundays here.
Our commitment was to keep our regular service patterns for that Sunday--apart, of course, from a moment of silence to observe Remembrance Day, a famous guest preacher and press snapping photos and shooting video. We had a children's message and the kids sang in the service, I talked about pledging for 2008 (nothing gets in the way of a stewardship campaign), and we spent a couple of minutes working out logistics for out Thanksgiving Potluck lunch next week. (Nothing gets in the way of a good meal, either.)
Rev. Jackson arrived about 20 minutes before the service and sat in my office. His flight from Chicago had landed at 8:30 that morning and he was exhausted, but he was very gracious, chatting with us and even mooching a book off my desk (I'm sending him a copy of it today). He preached on economic justice, and as is often the case with him he straddled the line between controversial and prophetic throughout his message. He read the text from Luke 4 where Jesus opens the Scriptures and reads from Isaiah: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor." Rev. Jackson closed his Bible and said: 'Let's talk about that.' He called out companies who build wealth by exploiting working and poor people. He mentioned Citigroup and other lending firms which baited unqualified but eager prospective homebuyers with low interest rates, only to foreclose on them when they couldn't make the higher payments when the rates adjusted. The main point of the sermon, and one which I fully support, was that if Jesus held the plight of the poor as a top priority, then so should his church. We might haggle over what that means and what we should do about it, but we can't ignore that it means something, and that we have a call to do something about it.
But here was the best part of the day for me, mostly because it caught me by surprise. I found myself honored to be in Rev. Jackson's presence.
For all the times I've rolled my eyes at something he's said, or disagreed with his interpretation of an event, or winced at his proposals for one solution or another, I was reminded yesterday that the people who accomplish big things for the culture and for God's Kingdom are those who are willing to take big risks and make big mistakes. Whatever I haven't agreed with is dwarfed--dwarfed--by what this man has accomplished, driven by his faith, for the Kingdom of God.
I'll say it again: I was honored to meet him, honored to pray with him and for him as we prepared for the service, and honored to hear him remind my wealthy congregation that God has a special place in his heart for the poor.
On the way out one of the many members of our church who hold powerful jobs in the financial world told me that he had a conference call the next day with the senior management team of one of the companies mentioned in the sermon. He said to me that his understanding of the issues had been broadened, and that he was going to mention what he'd heard on Sunday morning in his call on Monday.
Those of us who stumble along as pastors, trying to preach and live the gospel in various ministries, hope that someday, in some way, we influence a listener to do something different in their life and work because of the gospel. Yesterday I heard the sermon, saw the reaction, and know that at least one life was changed. It was a pretty good day.
Later that evening Julie and I went to a concert. One of Julie's favorite bands growing up was America, and so I go tickets for us for our 10th anniversary. What a great show that was--they performed so many familiar songs, and their band was really good. The songlist was a walk through junior high for me: Sister Golden Hair, Horse With No Name, Ventura Highway, Tin Man, Lonely People and Sandman. I can still play a few of those songs on the guitar.
The concert was at the Roundhouse in Camden--one of the historic concert venues in London. As it turned out, since the founders of the band grew up in the UK (their dads were US Air Force), the Roundhouse was where they played their first gig in 1970, opening for--get this--Elton John and The Who.
Here's the band...