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Qualifications for Activists

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

220116 Epiphany 2. Activists. Isaiah 62,1-5, Psalm 36.5-10, 1 Cor. 12.1-11, John 2. 1-11

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

How do we discover the work we are to do? How is it that some people stand out in the crowd and stand up for truth and justice? Today we are considering what it is to be an Activist and as we do this, we honour some significant activists. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, South African anti-apartheid activist and Nobel Prize laureate who died the day after Christmas Day on 26 December. He was tireless in his work of campaigning for reconciliation through tolerance and forgiveness and in everything he did, demonstrated a humility beyond greatness. He stirred the pot with fire and passion.

Martin Luther King Jnr was the most visible activist and leader in the American civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination on 4 April 1968. His birthday was on 15 January, and this year it is celebrated as a holiday on Monday 17 January. We all know his famous call for equality and freedom “I have a dream…” and he quoted that passionate old prophet activist Isaiah chapter 40 verse 4.

In our own community we have Aunty Joyce Clague MBE a descendant of local Bundjalung and Gumbaynggirr families who has been responsible for significant achievements through activism throughout her life. . Among the many campaigns she has been involved in was her work to challenge the very low level of participation as voters among Aboriginal people resident in the Northern Territory and the lack of representation in parliament.

Her achievements have been the result of political activism, and her contribution to international social justice as a member of the World Council of Churches Program to Combat racism. In 1969 this was in response to a 1968 mandate from the Council’s Fourth Assembly in Uppsala, Sweden. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Programme played a highly visible and controversial role in international debate about white-minority rule in Southern Africa. It supported reflection and action among churches in Southern Africa, provided direct humanitarian support to liberation movements, and was a leader in international campaigns for economic disengagement from apartheid.

The prophet Isaiah’s zeal for his people and his desire to see the work of salvation completed, caused him to pray without resting, hoping that Israel would be saved. Isaiah would not be silent and did not give up because his heart was on fire for his people. Isaiah vowed to keep talking and preaching and proclaiming until God does what God had promised to do. That is to restore Jerusalem and make this holy place a crown of beauty and burning torch.

To be an activist one needs to make the decision to speak up and not be silent and if we do, it will not be possible to make us shut up and we will not rest until the cause we are pleading for is won. Part of being an activist is to use the Spiritual gifts we are given and Saint Paul in writing to the people of Corinth provides some understanding of Spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are given to all of us in various degrees, to use to build up members of the community and are not to be looked upon as gifts of spiritual power.

We can be divisive if we insist on using our gifts our own way without being sensitive to others and we most certainly should not use gifts as a means of manipulating others or serving our own interests.

One of the typical characteristics of the activists we honour today is their personal humility. They have kept their focus on the cause and not on themselves. When we find people speaking out about various issues we need to discern if what is being said is truth and to check the credentials of the speaker.

All Christians have faith, and some have the spiritual gift of faith which is an unusual measure of trust in the power of the Holy Spirit of God. It is the Holy Spirit who decides the gifts we are given, and it is our responsibility to use and sharpen our gift, but we can take no credit for what the Holy Spirit has freely given. Sometimes we need a gentle nudge or even a shove to use our gifts.

Jesus’ Mother Mary knew this and gave Jesus a gentle nudge to get him moving and persisted in not listening to any objections.

Can we have Isaiah’s zeal to see God’s will done? That is what we mean when we pray. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” It is good to keep praying persistently with fire in your belly for Activists to succeed, doing God’s work. Evette Clague, Aunty Joyce’s daughter will read for us from her braille notes, something of what has driven her mother’s success as an activist.

“Mum says that this is all she needs to say because her point is made well enough.

Her point is that change is not “gonna come” but that change has come and will continue to come in the face of oppression, disadvantage, and discrimination while ever and where ever there are people brave enough and cheeky enough to give change a nudge here and a big fat shove there. That describes my Mum perfectly, brave and cheeky, a life spent nudging and shoving for change.

Can we all be willing to learn from this and follow her example?


The Reverend Canon Camellia Flanagan TSSF Canon Pastor Christ Church Cathedral Grafton.

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