Along the way
by Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis
published May 19, 2023
“Is it possible to see God at work beyond our walls? And receive it with joy rather than dread?”—Anna Carter Florence
Over the last several days, Plymouth clergy and members have been attending the 31st Festival of Homiletics. With the theme of Preaching Hope for a Weary World, more than a thousand preachers and attendees have gathered for worship, study, and preaching about hope in response to the recent years of the pandemic, protests, and polarization. On the first night of the festival, in the opening worship, the preacher for the evening, Dr. Anna Carter Florence, preached from a rarely used text from the Book of Joshua, featuring the biblical heroine, Rahab, a Canaanite woman and prostitute, who comes to the rescue of the Israelites in defiance of the ruler of Jericho. Dr. Florence powerfully demonstrates that Rahab is to be commended for seeing God working beyond the walls of her city and for the liberation of people not of her own tribe and city.
An arresting proclamation, the preacher’s sermon foregrounded the question: “Is it possible to see God at work beyond our walls?” I have not stopped thinking about it ever since. The question compels my reflection and interrogation and reminds me of how timely and consequential the recently completed work of Plymouth’s Campus Task Force is. The report invites us to discern how Plymouth can become one with the surrounding community. Rahab responded to the plight of the oppressed Israelites with courage and imagination, choosing compassion, solidarity, and accompaniment rather than fear, anxiety, and suspicion. Our Campus Task Force has invited us to act with similar courage and imagination.
We face many challenges in this neighborhood, including persistent poverty and concerns about community safety. We are expending additional resources to ensure the safety of our members, visitors, and tenants. Our neighbors routinely look to us for help, advice, and leadership, only to find us as concerned and frustrated as they are. And yet, the other night, the preacher challenged me to see God at work in our collective struggle. But seeing God at work also requires figuring out how I will respond, how we can be agents of love, peace, change, and neighborliness, and join God in the work of liberation for the oppressed. Our conversations about what it means to be a church in this neighborhood are only beginning. It will be uncomfortable, ambiguous, and contested. But Rahab inspires me. Yes, we live in a tension between difficulty and possibility. With God’s love and help, we can overcome the fear, anxiety, and suspicions that plague us and our neighbors and respond to their needs and aspirations with courage and imagination. May it be so.