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Social justice veteran the Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler leans on Isaiah during an online forum offered by Union Presbyterian Seminary

The prophet provides ‘a divine response to the problems of now’

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Ian Schneider via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — A “singular voice for social justice,” the Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler, got the nod Monday from the Center for Social Justice and Reconciliation at Union Presbyterian Seminary to preach as part of the Just Preach/Just Act series.

Retired from Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C., Hagler is now a senior advisor for the Fellowship of Reconciliation and director of community relations with CORE DC, which works to strengthen supportive housing programs for returning residents in the District of Columbia. Dr. Rodney S. Sadler Jr., Associate Professor of Bible at Union Presbyterian Seminary and the director of the Center for Social Justice and Reconciliation, introduced Hagler and then shepherded a question-and-answer session following Hagler’s sermon, which bore the title, “Seeing Through This Moment.”

“We’ve been through this before and we will go through it again,” Hagler said of the constant drumbeat of disturbing and distressing news offered up via 24/7 news sources. “We should not be consumed in moments that come and go. We should look into the moment God will reveal,” citing his preaching text, Isaiah 42:1-9, where the prophet “is not necessarily speaking about Jesus, but hoping God would send some relief … Isaiah was announcing there is another moment that is not yet, but it’s coming.”

“It’s not trying to avoid the struggles of the present,” Hagler said, “but it’s offering up a divine response to the problems of now.”

Clearly, Isaiah is “disappointed in the brokenness of political leadership. Isaiah sees a need for God to intervene because government has failed,” Hagler said. The prophet hears “the questions coming from the people as they feel a deep sense of loss and displacement … Isaiah says, ‘I see something through this moment and beyond this moment.’”

The Temple in Jerusalem has been plundered and the people taken into exile. “God did not spare them from this trauma,” Hagler noted. “They asked: ‘Did God give up on us? Doesn’t God care that enemies have surrounded us and seem to have consumed the land?’”

While people saw their future in peril, “It was in this context that Isaiah offered some assurance,” Hagler said, “rendering a vision by looking into and through the moment toward the moment God would reveal.”

The one on the earthly throne and those next to the king “have all failed,” Hagler said, and for Isaiah the coming messiah “is a critique of the failure of government. Your way failed, and now it’s going to be God’s way.”

This critique rings true today, Hagler said. “Isaiah was saying, ‘We need some help,’ and I’m saying, ‘We need some help,” Hagler said. “People are hellbent on nurturing the nightmare of white supremacy … Systems are being maintained to protect the greedy over the needy. When policies or elections fail, the forces of evil and hatred always resort to violence.”

“It doesn’t matter that groups try to intimidate us,” Hagler said. But as we move past “the fear of the moment,” we see instead “the power and hopefulness of God.”

Hagler urged the online audience not to “divorce yourself from the struggle of the moment, and don’t get depleted. Engage the moment and don’t acquiesce. We look for the vision that God has revealed.”

Even a bruised reed, Isaiah assures us, will not break.

The Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler

“We forget there have been other moments. We forget God is in charge. We forget God called us in righteousness and took us by the hand and kept us,” Hagler said. “If you cannot step toward the vision of God that resides in the territory of the unknown, you really don’t know the resurrection, which is God’s critique of a world that kills.”

“God’s truth is marching on,” Hagler said, wrapping up his sermon, “and God’s truth will march to victory. Amen and amen!”

Sadler offered up the first question: What, he asked Hagler, is your vision for today?

“To define realities not by what’s presented, but by the possibilities of what can be,” Hagler replied. “Injustice now only points to what justice looks like.”

It’s high time for Christians to overcome their timidity, Hagler said. Repenting and turning “from our wicked ways” are also high on our to-do list.

“We go where God leads us and we meet the challenges that are before us,” Hagler said in response to a question from a seminarian. “If God sends us to a rough-and-tumble place, that’s where we need to be. You’ve got to go and live among people who are struggling not believing you have the answers.”

That place, Sadler said, is “where the possibility for transformation begins. It comes from the people and it moves up.”

“There’s no safety in liberation,” Hagler replied. “There’s only hope.”

In fact, Hagler asserted, “Jesus earned the cross just like the bandits [on either side of the Lord] did, for resisting the power of empire, the power of false gods. The resurrection is the response of God to everyone who dares to see it through to the end. We don’t surrender, we don’t back down and we don’t give up.”

“If we do what we are supposed to be doing, people will come,” Hagler said. “It may not be the people we want, but it’ll be people who have heard the call of God. Allies have a burning desire to do right.”

Near the end of their time together, Sadler told Hagler, “You are invoking what Dr. King does — a table set for those who agree with us and for those who disagree with us.”

That elicited a grin from Hagler. “I am not going to spend a lot of time,” Hagler told Sadler, “with people who disagree with me.”

“You’ve gone from preaching to meddling!” Sadler told Hagler with a laugh.

At 7 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, the 2023 Just Preach/Just Act series concludes with a talk by the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, Advocacy Director in the Office of Public Witness and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. Last year Hawkins published his first book, “Unbroken and Unbowed.” Learn more about Hawkins’ talk and register here.

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