I'll start by saying that Washington is breathtakingly beautiful this time of the year. The grass on the National Mall is turning green again. The cherry blossoms are opening into extraordinary beauty in order to dazzle thousands of people who will flock to the Tidal Basin this weekend. The monuments stand tall and proud. We can gain the appreciation of many a tourist who comes to our city if we keep them in certain areas of our city. We can awe people with our Metro and amaze people with our food choices. We can impress people, and we do often. But my eyes have seen a different side of the city, and my ears hear stories that demand attention, correction and leadership.
When I first moved to Washington in 1994, I selected a small apartment that was as close to work as I could find. My commute from my door to my desk in the Hart Senate Office Building was exactly four minutes. Living on the Hill, I was not allowed to see many of our city's problems. Homeless people are not allowed to linger on the Hill but are rather sent off to other parts of the city. Hungry people do not go through trash cans just outside the Capitol building. The sadness of the city is often blocked from the view of Members of Congress and their constituents who visit.
When I came back to the city in 2001, I was led to live in Columbia Heights. I quickly saw a different part of the city that my eyes had not seen before. I was awakened to the reality of gangs, violence, and killings. I noticed children lining up for their annual vaccinations at a local health clinic. I saw the very rich and the very poor all living on the same block. I learned to pray for peace not in places like the Middle East but for my own block.
At the same time, I was adjusting to being a pastor in the center of the city. When I arrived at the church I was greeted by huge metal gates that had been installed to keep people from sleeping on the porches. I fought hard to get the gates removed and was successful in the process. I now anguish over how to get people off the porches because we cannot keep up with hosing urine off the steps and clearing cardboard boxes. I have learned that the one thing our city has an abundance of is grey metal blankets that are given to people on the streets. I would be perfectly content to never see one of these grey blankets again.
Today, I open the pages of the Washington Post and read how 15.8 percent of the people living in Washington do not know where their next meal will come from. 93,000 people living in our city struggle to find their next meal - more than one in ten people! The radio informed me earlier in the week how the gap between those who have and those who have not is wider in the District than any other city. At the same time, I read stories of a Council Chairperson who chose to lease a luxury vehicle, demanding every feature he could find, at an expense of $2,000 a month to the city. I'm also perplexed by stories of what happened during the campaign - of who was promised what job and at what expense. I wonder who is telling the truth and who is not. I wonder what it will take to improve our city's school system - how if there will ever be another President or Member of Congress who will send her children to city schools instead of private, elite schools.
What would I pray if I could be there on Monday night?
O God, our help in ages past, you who have guided us through the wilderness and protected us in the storms, you who broke down barriers and welcomed all people, you who turned the tables upside down and sent money changers away, you who said the first shall be last and the last shall be first, you who call us to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with you, we turn to you once more on this night. We gather as ordinary citizens and leaders who have been vested with extraordinary power. We gather as people who love this city and individuals who want the best for this city. We gather, and we pray for our city. We pray for our Mayor who will speak on this night. May he speak a word of truth and a word of vision. We pray for the members of our City Council who gather in the front rows. May they lead by example and show us how they are seeking the best interests for our city and not for themselves. We pray for every citizen of this city. Show us how to provide food for those who are hungry. Tell us how to provide a quality education for all who are eager to learn. Equip us with what we need to remove the violence that pervades too many neighborhoods and city corners. Help us, Lord, to care for each citizen of this city and especially those who are not here on this night. Grant us the capacity to seek your forgiveness in areas where we have gone astray. Help us to always tell the truth. Make us people who are willing to do whatever it takes to make us one - one city where all are valued and no one is tossed aside. Make your presence known in this place as we gather with hope and anticipation. Amen.