Do you know who James Zwerg is? I remember watching an interview with James Zwerg, and I couldn’t help but watch the whole piece. Zwerg was from Wisconsin but was going to a college in Tennessee in the early 60s. His roommate was an African American young man who invited him to ride a bus. Some of you know them as the “Freedom Riders.”
James was described as “humble and modest,” but he says he had a hot temper as a child. So as he went through the training on civil disobedience, he wasn’t sure he would be able to maintain the calmness necessary for the job.
His family did not understand his desire to participate and cut off ties with him for a while. Before Mr. Zwerg stepped a foot on the bus, he wrote his family a letter stating he would most likely be dead when they read it, and yet he rode the bus anyway. After some setbacks the bus ride made it to Alabama. There was a mob waiting. Men and women used whatever they could find to beat the riders.
“Branch writes: ‘One of the men grabbed Zwerg's suitcase and smashed him in the face with it. Others slugged him to the ground, and when he was dazed beyond resistance, one man pinned Zwerg's head between his knees so that the others could take turns hitting him’.”
“Zwerg, whose religious faith had been considerably strengthened by earlier Civil Rights efforts, recalls that his beating was preceded by "an incredible religious experience." Upon asking God for the strength not to fight back, Zwerg describes feeling "a peace that I've never experienced again in my life.”
Later Zwerg would meet Rev Martin Luther King and become a pastor for 10 years. In his TV interview he said he had searched for that type of bond that he had with the other riders and that type of peace since the riot and had never found it. He became a pastor thinking he could find that bond again, but after 10 years of dealing with the people of the church, he realized it was not to be.
“A peace that I’ve never experienced again in my life.” This was the phrase that popped into my mind when I read about Stephen in Acts 7.
Stephen was described as one with a good reputation, full of the Spirit, wisdom and faith. He was a servant who was full of grace and power who performed great wonders and signs. He was an over-comer, and when it mattered the most, when his faith was tested, he chose to teach. He taught the Sanhedrin, the scribes and Pharisees about how they have persecuted and rejected everyone God had sent them starting with Moses. He pointed out that God’s presence isn’t contained in the Tabernacle carried to and fro or in the temple, but that God Almighty sits on His throne. Jesus Christ whom they had just put to death was now with God. Stephen pointed out that the laws were given by angels, and yet, they still did not obey God.
When you point out the sins of a nation, the sins of the church, the sins of a group of people – they will not like it. They rose up to stone Stephen. Acts 7:55-56, “But Stephen, FULL of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”And while they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep” (vs 59-60).
Stephen didn’t fight back. He didn’t resist. He prayed, and then he went to meet his sweet Savior.
James and Stephen both experienced the peace that passes all understanding (Phil 4:7) in the face of abuse and death. One who still searches for that kind of peace today, and one who lives forevermore with the Prince of Peace.
My question for you today is this. By outliving your life, you will come against opposition. How will you handle it? It’s been over seven years ago that our pastor said that the desire God had put on his heart was to put a banner over the city of Shreveport. Do you know why it has taken us as a church so long to get to the place where we can reach out and start spreading that banner? Opposition. Opposition within our church, and now some opposition within our community. Pastor Rick has stayed the course. Will you? When it gets hard will you stay and stand in the gap? When you are tired, but there is a block party to assist, will you come? Satan will do whatever he can to keep you from where you need to be serving. Just like the Sanhedrin, scribes and Pharisees there will be people who say, “You can’t do that,” or “That’s not going to do any good.” What will you say? What will you do?
(You can read more on the interview with James Zwerg at http://www.beloit.edu/archives/documents/archival_documents/james_zwerg_freedom_ride/.)