The Unfinished Business of Racial Injustice

Valerie Ferrara

"Sir," the woman said, "you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?"

Jesus replied, "Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it's here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth." –John 4:19-24

Boston Trinity Academy celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in last week's Chapel. Dr. King was remembered in the Call to Worship, and his legacy was honored in the Chapel message.

The Chapel speaker, Dr. Brent Keltner, is the great-grandson of Wesley "Branch" Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers co-owner and general manager who signed Jackie Robinson in 1947, breaking the Major League Baseball color barrier. Jackie Robinson was the first major league African-American player in the modern history of baseball, and his signing on with the Dodgers remains a defining moment, not just in baseball history, but in the nation's civil rights movement. Many historians believe that without Jackie Robinson's courageous actions, the modern civil rights movement would not have been birthed.

Dr. Keltner told the story of his great-grandfather's "unfinished business." Long before he was general manager of the Dodgers, Branch Rickey was baseball coach at Ohio Wesleyan University. The team had one African-American player, and Rickey never forgot one particular incident of racial injustice during a team road trip.

Branch Rickey was a man of deep faith who felt all people should be able to worship together in spirit and truth, despite race or skin color. Rickey looked for a great athlete with great character who also shared his deep Christian faith. He found such a man in Jackie Robinson, who endured taunts, humiliation, and racial bigotry. In his collaboration with Robinson, Rickey saw an opportunity to live Christ's vision and "finish" the unfinished business of that past racial injustice incident.

"So what does his story mean for you and for me?" Dr. Keltner asked.  "The first thing is that we must stay firm in our belief that God is provident and at work in our world. In looking back at this past year, it would be easy to become despondent. In Genesis 18, Abraham said to God, 'Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?' Of course He will," Dr. Keltner said. "It's not our job to really understand why or when, but to continue to believe."

The second take-away from the Branch Rickey story, Dr. Keltner said, is the importance of living into God's plan for your life. "There is a difference between striving for excellence and striving for greatness," he emphasized. Striving for greatness is serving our own human ego, Dr. Keltner explained, and Branch Rickey stayed true to his path for excellence.

"It's time to get off the side-lines," he continued, encouraging his audience to commit to excellence. "You are either moving things in the right direction, or you are part of the problem. Branch Rickey found the right moment to take care of his unfinished business by following God's design for his life and looking for opportunities to live God's vision. When you have an opportunity for 'unfinished business', take it."