Cornelius Hill, who we celebrate today, was the first Oneida chief to be born in Wisconsin in 1834, after the U.S. government forced the Oneida peoples west from N.Y. State. As a young man, he was formed at Nashotah House in the tradition of the church. He was known for his intelligence, courage, and ability to lead and was made chief as a teenager. He was active in politics, helping his people navigate controversies like land allotment and fishing rights. Eventually, Hill turned to the church and was ordained a priest. He saw the Christian faith as a way to help his people grapple with the profound and rapid changes that faced them. His ordination also helped him bridge the gap between the Oneida and white culture.
The juxtaposition of celebrating Hill and the news from this week highlights how complicated our world continues to be. I have been eagerly listening as Supreme Court decisions are released. At times it has felt like justice is being served in our country and at times I have wondered where our country is heading. And just as I try to sift through the mess, watching commentary has reminded me that half of the country has been overjoyed that justice is being served, while the other half feels devastated; and yet God desires for us to love one another and show grace to one another in the conflict.
I think we as a country and certainly Hill in his time are struggling to live into the words of Amos. The prophet says, “Seek good and not evil. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate.” As much as establishing justice may be our goal, my definition of justice may be very different from yours. So how do we move forward and how do we live lovingly together?
I hear Hill’s voice in all this. He saw the Christian faith as a way to help his people grapple with the profound and rapid changes that faced them. We too must turn to our faith as we grapple with how to reestablish justice. But we cannot stop at grappling – we are constantly invited to act. Hill did not simply pray and grapple with his faith and politics – he advocated for justice and listened to opinions that were not always popular or were unlike his own. He did not simply desire justice. He, like Amos demands, worked to establish justice. Our invitation today is to grapple, to pray, to listen, to seek good, and to establish justice. Amen.