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‘We are not going to change the world. God is’


Rev. Jimmie Hawkins praises collegians’ openness, justice-seeking

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, at right, director of the Office of Public Witness, is interviewed following his keynote address Saturday by Nate Williams, a Young Adult Volunteer working in Albuquerque. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

MONTREAT, North Carolina — Before delivering the final keynote address to the Collegiate Conference at Montreat Saturday, the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins addressed the elephant in the room: the fact that the nation could well be on a path toward war.

Hawkins, director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., prayed for “the spirit of the Prince of Peace to be in our hearts. Bless the leaders of the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran, that blustering, thoughts of violence and hostilities may come to naught. Hear our voices and make us one, because you, O God, loves every child everywhere.”

At that point, Hawkins launched into an hour-long talk that would eventually earn him a standing ovation from the 900 or so Presbyterian collegians attending the conference titled “Remembering Sabbath.” The conference concludes with a worship service Sunday morning.

“The purpose of Sabbath is renewal, so we can wake up in the morning and be woke,” Hawkins said. “It’s to come out with energy and vitality so we can be a presence in this world. Our faith is personal,” he told the students, “but it’s not private.”

Hawkins asked his audience to “blow the dust off your Bible app” and read Mark 2:23-27, a passage where “Jesus is saying the Sabbath is being misinterpreted,” Hawkins said , “and he says, ‘I am the lord of the Sabbath, and so I can do what I want to do.’”

Hawkins praised those in attendance, known as Generation Z, “for being more focused on justice and the environment” than many older adults are.

“This is a generation that will change the world,” he said to applause. “You’re the most diverse generation in American history.”

He asked all the people of color to stand.

“This is America,” Hawkins said, to more applause. “You are growing up in a generation where most people will look like you. Change is coming to America.”

Hawkins played a brief clip of a town hall featuring former President Barack Obama and the Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry. Obama recalled how his life changed the moment his focus became one of being useful and helpful to others.

“That is a Christian declaration,” Hawkins said. “Sabbath allows you some serious reflection on yourself. You can accept there are things you aren’t good at and be that child created in the image of God never to live solely for yourself.”

He recalled a life-changing experience one summer during his college years in the mid-1980s. The economy was in recession, so Hawkins went to the local unemployment office to inquire about summertime work. He was told there were no jobs available.

Discouraged, he returned to his car and flipped on the radio — where he heard that the local Presbyterian camp was desperately in need of camp counselors. He returned to the office and was given an application. “Sorry,” the clerk told him. “I forgot.” He soon secured much-needed summertime employment.

It turns out it was a sailing camp and Hawkins was “deathly afraid of water.” But no matter.

“It was the most spiritual experience of my life,” he said. “I was going to be a high school history teacher, but I got the call to ministry that summer at camp. That’s how God acts.”

Returning to the topic at hand, Hawkins said the nation needs the Sabbath as much as individuals do.

“America is in desperate need of a good night’s sleep,” he said. “We are anxious, we are divided and we are as segregated as we’ve ever been. There’s a wage gap that is sinful, and it doesn’t have to be that way. God calls nations to be just, and God is calling the church to lift its prophetic voice.”

He urged students to follow the model of Jesus the Sabbath-keeper, pointing out these facts:

  • Jesus went to parties
  • He hung out with people his mother disapproved of
  • He criticized the church and its leaders — but he never left it
  • Jesus took his faith seriously
  • From time to time, he participated in self-imposed isolation
  • He attended community events
  • He engaged in prayer with sorrow and apprehension.

“We are not going to change this world. God is,” he said. “When you work for justice. Most of the things you are working for are not going to be fulfilled.”

“But wherever I go, I meet people who are just as committed as I am,” he added. “This generation inspires me. Y’all aren’t playing around. The church needs to find a way to say to you justice-seekers, ‘We are with you.’”

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