A Sermon for MLK weekend
delivered January 7, 2018
First Presbyterian Church Norman, OK
readings: 1 Samuel 3:1-20, John 1:43-51
Today we hear two call stories, and call stories are ones we tend to gravitate toward in the church. I suspect we gravitate toward them because we wish God’s calling in our lives were as clear as a voice in the night calling our name or a man standing before us and our mentor telling us to follow him. But have you ever noticed that it’s no easier for the matriarchs patriarchs, prophets, rebels, teachers, evangelists and leaders of scripture to know that they are supposed to follow the voice they hear or the person that tells them to do what God needs of them than it is for us? Samuel for instance, has to be called by God 3 times, and Eli has to tell him what to say to God so that they can begin his relationship with God and God’s call to him. We often say about call stories like Samuel’s or Jeremiah's or Timothy's that they are somehow off the hook because they are young and this somehow makes it easier or excusable that they don’t understand at first because they are young. But what sense does that make? We also talk about the audacity of youth, the courage that comes with ignorance or naivete, and so if young ones are both audacious and unknowing, why would they not just follow when God calls? I think there is actually far less difference, when it comes to faith and call, between youth and age. For when we turn to the Gospel story and the call of Nathaniel we see an adult with confusion and reticence to follow Jesus, do we see anything different than we see with Samuel? I’m not sure it is different, perhaps adults are less likely to follow God’s call, all it takes for Samuel to follow is a trusted friend to tell him something about what is going on, but when Philip tells Nathanael about Jesus he still responds “can anything good come from Nazareth?” Perhaps in this case youth is an advantage, it gives us space to let grace win out over our doubts, cynicism, fears and habits. Perhaps this is why Jesus later tells us to have faith like children, and to let the children come to him, because children have the space in their lives to let God’s way be whatever it is, instead of asking so many questions that mean so little.
What could it matter where Jesus is from, if he is who they say he is? What would it matter anyway? Many a pastor in my social media found these questions resonating with the comments President Trump made last with with lawmakers about the peoples of Haiti and various African nations who try to come to our country. Our president’s words, while far more inappropriately worded than ‘what good could come from Nazareth?” might easily be phrased “what good can come from Haiti, or Africa?”. In the same conversations with clergy many pastors of color asked why it is that in response to these words, those who disagree with the President started posting stories of those who are “valuable” to our nation- scientists, artists, teachers, and leaders who come from these places. What difference should it make what they offer in this way? The oath of citizenship does not on a scale of how important one’s work is, it merely asks that one promise to be loyal and support and defend the constitution, and serve our nation the way any citizen is. So what difference does it make to us what value someone holds in the marketplace or as a leader? I am not entirely sure, but it clearly does matter to us. Even when it came to Jesus the question was asked. And when it comes to our times we may not call other developing nations names the way President Trump does, but we do engage in respectability politics, and value people more or less depending on how much we can relate to and understand them. And this is a problem, and a sin. God does not ask us to judge one another based on any of these criteria, or to judge one another at all. No, we are asked to love, it is our greatest calling, and one we are very flawed at following.
So in the weekend where we celebrate the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the ways that he stood for people of all descriptions having equal rights in our nation, it is indeed sad that our President would say such things about our neighbors around the world, but it is perhaps not surprising when we judge one another, and even the President by what we value in one another, instead of respecting the inherent humanity in every individual no matter their place in life. And since we all fall so far short of the calling we share, and we also celebrate the gifts of those who lead toward the truth of love, and since tomorrow is the day our nation celebrates the life and legacy of the pastor, protester, teacher, and martyr the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King who spoke eloquently and often on topics of political, social, and religious importance, and beyond words, he acted in ways he felt called by his faith and his citizenship to move toward a new hope for justice, love and peace for our nation and for the world. Because his words were so powerful, and are still prophetic and relevant to our lives today, I don’t want to preach about the legacy of Rev. Dr. King, instead we will spend a few minutes hearing what he had to say to us directly. Readers will be quoting directly from the words Rev. Dr. King shared in his ministry.
Who is the God whom we worship?
Reader 1:“The God whom we worship is not a weak and incompetent God. He is able to beat back gigantic waves of opposition and to bring low prodigious mountains of evil. The ringing testimony of the Christian faith is that God is able.”
Reader 2: “Christianity affirms that at the heart of reality is a Heart, a loving Father who works through history for the salvation of His children. Man cannot save himself, for man is not the measure of all things and humanity is not God. Bound by the chains of his own sin and finiteness, man needs a Savior.”
What is faith?
Reader 3: “By opening our lives to God in Christ, we become new creatures. This experience, which Jesus spoke of as the new birth, is essential if we are to be transformed nonconformists … Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit.”
Reader 4: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.”
Reader 5: "The end of life is not to be happy, nor to achieve pleasure and avoid pain, but to do the will of God, come what may."
What is love, and how do we live it?
Reader 6:“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”
Reader 5: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
Reader 4: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend.”
Reader 3: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Reader 2: “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
Reader 1: “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
Reader 2: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude.”
Reader 3: “Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another.”
Who are we called to be as people?
Reader 4: “Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great because greatness
is determined by service...You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”
Reader 5: “Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'”
Reader 6: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Reader 5: "Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love...Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding."
Reader 4: “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Reader 3: “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Reader 2: The quality, not the longevity of one’s life is what is important.
What is Justice?
Reader 1: “I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannsit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
Reader 2: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
Reader 3: “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”
Reader 4: “A right delayed is a right denied.”
Reader 5: "True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice."
Reader 6: “The time is always right to do what is right.”
...the time is always right to do what is right...so let us live lives that bely the question “what good can come from Nazareth?”, that defy the need to know someone’s credentials before we offer them love or care or peace. And let us live into our own callings past the questions and concerns that try to drown them out. Amen.
Pastoral prayer for human relations day from DOC
For your children are listening
For a word of encouragement, for a word of instruction
About how we ought to live in these troubled lands.
For your children are listening,
As we drift off to sleep in down-covered beds
In marble palaces
Or in sawdust padded pallets
On dusty floors.
We are listening, rich and poor
We are listening, young and old
For a word from you that will heal our lands.
Lover of our souls, we come to you this morning hungering for something from you that will change the rest of our lives. We come hungering for honesty instead of corruption; for generosity instead of greed; we come hungering for integrity instead of intrigue. We come hungering for our neighbors to be fed and for all to have enough honest work to provide for the basic needs of their families. We come this morning hungering for righteousness to flow like rainwater and for the justice like an ever-flowing stream described by the prophets.
We come hungering and we come listening for your words to us, describing how we can participate in your great work of re-creation. We come listening for ways that we can become part of the solution and not part of the problem. We come listening in fear and trembling, praying that we will have the courage to respond and act if we hear a clear word of instruction from you.
Speak, Lord, For your children are listening…and hoping..and praying...and loving
Give us the hope of a new day, of a new way in our world. Give us the grace to know forgiveness when we repent of those things we do that harm ourselves and others. Give us love enough to love ourselves until it overflows and we love all of your people. And help us know that Grace, Hope and Love are already ours in the legacy and presence of Jesus Christ our brother who taught us to pray...our father...