I got Shoes, You Got Shoes, All God’s Children Got Shoes, When I get To Heaven, Gonna Put on My Shoes, Gonna Walk, All Over God’s Heaven
Only the barest of necessities were given to the slaves by the slave master. Just barely something to cover themselves. They didn’t have a robe or shoes. Certainly the slave singer was not happy about that, but the singer saw past the present reality into God’s future. Seeing God’s future transformed the present moment of frustration into a moment of celebration.
We often think of the Christian life in terms of what God will give us materially. We hear preachers speak of food on the table and a house and a job. We hear about how God will make you successful on your job or take you to the correct job if you lose that one.
However, one of the greatest gifts God has given to you is that “something” that is within you. That “something” that guides and directs you. That “something” that tells pain to stand back. That “something” that keeps you stable in an unstable world. I can’t really explain that “something”, but God has placed this “something” within you.
Today as we seek to live the life of God, let us keep in mind this great gift that God has given to us which is simply this “something” within.
Sometimes the sick think of the blessing of God as a cure. Other times the one who has suffered job loss may see the blessing of God as getting that job back or finding a new one. In these cases the blessing is a reversal of fortunes. The blessing is God taking the problem and eliminating it.
But in our lives we often don’t get the cure. Sometimes we have to live with the diabetes till we die, sometimes we have to learn how to handle the migraines, and yes sometimes we have to learn how to manage with the arthritides. In addition, some of us may have to recognize that a new job may not be soon on the horizon and happy days may not be here again.
The good news is that God’s grace is not always characterized by a reversal of fortune, sometimes God’s grace is simply the power to keep on keeping on. In this spiritual, the slave looks into the eyes of the worse that the world can marshal against her and says simply “I’m still holding on.” “When my burden’s heavy…I shall not be moved.” I may have harder burdens than I even know of, but I won’t give up or give in. “If my friends forsake me…I shall not be moved.” Even if I have to stand up alone, I will stand up, just like that tree that is in the water, I shall not be moved.
The slave teaches us as we live in these last days of earth’s history that God’s grace includes simply the perseverance to just hold on.
Acts 4:20 (KJV)
For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.
I believe that these words uttered in antiquity by Peter and John have much to offer those of us wrestling with the pressing circumstances of modernity. Particularly the quandary pertaining to the necessity of the Black church. There are those who seem to believe that the institution known as the Black church has run its course, and is no longer necessary. This paradigm seems to make sense, after all there is little doubt that African Americans, as a collective, have achieved wealth and social status equal to any other ethnic group within the United States. In addition, society has seemingly erased the color line. There is no longer legislated segregation. Hence the question arises, why do we segregate ourselves, particularly on Sunday morning; is there a need for the Black church?
To begin, I need to make a clarifying statement. The Black church neither is now, nor has it ever been a monolithic institution. It has always had as varied a theological and socio-economic outlook as the skin pigmentation of it’s congregants. However, when I refer to the Black church I am referring to that blessed institution which first began as an invisible institution in the backwoods of the antebellum south. That institution which buoyed up the down cast and downtrodden slaves, the institution that mobilized and organized slaves to revolt and fight the social evil of slavery; the institution that spurred the establishment of denominations, and colleges. The institution that birthed King, and the greatest revival in this nations history the Civil Rights movement. This is the Black church.
I believe with out a shadow of a doubt that the Black church is no less than essential to the flourishing of the United States. It has served and must continue to sere as the siren to the soul of this country. The Black church has been the a voice of truth, confession, confrontation, and correction for the nation. When slavery and her bastard child segregation were the normative de facto laws of the land it was the Black church who constantly blew the whistle, gave voice to the voice less and called for change.
In addition, Paul and John’s commentary in the aforementioned passage explain in a sense the dire necessity of the Black church. The apostles state that they can not help but bear witness to the events which they have experienced. This is in short the thesis of Tom Long’s seminal work The Witness of Preaching. Hence experience with a particular text is the basis for proclamation. As African Americans our experiences have been quite different from the experiences of the dominant culture. For this reason, our expression is different. In the immortal words of Rev. Dr. Freddy Haynes, in response to the media’s lynching of Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, â€œdifferent experiences lead to different expressions.â€
The Black church is a reminder that Christianity is not a cookie cutter religion, meaning it is not monolithic. It is an expression of faith in a God who appears differently to different people. God is quite capable of remaining God and yet being relevant in different ways to different people. Just as people in the U.S. May be experiencing Summer presently and people in Sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing winter; and it is presently day light on one part of the world and yet night in another; in the same vein God may be experienced as the guaranteer of success and the vanguard of the status quo to one population, and yet still be considered as a resting place and co-conspirer for those longing for revolution.
God is simply that vast and inexhaustible, so much so that we as individuals with our limited experiences can’t even hope to grasp the magnitude of God. Instead, it takes the whole of community, the human community to begin to get a peep-hole glimpse of the enormous grandeur that is God. In essence, without the Black church’s unique perspective of God based on it’s experience the whole of humanity can not hope to ever get a better understanding of God. For it is the Black church who taught the world that God is a mother to the motherless child a long way from home, it is the Black church who taught the world of God’s approachable-ness in that we could steal away to God. The Black church taught us all that Precious Jesus would come and take our tired week and weary hands and lead us on and let us stand. The Black church taught us that King Jesus is a listenin’. Is there a need for the Black church certainly Lawd, certainly, certainly, certainly Lawd.
This spiritual begins completely centered on the singer’s need of Jesus and prayer. While the singer does not really get into why prayer is needed, one can easily imagine reasons. Perhaps it is because the singer is a poor weak sinner like all of us. Thus, the singer could be talking about need to overcome sin. Maybe the singer is talking about needing strength to overcoming evil and evildoers in this life. The singer might be talking about the need for personal forgiveness of sins. Maybe the singer is just talking about receiving comfort in the storms of life.
Whatever the reason, the singer is talking about personally needing prayer. This spiritual does not point at others needing God even though they do. The singer of this spiritual simply says, “I need prayer.” Lest the hearer misunderstand, the singer explicitly identifies many others, but then goes back to the original statement, “I need prayer!” The singer seems to be saying, “I am not looking at brother, sister, or anyone else, I recognize that I need prayer.”
It is interesting that the singer has been mistreated in life, but the singer does not point the finger at others. In many cases, we have been wronged and sometimes we are called to do something about it, but before you can respond to evil, you have to recognize your own weakness in the face of it.
While a comprehensive look at other spirituals will show that sometimes the sins of other folk are referred to, this spiritual reminds me that at some point I have to get to the point of recognizing that I need prayer. In addition, that knowledge at some point will overshadow the weakness of others and what they did to me. That knowledge will propel me to personally “get right.” That knowledge will propel me to take the “spec out of my own eye.” That knowledge will help me to sing, “It’s me, It’s me, It’s me oh Lord, Standin in the Need of Prayer.”
Oh Lord, I ask that you would continue to give me the recognition of my own need of prayer. Help me to not get so caught up in the weakness and sins of others that I lose touch with the recognition of my own need. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.