In Remembrance of
Martin Luther King Jr.
January 16, 2011
Epiphany 2A: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-10; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9(10); John 1:29-41
Pastor Mary Blessing,
Vicar, St. Philip’s, Scotts Valley CA
"Once there was someone who said such amazing things and did such wonderful things, that people followed him. They couldn't help it. They just had to follow him." This is what I used to say about Jesus when I led Godly Play Children's Chapel at St. Jude’s, Cupertino. "People followed him-they couldn't help it. They just had to follow him." When John the Baptist said, "Look, here is the Lamb of God" 2 disciples looked, and felt the presence of the one who "said such amazing things, and did such wonderful things" that they just couldn't help themselves, they had to follow him. What makes people want to follow a prophet? Is it the truth they hear from the mouth of the prophet? Is it the sense that this person is filled with the Holy Spirit, is "anointed" with special gifts? Is it a matter of being in the right place at the right time, ready to share a message that people are yearning to hear? What we know is, when people heard and saw the person of Jesus, their hearts burned. They were compelled to stop what they were doing, follow him and allow their lives to be transformed.
After Jesus died, some people experienced what they called "The Risen Lord." Paul was one of these. Paul never knew the living Jesus, but his encounter with "The Risen Lord" transformed his life. Paul's encounter led to what is described as Christ entering his heart. It was as if Paul stepped into the same truths as Jesus, the one who said such amazing things and did such wonderful things, that people again heard such amazing things, and saw such wonderful things. They stopped what they were doing and followed Paul. If we were to add one more verse to toady’s passage from 1 Corinthians we would read of Paul's efforts to transform people who are of very different backgrounds-to bring them together in an effort to overcome differences of belief, practice, and social behavior. Verse 1:10 reads : "Now I appeal to you brothers [and sisters], by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose" (I Cor. 1:10)
When was the last time you saw any group "United in the same mind and the same purpose?" Even our Christian groups are not united. We are a highly individualistic bunch. As a culture we resist being just like everyone else. People are encouraged to "think outside the box". Television programs, like "Survivor", promote "every person for him or herself". Win, whatever it takes. Lying, cheating, back-stabbing, double-crossing--politicians demeaning the efforts of the opposing party to make themselves look better. The one who can do all this, and win, gets the “prize”. It is counter-culture to attempt to set forth a vision of unity, a vision of being "united in the same mind" and for "the same purpose." The only way one can succeed, is to unite in a place outside oneself: to unite with one another because each has placed Christ at the center. In Corinth, 1st Century Greece, people of diverse beliefs about sexual mores, food laws, theology, worship, marriage and more, in spite of all, were called to be "united in one mind"-the mind of Christ-"for the same purpose"-to build the Body of Christ. Jews, Gentiles, slave and free, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, all set aside personal prejudices, and followed Paul into new life in Christ.
What do Paul and the Christians of Corinth have in common with us? Why would we be compelled to follow prophetic truths proclaimed by Paul?
On August 28, 1963, Black Civil Rights leaders called for a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Martin Luther King, Jr., a black Baptist preacher, and other speakers waited on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. They had no idea if anyone would show up to hear the call for justice for African Americans. But, as the morning unfolded, bus-load after bus-load of people from all over the U.S. showed up: men and women, black and white, old and young, poured onto the enormous grassy Washington Mall. Somewhere between a quarter and a half a million people filled the long lawn between the Lincoln and Washington Memorials, symbols of the freedom for which America stands. I was only 9 years old when King delivered his inspiring, "I Have a Dream" speech that day. We did not have a TV, so I had to go to my neighbors to watch on the news. They were rather prejudice, saying something about those "uppity" Negros, but my child's heart burned with the truth I heard from that prophet who said such amazing things, and did such wonderful things.
I WAS 9 YEARS OLD--THE SAME AGE AS CHRISTINA TAYLOR GREEN WHO WAS BORN ON September 11 2001 AND DIED IN TUCSON ARIZONA Saturday January 8 2011. A 9 year old girl who was born on a day of our nation’s tragedy caused by people who wished to threaten our democracy—our “freedom”—our ideals that we wish to promote regarding “all people created equal”—this little girl in Tucson Arizona had grown to a place in life where she wanted to simply participate in the democratic process; to meet her congress-person in a grocery store parking lot; exercising her “freedom of speech”. And was killed…
I know there are those among you who get a little nervous when I start to preach in a way that may seem “political”—but I believe this tragic event is a sign of a need we have to pay attention to a human rights issue of our day. Just as Martin Luther King Jr. needed to stand up and speak the truth and justice he knew were in scripture from the beginning of the Judeo-Christian tradition—Isaiah; Jesus; Paul’s call that we must be united in the same mind and the same purpose. I believe there is a need for us to stand up in our day and proclaim the injustice of unequal access to health care—physical/mental health care for all—regardless of one’s financial ability to pay. I am not standing here promoting a particular political point of view—but I am standing here saying that Jesus HEALED ALL PEOPLE regardless of their social/economic status. He healed the centurion’s daughter; Peter’s mother; the woman with a hemorrhage who most likely lived as a beggar on the street and was shunned by her community. He even healed those with “demons” which were most likely mental illness such as the man cutting himself in a cave and the 7 ailments of Mary Magdalene. IF WE AS A NATION THAT PROCLAIMS FREEDOM FOR ALL PROVIDED THE BASIC HUMAN RIGHT TO EQUAL ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE—PHYSICAL AS WELL AS MENTAL—IF WE HAD THE “HABIT OF HEALTH” PERHAPS THE HORROR THAT KILLED A 9 YEAR OLD GIRL AND 5 OTHERS BY A MENTALLY UNSTABLE PERSON WOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED.
45 YEARS AFTER MARTIN LUTHER KING’S “DREAM” SPEECH WE FINALLY ELECTED A BLACK MAN TO BE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. 47 YEARS LATER A YOUNG GIRL AND 5 OTHERS WERE KILLED IN THE MIDST OF A GATHERING OF PEOPLE WITH DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS SEEKING DEMOCRACY—SEEKING UNITY WHERE THERE IS DISUNITY. In response our President gathered in Tucson with the bereaved and gave a speech intended to calm a nervous nation.
I believe our nation seeks a “prophet” who can speak of truth and justice. Today I am asking you to stop and think about this: what were the qualities of King's message that caused people to stop what they were doing to follow him? What caused people to set aside their personal prejudices, to rise above self-interests, to "unite in the same mind with the same purpose?" How do we know when it is time for us to stop what we are doing and follow one who calls us to unite—to set aside our individual desires for the common good; as St. Paul required of early Christians.
Martin Luther King Jr. died giving his prophetic witness to God’s dream of a world in unity. St. Paul gave his life witnessing to the power of the Risen Lord uniting all people through one God. Jesus Christ gave his life for each person of all time and in all places—that we might all give our lives to the God who created us to be as ONE. Is there a "prophet" in your life calling you to transform your heart, to stop you from prejudice and disunity; to call you to turn your heart to feel the burning truth of justice? Can you stop your divisions and be united in one mind and for one purpose, to love God first and to love one another as Christ loves us? Can you BE the prophet inviting the people in your “spheres of influence” to bring others to unity with each other and Christ?
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