What matters? Knowing when to fight

“There are too many poor folk out doing the hard fighting,” said the Rev. Martha Simmons. “We — you and me — are not doing enough of the hard fighting. We love the environment, we serve on boards, but we are not doing the hard fighting. I am talking today about knowing when to fight. What matters to you as a person of faith? Knowing when to fight matters.”

Simmons preached at the 9:15 a.m. Tuesday morning worship service. Her sermon title was “Knowing When to Fight,” and her selected Scripture was Numbers 27:1-11, in which the daughters of Zelophehad ask for their inheritance and change the law.

Moses and Aaron were taking a census before the Israeli people went into the promised land. Zelophehad died in the wilderness during the Rebellion of Korah, but he had not been part of the rebellion. His daughters wanted to clear his name, and they had no brother to inherit his share. They, the five great-granddaughters of dreamer Joseph, realized they were about to become penniless and landless.

The daughters’ names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah.

“I think, in my sacred imagination, that Milcah, which means queen, said, ‘Let’s go change the law,’ “ Simmons said. “ ‘Let’s go make a case to clear the name of our father who just happened to die at the time of the rebellion.’ It sounded ridiculous. It was too bold and too dangerous. It went against tradition. Knowing when to fight matters.”

The women went to Moses to get the tradition changed. Women were third-class citizens in that society. They were not educated, they could not speak in public without permission and there was no legal precedent for the request they were making.

“America is a can-do country, but women have no big, brave plan,” Simmons said. “Women need a plan just because they are women. Women earn only 78 percent of what men earn. In 2013, only 7 percent were in technology and only 14 percent were in the boardroom. To end discrimination, women need big, bold, brave plans.”

The daughters of Zelophehad went to Moses with big faith.

“I know it was big faith because the land had not been secured by the nation of Israel,” Simmons said. “They were still in the wilderness, but they said, ‘We still believe God’s promise and so, in faith, we are staking our claim because we believe God.’ They had no back up plan. George Müller said that faith begins where our power ends.”

Simmons said it is important to not let “appearances of the present blind your faith to what God has promised.” She said there are 6,000 promises in the Bible, and while she doesn’t remember all of them, there is one that stands out in her mind.

“ ‘Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you,’ ” she said.

She told the congregation having a plan wasn’t enough; people need to have the courage to execute it.

“Seventy-five percent of winning the battle is the courage to fight in the first place,” Simmons said. “You know when you should be out there in some form or fashion. Show up and fight; knowing when to fight matters.”

She related this to the Civil Rights Movement, from people fighting for the right to vote to today’s marriage equality.

“What are you willing to fight for?” Simmons said. “Elizabeth Cady Stanton said that a woman’s best protection is courage. How much more can we accomplish when we show up to fight for God’s causes? Imagine how much would change.”

Bringing it home to current issues in the U.S., she said it’s time to show up and fight.

“When men who know nothing about women’s health needs and try to close Planned Parenthood, it’s time to show up and fight,” she said.

“When black and brown people have their voting rights restricted, it is time to show up and fight.

“When banks are too big to fail but families are not, it is time to show up and fight.

“When there is fracking and toxic waste dumping in neighborhoods, it is time to show up and fight.

“When CEOs earn 331 times more than the average worker and 720 times the minimum wage, it it’s time to show up and fight,” Simmons said. “Show up on the picket lines, in the voting booths, at the city council. If your life is fine, show up for someone else.”

When Zelophehad’s daughters asked Moses to change the law, it was only the fourth time he bypassed the elders and took the case straight to God. God, from the mercy seat, said they were right. They were vindicated, and women could inherit if they had no brothers.

“The daughters of Zelophehad changed the law for all women,” Simmons said. “What kind of legacy building are you doing? Knowing when to fight matters.”

She closed her sermon with the story of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani education activist and youngest winner of a Nobel Prize.

“Not even cowardly men with guns could stop a little girl with faith and a plan,” Simmons said. “What matters to you as a person of faith? Knowing when to fight matters.”

The Rev. Ron Cole-Turner presided. Paul Burkhart, former professor of speech at Shippensburg State College and a member of the Motet and Chautauqua choirs, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, led the Motet Choir. The choir sang “Set Me As a Seal,” by René Clausen. The Samuel M. and Mary E. Hazlett Memorial Fund and the J. Everett Hall Chaplaincy support this week’s services.