Your Crown Has Been Bought and Paid For (archive edition)
I wrote this piece during the 2018 election cycle. It has been a popular read ever since. Its message remains important, now more than ever. And is especially appropriate as we mourn John Lewis and C. T. Vivian.
The best speech I heard on voting in the run up to these mid-terms came from Oprah Winfrey, as she stumped for Stacey Abrams’s gubernatorial candidacy in Georgia.
Oprah talked about all the sacrifices that, in particular, African-Americans had made to gain the vote. Those stories are many. They are heroic and they are harrowing.
The stories of those who sacrificed on behalf of we who are alive today that we might be able to vote aren’t limited to the very real heroism of African Americans. All sorts and conditions of people have given of themselves, whether in government service, in the military or in civil disobedience or costly protests for social justice.
Borrowing from the great tradition of the Black Church, Oprah described the efforts and sacrifices of those who have gone before her listeners in these words: “Your crown has been bought and paid for already . . . all you got to do is put it on.”
Meaning others have paid a price, the price. But you and I have got to put on the crown. We got to vote.
She pushed it a little further by telling her Georgia audiences that to fail to vote was to dishonor their family, their people and their history. Again, that is true for all of us, one way or another.
We seem to have little sense today of our history. Yes, it is a checkered history, inevitably, but it remains true that people, some known to us and legions unknown, have sacrificed for us, even as we are, I hope, making efforts on behalf of the next generations.
In the Black Church the preaching would have been, “Your crown has already been bought and paid for. It has been bought and paid for by Jesus on the cross, at Calvary. You are children of the King. All you got to do is put on your crown and wear it with pride.”
I remember a story I heard years ago about a four-year-old’s birthday party. The youngster whose birthday was at hand was asked by his mother what he would like for his birthday. Clayton said, “I want a party where everyone is a king or a queen.”
So his parents set to work making tin-foil crowns and crepe paper robes. Every boy or girl, on their arrival was crowned a king or a queen. And each one had a orb, made from a coat hanger.
And all the four-year-olds went for a majestic parade, up and down the street, each of looking and acting very much like royalty.
That evening as Mom put Clayton to bed she asked him if he had liked his party. “Yes,” he said, then added, “Mom, I wish everyone were a king or queen not just today, but all the time.”
The gospel claim is that by the gift of God’s love and grace that is exactly who we are — royalty, children of the most high God.
In my sermon at my daughter Laura’s ordination I said that our own acts of love, however inadequate, are a response to a loved that loved us first.
That’s the gospel: grace and response.
I like to quote Desmond Tutu who said, “We tend to turn the Christian religion into a religion of virtues, but it is a religion of grace. You become a good person because you are loved. You are not loved because you are good.”
So I liked the way that Oprah made this into a civic gospel: “Your crown has been bought and paid for already . . . All you got to do is put it on.”
I trust you have, that you have “put it on,” and voted.