Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and much of the focus has been on freedom and civil rights and rightly so. This was a large part of what that march was all about. But there was a second component of that march that is often left out—it was a march for jobs.
For Dr. King, those two things—jobs and freedom—were intimately connected. There cannot be human equality without economic equality. What good does it do, he asked, to have an integrated lunch counter if a person can’t afford to buy a hamburger?
Fifty years later, that hope for jobs that would pay living wages is still a distant dream for many.
Fifty years later, not only corporations have let you down. Your faith communities have let you down.
The scriptures of my tradition, the Old and New Testaments, could not be clearer about the exploitation and the underpayment of workers. The prophet Jeremiah writes: “Woe to him . . . who makes neighbors work for nothing and does not give them their wages” (Jeremiah 22:13). Woe to him, meaning that the judgment, the wrath of God is upon those who do not pay their workers.
And in the letter of James in the New Testament, there’s this: “Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (James 5:4). Your cries today reach the ears of God and call for an answer, for redress, for action!
We have ignored these troublesome parts of our heritage. We have talked about spiritual things in our faith communities and have forgotten that you cannot separate a person’s work from their soul. We have imagined that when Jesus said love your neighbor that he meant, be nice to them. Not pay them fair wages that keep up with the cost of living and that allow them a life of dignity and in safety.
We talk in our communities about the importance of getting a job and finding meaningful work, of work as a way out of poverty. And yet it seems that we have created instead work that keeps people in poverty. We have let you down.
Over the last 50 years, we have stood idly by while the gap between the rich and the poor in our nation has widened into a vast canyon and poverty has spiraled out of control.
Every Saturday morning at my church, University UMC, we serve close to 300 people brunch, and we clothe another 100 folks, and the stories I hear make me incredibly sad and tired.
I’m tired of hearing the stories of folks who have jobs but who do not have enough even for the daily necessities of life. I’m tired of hearing about folks who work two jobs and can’t make ends meet. I’m tired of hearing folks who have low paying minimum wage jobs tell me that they have to choose between housing and food, because they don’t have enough for both. If I’m tired of hearing about it, I can’t imagine how incredibly tired are the folks I’m listening to.
Are you tired?
Forty-five years ago, Dr. King came to Memphis, TN to march in support of sanitation workers who were seeking the very same things you all are seeking today. Better wages and a better life.
And people were saying then what they’re saying now. Let’s not rush into things, Dr. King. Let’s give this some time.
Dr. King said: Now is the time. Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all of God’s children …. Now is the time for justice to roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. Now is the time.
When is the time? Now is the time. Thank you.