We had a problem with recording this last Sunday…So here is the text to my message: Martin Luther King once had a dream…but do we?
We’re going to start with a question…Trivia, of sorts. Test your memory. Who can remember the name of their fourth grade teacher? Fifth Grade? My Fourth grade teacher’s name was Mr. Donart.
I remember my fourth grade with odd clarity, it would seem. Interestingly – and quite unrelatedly to this morning – this afternoon I’m going to hang out with my best friend from 4th and 5th grade. We were pretty close back then. The kind of close…that when I wasn’t home – my parents knew exactly where I was. That sort of thing. We lost track of each other through the years and have reconnected a little bit through facebook and now via some phone calls and texting, but this will be the first time I’ve seen him since High School…and really the first time we would have shared more than a couple sentences in passing since that fifth grade. True story. You know how it is as you go through your teens – sometimes you go through phases or get busy…Whatever, but anyways…I’m pretty excited to watch some playoff football with my Dave, my best friend from 4th and 5th grade. That’s just a coincidence and funny tangent for this morning.. But it’s also just to say that I remember fourth grade. I could tell you countless stories involving the shenanigans, or more likely playing pickup sports, with Dave. I remember my great playground crush of Elementary School, Sara – She was in my class in 4th grade as well. And 5th grade too actually.
I actually remember a lot from fourth grade…and amongst the memories of Dave and Sarah and many others, I remember sitting in Mr. Donart’s classroom and learning about this great and legendary man, named Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Day takes place on his Birthday. He would’ve been 84 this year. With tomorrow, Monday the 21st, being MLK Day, I thought we thought we could spend a little bit of time today talking about him.
As I was doing some research on MLK…It began to dawn on me… He would have made a great leader in the Church of the Brethren. Seriously! Listen to some of these quotes:
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom. “
Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal
Nonviolence means avoiding not only physical violence but also internal violence. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you also you refuse to hate him
The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that War is a poor chisel to carve out tomorrow.
And let’s remember that the Center that honors him…The MLK Jr Center for Nonviolent social change.
Yes, indeed. Martin Luther King would have made an excellent Brethren. These quotes are right on part with things I’ve been hearing in the Brethren Church since…well…since I was old enough to understand what was being said.
I asked about your fourth grade teacher…because I remember sitting in a classroom in Fourth grade learning about Martin Luther King Jr.
Sitting in that classroom, I remembering feeling a little confused to learn about the racial discrimination in our Nation’s past. See I was raised in a different time as some of you.
At the age of 10…I’d yet to really witness any form of discrimination or racism personally…I had several close friends of both mine and the family be of the non-white variety… And no one cared if you were Catholic or Protestant.
So I sat there in Mr. Donart’s classroom and learned about Martin Luther King… And even at the age of 10, I remember being very impressed by the character and leadership of one MLK
Another very clear memory I have from that classroom? While learning about the civil rights movements that MLK championed…This thought came to my head. A thought clear as day to me still today… I remember being so so happy that all that discrimination and inequality mess was in our Country’s past. Maybe we struggled for identity for a while…maybe we struggled with issues like inequality and discrimination… but we found our footing…We moved on. We made the right decisions. We become a country that embraced equality and brotherhood for all.
Sure, I wasn’t ignorant enough to think, even at that age, that every single person would be on board for that. But I knew, in my heart, that concepts like equality for all…Were correct. And needed. And Godly.
But honestly, I have to confess: It’s just the last few years that I finally realized – our countries great struggle with inequality and discrimination is not yet over.
I wonder what Martin Luther King would think of the state of civil rights in our country today.
Sure, the particular issue, of segregation and racism between blacks and white that he fought for has improved greatly since his famous “I have a dream speech” in 1963. Almost hard to believe it was nearly 50 years ago now since that speech. I’m not saying we’re perfect, in racial divides, but it is better. I believe he would be proud of the progress we’ve made when it comes to racial inequality, and in particular the progress we’ve made in the inequalities between blacks and whites.
However – as we all know – we have more races and skin colors to concern ourselves with now, more than ever, here in America. As we’re all more than aware, issues of equality, in today’s America, are no longer limited to issues of skin color. We spend a lot of time talking lately, don’t we – as a nation, about what sex you are…or who you like to have sex with.
I believe that author of the quote: “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children…”
…Would not have us stand still.
Let me state simply today, and by the way – in line with written Brethren policies – That until every man and every women, regardless of skin color, gender or sexual preference, until everyone…everyone enjoys truly equal rights – and not just in America – Our job as Christians in fighting for justice is not yet done.
Another MLK Quote: I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. To rephrase that for today: ‘I look to a day when people will be judged ONLY by the content of their character’
The shameful fact here…is that we’re not yet even to the point of fighting for this stuff only in countries far off. We’re not yet even to the point of fighting for the heart-sets of every single American. We’re still fighting the equality battle in our own Churches.
I crave the day that men and women in Churches can truly be judged by the content of their character – and nothing more.
And lest you think I’m making today all about the teachings of a man rather than the teachings of God… Let’s remember that Martin Luther King was himself, a minister. A pastor and preacher of God’s word.
But let’s not even settle for that. Let’s open up the Bible for ourselves and take a look at God’s call to justice. I read Micah 6:8 for you earlier: And what does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God
There it is. Pretty simple. Pretty clear. This Micah verse gets quoted a lot. It’s highly touted and read…but not because it stands out as a unique calling of God. No, Micah 6:8 is not an isolated verse. I could walk you through literally hundreds of verses that talk about our need to express God’s kindness to the world… or how deeply God cares about justice. This passage in Micah is so popular because it so succinctly summarizes hundreds and hundreds of other verses… And what does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God
But I don’t need to stand here in a Brethren Church and convince you of our deep calling to the work of Justice – a deep calling…deeply rooted in our faith in a loving caring God. After all, for all of the apparent vagueness of the Bible or apparent lack of clarity on various topics…On the issues of Micah 6:8, it’s somewhat clear.
If someone is homeless…if someone is going hungry…if someone doesn’t have enough clothes for their back…The Bible has given us a clear mandate: Feed them, clothe them and give them shelter.
It was in that vein that members of the Church of the Brethren started such organizations as Heifer Project or Habitat for Humanity. It’s in that vein that more than a couple Brethren Churches, within an hour of here alone – run a thrift store of sorts out of their basement – giving clothes away for free or incredibly cheap to those in the community that need it.
Similarly, while there is anyone who is being treated unjustly…while there is anyone being treated as a 2nd class citizen – only sometimes welcome at the grown up table…Then our task as Christians is clear – and our work not yet done.
I wonder what Martin Luther King would think about the state of civil rights in our Country today?
More importantly, I wonder what each of us think?
I started this series by asking you two fundamental questions… The first and possibly main question we’ve been discussing…What new beginnings do you want with God this year? But secondly, in what ways do we need to better step up to the plate…In what ways do we need to do more…or offer God more…or something different…So that God’s redemptive plan in others can continue to be fulfilled? Ultimately, our discussion today revolves around this second question.
…and friends, this work of social justice that we celebrate and remember with Reverend King’s Birthday and the Holiday tomorrow…this is all part of our work towards God’s redemptive plan in everyone’s life. You remember Maslow’s heierarchy of needs, right? Until those fundamental and underlying needs are met – the spiritual and emotional needs of a person can’t even begin to be met. Social justice, work for equality, reaching out to the poor or in need…This is all part of God’s redemptive plan
However our work in God’s redemptive plan in others, is not limited to social justice and our work for equality. So let’s turn to that passage I read in Romans and see what more direction God might have for us.
9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Side note: Sometimes I’m blown away by the Bible. How many centuries has it been since these words were written – yet how challenging and counter-cultural are they still to us?
Outdo one another in showing honor? …Our culture says to protect ourselves by just giving enough honor – as much as we receive…but no more. You gotta protect yourself, after all…But that’s not what the Bible says. Outdo one another in showing honor.
And for everything going on in some of our lives lately…maybe we all need to hear the words: Rejoice in hope…and be patient in tribulation. Be constant in prayer.
Moving on… 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Again – very counter-cultural. Someone treat you horribly? Do not curse them. Bless them. Pray for them – and this isn’t a prayer in a vindictive “GOD, I PRAY FOR THEM” sort of way…you know with a, “THEY REALLY NEED YOUR HELP GOD!” but instead pray for their abundance…pray that God would bless them infinitely. Actually wish them well in your heart. Then in your own heart you can be free.
Verse 15 now: 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all… 20 “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; ….” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
What challenges. What a very real and needed way to live. The funny thing about all this? If you actually live this selfless life these verses call us to – there’s a selfish end here as well. You will actually be happier and healthier as a person!
Another quote from Rev King: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
And it was Lincoln, a fellow Christ follower by the way, who said: Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them
But today is not just about social justice, about loving your enemies or praying for those who persecute you.
It’s about realizing and recognizing just how important you are. YOU are an integral role-player in the story God is telling in all of our lives. We are different while you are absent, be it either physically or emotionally. Your community needs you. Your family needs you. Your friends need you.
Whatever struggles you’re going through, you are not alone. You are greatly loved – and not just by a theoretical love from God – but by each of us here…and by many many others in your life not here this morning.
Where you are at now in your story – who are you now – has only been possible because of the sum of many many people’s efforts and affections in your life. Be thankful for that. Not everyone gets that in life.
But more importantly – take all that you have received – and express it back outwards. Express that love, intentionally and with great care back to the communities you are a part of. Be that person in someone else’s story. Be that sign of grace and love in someone else’s story. Be that sign of God’s great affection for someone else. God may want to tell a redemptive story in each and every person’s life…
But he needs YOU to tell it. Sometimes you play a role that you’re very aware you’re playing…but often, usually even, you’re playing a role you’re not really aware you’re playing…simply by being yourself – and being present.
So in what new…in what creative…in what innovative…in what way you’ve been resisting…How better can you allow yourself to be used by God in the stories He’s telling in other people’s lives? With your time? With your level of love? With the care of words you use? With the giving of gifts or cards or food or money? With a better attitude? With forgiveness in your heart? With more obvious love? With better boundaries towards those you struggle with? With kinder words? With more accepting attitudes? With more inclusive language or actions?
I could go on and on…but hopefully you’ve seen some places this morning that you can open your heart and life to the Spirit’s work. For God is not done with you yet. Your story is not yet done being told.
And part of your story, is to help God tell other people’s stories…
Whatever it is we are holding back from God…be it something I’ve mentioned this morning, something I haven’t…or just something personal – something inward you’re holding back. May we all worship together with meaning and substance to the words: I surrender all. I surrender all to you my loving savior, I surrender all.
I’d like to close this morning with some words from MLK’s great speech…One he made 50 years ago this summer:
This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial [or I would add: all kinds of] justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied…until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
And as we go about our lives these coming hours, and coming days, weeks and months – may we all work better, more intentionally, more present and more loving in our lives towards that end in the lives of everyone we encounter. Amen.