Monday, January 23, 2017

Sermon on the Remembrance of MLK, Jr

January 22, 2017 – 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) & Martin Luther King, Jr Observance (Feast of a Martyr)

Daniel 3:3-18 (abbrev)
Psalm 95
MLK – “breaking the silence” excerpt
Luke 6:35

“If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your heart.” This last week has been a difficult one for many of us. As I started my first week here and experienced the events of the past week – Obama’s farewell, the inauguration, the service of prophetic endurance, the women’s march – and as I sat with the readings for today, I kept coming back to this psalm. If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.

The UCC – the United Church of Christ – has a branding campaign that reads “God is still speaking.” Something I know and believe to be true. And the Poles have a saying – “Jak trwoga to do Boga” – in hardship, we turn to God – often because we fear god has gone silent and allowed suffering to happen. However, suffering does not mean God is silent. God is indeed still speaking all around us. I am struck by how it is that God speaks to us. Where do we hear God’s voice in today’s world? In this time of despair, of transition, we may be tempted to retreat, to pull back into ourselves, we may struggle to see the work of God, to hear the voice of God, in the world around us. But God is with us always and we are reminded to not be afraid, to not give in to despair. We are not alone in this world, though the troubles may seem overwhelming. God is with us. Just as God was with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – giving them the courage and faith to reject Nebuchadnezzar’s idols and gods and to face the furnace. Just as God was with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr – when he rejected the established status quo, when he worked tirelessly for civil rights, when he protested the Vietnam War, and when he was killed for his beliefs and his activism. Just as God was with every single one of the marchers yesterday – here in San Diego, in Los Angeles, in D.C., in Nashville, Boise, and Oklahoma, in cities around the world, marchers committed to intersectional feminism where people of all genders and races can flourish and receive equal opportunities. People young and old, insisting that women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights. God is with us, my friends. And God is most definitely still speaking.  

The simple fact that God is still speaking is not enough. We all know what it’s like to speak to a room of people and not be heard. To feel that our words have no effect. As Christians, it is our duty to listen for God’s word, for God’s voice, in the midst of the suffering and turmoil. It is our duty to transform those words into action. As Dr. King reminds us, “We, as a nation, must undergo a radical revolution of values.. we must shift from a thing-oriented society to a person oriented society.” We are in need of remembering that we are all beloved children of God. We are relational beings.  The ways in which we interact with each other – the ways in which we thrive – are because of our relationships with each other. Our love for our fellow human beings should mirror the unconditional love God has for each of us. Each and every one of us is a blessed child of God. We are called to make this world one where every child of God can flourish. A world where Black Lives Matter. A world where trans lives matter. A world where people do not live in fear of being deported or of not knowing where they’ll sleep tonight.

Dr. King reminds us that it is not enough just to be the good Samaritan. We must transform the entire Jericho road. We must take a close look at the structures and institutions that allow such suffering to occur. We must listen to the voice of God, listen for it in the world around us, in the voices of the suffering and the oppressed and we must transform it into action.

Like Dr. King, we are called to be prophets, to be witnesses of the radical, unconditional love that Jesus preached. A love that sees difference and diversity as something to be celebrated. A love that lifts up the lowly and the oppressed. A love that inspires us to work in soup kitchens, organize clothing drives, donate to charities, march in the streets. A love that will not stay silent in the face of injustice and oppression. A love that urges us to care for creation because this world is the only one we have to live in and we must preserve it for future generations. This love is neither weak nor cowardly. This is a radical love. A powerful, transformative force that is not willing to let injustice thrive. A love in which we all hold each other accountable. It is the love we hear about in the first letter attributed to John: “Let us love one another, for love is God. And everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. For the person that does not love, does not know God.” “If we love one another, God dwells in us and God’s love is perfected in us.”

We must now take up this calling to love. We must hear God’s voice in the cries and shouts of those who live in fear – in fear of losing their rights, in fear of losing their healthcare, in fear of being deported. The time is now. We cannot sit idly by when the world around us is so clearly in need.

In the words of Dr. King:

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the children of God, and our siblings wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Or will there be another message – of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history… If we do not act, we risk being dragged down the corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

In the nearly 50 years since Dr. King preached these words at Riverside Church in New York City to protest the Vietnam War, our country has changed, but we are still in need of more change. We remain in desperate need of the revolution of values that Dr. King preached.  We live in a world in desperate need of God’s radical and unconditional love and it is up to us to be witnesses and prophets, to live out this calling of love. To continue the good work even though the road may be hard. To not give up, despite the odds. All of us here today are gathered together in love and in God’s name and we are strengthened by that. Strengthened by each other. We must not lose hope. There’s a line in the new Star Wars movie that goes “Rebellions are built on hope.” If we wish to honor the legacy of Dr. King, then we must cling to that hope, we must become that rebellion based on God’s love seeking to transform the world. The hope that is ever present in love. The hope that drives out despair. The hope that remains always. We are a people of love and a people of hope. And we shall not be overcome by the suffering of this world. We shall not be overcome by despair. We shall overcome despair with hope, we shall overcome hatred with love, and we shall keep on keeping on – working in hope, faith, and love until that when justice will indeed roll down live a river.