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The Table Video

John M. Perkins

Listening in the Language of Love - John M. Perkins

Civil Rights Activist / Author
July 13, 2017

“Come, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). Amidst the strife, violence, struggle, and injustice, we need to have a holistic conversation that starts with affirmation of human dignity and an understanding of justice. We too often miss each other, failing to understand and communicate in the midst of our disagreement. The time in which we live requires a renewed commitment to listen to each other in a language of love.


Joy. Joy is a fulfillment of longing, expectation, and to see that, that comes out of suffering and pain. That’s joy. That’s what makes the birth of a child. It comes out of nine months of expectation. That joy, that pain, and then that joy. My expectation for this day, as I look back, started in February the 7th, 19 and 70, as a results of people being locked in jail, tortured, for trying to get the basic right because, you know, our Constitution says that our ideal was, the most affirming idea of the humanity in the history of the world.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all human beings are created equal, and is endowed by their creator with some basic rights. Chief among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We gonna have make a new sort of a expression of the Kingdom of God. That’s what America was to be.

Woman: Amen.

One nation, from all nationalities, under God, with liberty and justice for all. By the time the ink was dry, we was unloading slaves. Justice was denied. We took justice out of God’s purpose for redemption. God should not be just, if we created all of us in His image. He is just, he is holy, cause we know sin came. And that was the hope. That was the hope, that this world would see justice lived out here. The slave ships, that’s the original American sin.

Sin is only sin if it’s against the law. That’s what the law was given; the law was given by Moses, that we couldn’t fulfill, but what the law could not do, it was weak through the flesh, God sent his son, in the likeness of sin for flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh that the justice of God might be fulfilled in us. That’s what the righteousness mean. So what is this all about? Why are we here? Micah tried to summarize it. He said, your prophet, he hath shown thee, O man, pretty conclusive, what is good and what the Lord requires of us.

That is to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly before our God. That’s what this is about. Me being here today is a fulfillment of my longing. My loneliness started on the floor of a Brandon jail, when I was tortured. We was tortured, 23 of us, I was tortured the most. On that jail I saw the depths of racism and bigotry. I saw the effect. I saw it in the eyes of those white torturers. They looked like, looked [mumbles]. It looked like that they was so joyful that they could bring me to this place of brokenness and shame, and they did that.

And in that I began to do what this mission here of to do, is to listen, listening for God. I needed help. I wanted God to hear my prayer. But I wanted God to speak back to me. That’s what prayer is. Is listen for God to speak, listen for his will might be done, that his Kingdom would come, on earth as is in heaven. He’s gonna have a Kingdom of justice, he wanted his church reflect that to the world to give the world hope. And how dark it would be, that one day what we’re reflecting is gonna be a reality, and we’re gonna see that, we’re gonna see that Kingdom and not quite hear Abraham called it a city. A city that had foundation, whose building maker was God. We’re gonna see that city one day. It’s gonna come down outta heaven and it’s gonna have on its foundation the apostles who founded this church.

They gonna succeed, they gonna succeed. They’re gonna be there people, from every tribe, every tongue, on earth. What we got a glimpse of that 2,015 years, hundred years ago, when the shepherds, uneducated shepherds, that was the occupation, was out on their field by night, keeping watch over the flock, and they hear, what we hear to listen. We hear to listen. We hear to listen to each other for God speak. All prophets said, hear you the word of the Lord. When Jesus speaks to the seven churches, he said, he that has an ear, let him hear.

Hearing is, and listening, is probably one of the greatest of the human production. The rest of it’s gonna be God. Because, I think that’s why they make him the word of God. That’s why it says, in the beginning was the word. We was to hear the word. And said that word was made flesh and dwell among us, and we beheld his glory. And he says the law was given by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. That makes cold chills run up and down me. That tells that we can be redeemed. The truth is to stop believing the lie that Adam believed. That plunges this world into sin. But he also brought with him grace.

The redemption from that, that’s what the shepherds hear, behold I hear you good news of great joy, which shall be to all people. Ain’t no room there for racism and bigotry that we are practiced. Ain’t no room for it. Too narrow. All people. He said it again to Abraham. You gonna be blessed by all people. All people. I bring you good news of great joy. That’s good news. They heard it. Those shepherds went into the city and they found it just as God, the angels had said. They originated the song, Go Tell it on the Mountain. That’s our job. Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere, go tell it on the mountain, that the savior, the reconciler, what we’ve done here, we took justice off with the first slave ship. The first slave ship messed up our declaration. We still fighting about that when we talking about immigration. [man shouts] One nation, under God, with liberty and justice.

We even got on our Statue of Liberty, bring us the tired, the jobless, the pained, bring ’em here, because we gonna seek God’s kingdom. We gonna reflect God’s kingdom, and he said if you reflect his kingdom, the things that we need would be added. We have become the richest nation that ever been dreamed of in the history of the world. God has blessed us just by our statement. That’s what he tried to do for Israel. He wanted them to be an exemplary nation to show to other people what a real kingdom would look like. They rebelled, and I can hear Amos, because I’ve called and you’ve refused, I stretch out my hand to his own people and no man regard it. You had said it not all of my accounts though.

But for that said don’t bring me your religion, don’t bring me all of these religious issues. Don’t substitute them for the gospel. Don’t take abortion, don’t take these other stuff, side issue, let’s all make religion outta them. Society. Let’s let justice roll now, like water. And righteousness as an overflowing stream. We had to take justice out. We had to delay it. We didn’t get a shot at it until 19 and 64, with the Voter’s Right Act, because the Voter’s Right Act said that black folks had become human. The Supreme Court had affirmed that the black man had no rights that the white man had to respect, and in my state of Mississippi there had never been a white man ever persecuted went to jail for any bodily harm to a black person until 19 and 66 with the Voter’s Right and the Civil Rights Act. Let me give you some good news.

The best news is that we can be workers together with God and that redemption, that makes me feel lowly. That God could save a third-grade dropout and a bootlegger and a gambler, forgive me of my sins, and then called me. Well you all saw this morning, I used to work for the president. You saw me on the stage, behind the president. So could take a third-grader, forgive my sin. I thought I had to be here when I worked for him. But look, he call you and me to be workers together with the creative God. He redeems us in his grace, and then by grace puts us in his redemptive work. That’s what Paul are trying to say in Ephesians when he said for by grace are you saved, through faith, that faith is not yourself, it is a gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast.

All it needed was people to listen to hear the word of God, because faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. This is a significant event here. I’m interpreting this as a momentous event in the history of evangelism. This’ll be like when we was in Calvin College, back in the early 70s. This is like when we was at the YMCA in Chicago. I’m talking Richie Malone, he was there a part of that. We was there, could see that there was holes in our gospel. We didn’t see ’em as clear as we see ’em now. I think we saw that they had taken justice out because justice is a stewardship issue. Adam had stewardship of the world.

His job was to name it and, really, he was the first prosperity preacher. Name it and claim it, if he would use it for the good of the poor, if he would use it for the wooders and often, if he would use it in a distribution way that affirmed people’s dignity and gave them a shot at life, a shot at work in the society, we was able to see that. What we wasn’t able to see as clear is that they had removed reconciliation out of gospel. That’s what Paul said it was.

We have now made it a side issue and stop bought a thing to turn it into a coffins selling business. He’s thinking of getting ready to do the reconciliation stuff but it won’t work. It goes back into the gospel. We don’t even preach it with expectation. We not even going back to our churches looking for them to talk about reconciliation as the outcome and the ministry by which justice come. We’re trying to tack it in because we have benefited so greatly, and if you has benefited so greatly, if you have created a great enough system that one percent of the population could own 50% of the world resources and then another six to that be seven percent own 80% of the world’s population, and then there’s almost one billion of the seven billion that makes a dollar or two dollars a day.

We got a great, productive system. We got a selfish problem. We got a devalue. I don’t talk to my buddies who own business about minimum wage. You don’t talk back to me about minimum wage, I’m with ’em all the time. A livable wage. A livable wage. Livable wage. Let me conclude this quickly here. What are we doing here? We’re coming back to, the first thing is prayer. Prayer is listening. Prayer is listening to God. Prayer is, God knows our pain. He gonna identify that when he come to us. He gonna identify with that pain.

Moses, as the original prophet, I see this trouble that you in. I see this pain of your enslavement and I’ve come down to deliver you, and I want you to be engaged with me in my redemptive work. Signs and wonders, mana from heaven, he gonna do with it. He did it through the church. When he sent us into all the world, he told us signs and wonders would, the super sign, the super sign, is our love for each other. The super sign is our love for God and our love for each other, but this made all men know that you’re my disciples, is the love you have one, what we are trying to do is fix it without repenting.

My friend Hatfield tried to get some kind of re-vote on that almost every year he was up there. The most of the years he was up there, he got one vote with him, and that was Senator Brooks, another black. My friend Tommy Hall was up there for 22 years, and he tried it every year he was up there. He got the black office. We haven’t repented. We don’t hear the word of God, you’re my people, that are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, listening what he gonna say. If we humble ourselves and pray, listening, turn from our wicked ways, listening, God says I will hear you from heaven. Turn from our wicked ways.

You can’t be more slave, the reason this organization of justice we have to get going, few minutes, the reason it’s on the spotlight, it’s really the sharpest thing who’re trying to deliver women from slavery, prostitution, who is trying to do it. It’s on there because that’s just the bottom. We are too close to life, here. Too close to lying today. And so we, what’re we doing here? We’re putting, trying to put, fill up the holes in the gospel.

Sterling said that, we got holes in our gospel. James said it also. Jude, Jude. Jude said there are spots in our love, spots in our charity, spots in our charity. We can name people, brand ’em, and then we can do we wanted to. That’s what you don’t know about the black and white relationship. That’s why it’s gonna take some deep confession. They gonna go back to that. Back to my forefathers. And they ain’t nothing heard no great voice of repentance.

Repentance, if my people they’ll call on my name. That’s why we’re here. Humble ourselves and pray. Listen to God. God will hear us from heaven. Lord, and we can participate with him in that healing. I think, yes this is my thought, you don’t have to do this one to go to heaven, why don’t we take an initiative? Why don’t we go head on? Why don’t we become cost-effective? Why don’t we intentionally develop reconciled churches? Plan ’em. We gotta dialogue together, here. We can do this. We can join together with God to do this. I makes jokes about racism. If I didn’t make jokes about racism, I’d go crazy.

Because it’s so un-Biblical. In fact a been, white people are getting to know there. When I talk to a white, young person, that is civilized and I love it, and I love it when I talk to them about it. They can, this young generation I’m talking about, can get it. They are getting it. They are getting it. You gotta be intentional. I heard it all the time, if I come to know Jesus Christ in the poverty of Mississippi, if you’re coming to know Jesus Christ and getting right with him, everything else will get right. Our people needed a job. I could do that. I start organizing help centers, co-ops, and trying to help people, all of those people, those poor people, those folks was crying out day and night, praying. That wasn’t saving our situation.

They loved Jesus Christ, but God calls us to be workers together with him. Jesus did that. When he saw the leper, Peter and James and John saw a poor man at the temple. And they said, we don’t have any silver and gold, but we have something. But they took him by the hand and lifted him up, and strength came into his legs and he began to joyfully go into the house of God. I’m finished. I think what we’ve done, I think this, to me, this is the great initiative. I’ve longed for this day. Longed for this day.

Come, join us. I think we can do it. I think we can do it. I think God is with us. God is with us. And what he’s, the workshop I was in, and jeez I hear it on the stage, that God has been dealing with people. We sit there and everything this guy was saying was just what I’d been longing for. You know what I’m finding is now? I’m finding this now, this seems like God is speaking to us collectively. At least he’s trying to speak to us collectively. Thank you all for listening. We gotta continue that. This dialogue. We gotta continue this.

That’s what the church is about. The last thing I think, in the musicians, we didn’t have any here, but that whole new group of new musicians, unless you were the leadership, music lead comes behind redemption, or go ahead of redemption. First thing we sit down and we see music in the Bible, in the biblical, exciting way is at the other side of the seat. When they sung praises to God. Praises to God. And we got to develop this language of love.

This art, this girl, blew me out this morning with this art thing. I love all kind of art. I love art, because art turns beauty into music. That’s what made Isaiah the great prophet. I’m finished. [audience laughs] He turned the hope of redemption, he turned that into music. Listen at him. For unto us a child is born, for unto us a son is given. The government gonna be on his shoulder, his name gonna be called wonderful, glorious, the prince of peace, and the increase of his Kingdom that we gonna be a part of, there will be no end to it. [melodic strumming]