“Shine a light in the corner”– A sermon for a faithful citizen,
based on Psalm 146

Editor’s Note: From The Christian Citizen archives. This article first appear in The Christian Citizen Vol. 1, 2004. In that issue, we asked several American Baptist clergy and leaders to imagine that they had been invited to preach before the President and Congress assembled shortly after the presidential inauguration in January 2005. Not knowing with certainty who would be president or which party would control the House or Senate, they were asked to consider what they would say if granted such an opportunity.

Deborah L. Hughes
October 15, 2018

I don’t know if Will Olsen was a saint or just a sage, but he modeled the best in faithful leadership by his example.

During the Depression, children would stop by the local meat market after school. There, they would find the shopkeeper, Mr. Olsen, sweeping the aisles. “Take care of the corners,” he advised, “and the aisles will take care of themselves.”

There was bread and a big pot of soup on the stove in the back, and everyone was encouraged to take a share and sit for a while as Mr. Olsen played a tune on his fiddle and told a story. The children thought they were putting off their chores and giving Will an audience. But 60 years later, more than one adult in town confided to me that Mr. Olsen’s after-school soup had some- times been their only meal in a day.

You have been elected to a position of great honor and power. You will make decisions in the coming term that will affect millions of lives for good or for naught.  I do not envy the burdens that will weigh upon your conscience. You must ask yourself each day: To whom do I owe my allegiance?

You will be held accountable by the electorate, your political party, and the political action groups, corporations and individuals who funded your campaign. If you hold yourself accountable to these mortals, you may get re-elected—but you may miss your true calling.

In ten verses, Psalm 146 provides us with a primer for authentic faith. First, praise God before you do anything else. Remember that God created all of the cosmos and all of life. You can trust and hope in God, who is eternal, and that will bring you true happiness. There is no point in putting your faith in humans, no matter how high their office or how great their wealth. They die, their power dies, and their plans die, too. Pledge your allegiance to God.

Next, the Psalmist shares God’s agenda. These are the things God wants done: feed the hungry, set prisoners free, heal the afflicted, care for foreigners and strangers, and take care of orphans and widows. Use your power and influence to help God do these things. God loves those who work for justice, and God punishes the wicked. God is holding you accountable. Finally, after all is said and done, praise the Eternal God again.

In the days of the Psalmist, the widow and orphan were particularly vulnerable in society. By law, a woman or child could not own property; only an adult male had this privilege. When a husband died, any holdings (including house and land) would pass to the nearest adult male relative. The widow would then be completely dependent on that relative’s benevolence for food and shelter. If there was no male relative, property would be transferred to the temple. Without land or holdings, it was impossible for a widow to grow food for sustenance or crops for trade. The widow was completely dependent on others for her daily survival. For many, to be widowed or orphaned was to begin a rapid tailspin into dependence, poverty, hunger, homelessness, or physical abuse.

There is no doubt that your new position gives you power and authority over the lives of others. Who are the widows and orphans that God has placed in your care? Who are those who have neither voice nor power to speak for themselves? Who are those without access to fair work and trade? Who are those made vulnerable by our laws and customs? Who are those with neither the means nor the ability to fend for themselves? Take care of the corners…

In an agrarian society, the means to sustenance are a fertile plot, tools to turn the soil, seed, water and able hands. In an industrial nation, the means to sustenance are education, a living wage, transportation and equal opportunity. The threats to life have not changed. They are: violence, disease, the elements, and malnutrition.

In this country, there are those who work in our fields but come home at the end of the day with no food for their own table. There are those who work a full day but cannot afford a safe space to live. There are those who do not have access to basic medical or dental care. There are even those in this country who do not have adequate sanitation or fresh water to drink. Yet, there are sufficient resources to meet the needs of all those in this country and in our world. Take care of the corners…

God is concerned about prisoners. In some states, prisons are now owned by corporations and guard unions have become powerful lobbying forces. If the largest employer in town is the prison (and someone else’s tax base in another state is paying for it), then every local citizen benefits directly or indirectly when the system incarcerates as many people as possible for as

long as possible. How can we avoid corruption in the justice system when there are people profiting from those in jail? Take care of the corners…

God expects us to care for the stranger in our midst. In these days of heightened security, our boundaries are important to us, and we see people as allies or enemies—as “us” or “them.” Yet, our boundaries are insignificant to the One who fashioned the whole world. No nation or person has more claims to God’s attention or benevolence than any other. God holds us accountable for how we treat each of God’s children. Take care of the corners…

God holds us accountable for how we treat each of God’s children. Take care of the corners…
Will Olsen lived his Christian life with the same discipline with which he minded the store. We could shine a light into any corner and find that he’d been there first to clean out the hypocrisy and grime. God is looking into the corners of this great nation of ours. At the end of your term, what will God find?
Deborah L. Hughes is president and CEO, National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, Rochester, New York. She has served on the pastoral staff of First Baptist Church of Birmingham, MI, and two Presbyterian churches in Rochester, NY; as a member service representative for the American Baptist Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board; and as vice president for Development at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, Rochester, NY.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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