A SERMON RECALLING MLK
Sunday, January 17, 2016
Sunday, January 17, 2016
I’ve taken a liking, of late, to writing my sermons at local coffee shops, here on the westside sometimes, downtown sometimes. I find that the public atmosphere gets my juices flowing, stimulates my thinking, helps me make connections between my faith and the real lives of my neighbors. It’s strange, too, because for years I was always a kind of hermit when it came to my reading and thinking and writing. But now I find that I need the rattling of coffee cups, and the banter of others, and the restlessness of public space. So go figure.
Now obviously, the agitated woman had nothing but a full bladder and the soggy clothes she was wearing. She was no customer; and she could do nothing – nothing at all – but walk angrily and bitterly away. And I got the impression it wasn’t the first time.
And I think the place to start has to be King’s deeply Christian concern for the poor and their struggle for human dignity and a fair life. King took Luke 4 – this text we’ve
read this morning – very much to heart. And as a minister, as a disciple, he accepted the burden of Jesus’ most generous, most radical call: “To bring good news to the poor; to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to liberate the oppressed and proclaim the great Hebrew year of Jubilee!” As King’s own ministry matured, as his political vision broadened, he identified more and more with these verses. And he set about addressing the root causes and vicious consequences of poverty in America.
The real reason we must use our resources to outlaw poverty goes beyond material concerns to the quality of our mind and spirit...(catch that, the quality of our mind and spirit)...Deeply woven into the fiber of our religious tradition is the conviction that we are made in the image of God, and that all have souls of infinite metaphysical value. If we accept this as a profound moral fact, we cannot be content to see some hungry, to see others victimized with ill-health, when we have the means to help them. In the final analysis (King wrote), the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied together. They entered the same mysterious gateway of human birth, into the same adventure of mortal life.
You see, the women you and I see at bus stops, or wheeling shopping carts down Highway One in the rain – they are us, and we are them. And the bearded, bedraggled men who stand at intersections with cardboard signs – they are us, and we are them. That was King’s moral insight, and Jesus’ religious insight before him. “In the final analysis, the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied together.” The universe is made this way.
So let’s be honest and clear. The moral dimensions of climate change are many. In the great stories of the Hebrew Bible, we humans are called the tillers and keepers of the earth. And the fields and the mountains are holy to us, and the rivers and oceans are something like the life force of our human race. To be moral, to be human is to care for the health of the ecosystems we love. To be moral, to be human is to cherish the planet and partner with the planet so that generations to come can till it and keep it too.
So this conference in February is timely and terribly important – for our planet, for all of us, and for our spiritual wellbeing. If you haven’t had a chance to look at the conference lineup, it’s in your bulletin this morning. And I really do hope you’ll come and bring your friends. It’s completely free this year! And it includes artists and musicians and inspirational speakers – philosophers, activists, and representatives from many religious traditions. It really is a critical moment in our church’s witness for the planet and for the poor. And I hope you’ll join me and many others, here, that weekend.
But there’s one more piece of Martin Luther King’s body of work that I want to lift up this morning, in connection with all this. And this piece has to do with faith, and hope, and the courage to move ahead in a challenging time. And we know that the great moral questions can overwhelm our fragile human hearts. We know (for instance) that poverty is a huge, global crisis, and the forces aligned against real change are powerful, maybe even epic. We also know that making steady, meaningful progress on the global warming front is politically hard and requires sacrifice; and we know it will test our collective human capacity in unimaginable ways. OK, we know all that. We’re in for a hard time.
But here, right here, is where King’s faith can serve us, and strengthen and encourage us. And it was a mature Christian faith. King’s Jesus wasn’t some genie in a bottle. King didn’t conjure up Jesus to magically escape a desperate situation. No, for King, Jesus was a presence in the heart of a difficult moment, in the heart of a political confrontation, in the heart of a conflict. Jesus was a presence and a friend and a source of profound encouragement. And so Jesus is, so Jesus can be, for us.
So I want to read one more passage that I found this week. And this one’s from King’s book, The Strength to Love. It’s kind of poetic, as he could be sometimes. And it’s spot on, I think, for you and me. An encouraging word.
Religion, says Dr. King, endows us with the conviction that we are not alone in this vast, uncertain universe. Beneath and above the shifting sands of time, the uncertainties that darken our days, and the vicissitudes that cloud our nights, is a wise and loving God. This universe is not a tragic expression of meaningless chaos but a marvelous display of orderly cosmos...Man is not a wisp of smoke from a limitless smoldering, says Dr. King, but a child of God created “a little lower than the angels.” Above the manyness of time stands the one eternal God, with wisdom to guide us, strength to protect us, and love to keep us. His boundless love supports the tiny drops of every wave. With a surging fullness he is forever moving toward us, seeking to fill the little creeks and bays of our lives with unlimited resources. This is religion’s everlasting witness, its eternal answer to the enigma of existence. Any man, any woman who finds this cosmic sustenance can walk the highways of life without the fatigue of pessimism and the weight of morbid fears.
What a powerful, insightful, passionate articulation of faith – and what faith means in a dangerous time! “God’s boundless love supports the tiny drops of every wave!” “God’s boundless love grows in the roots of every tree!” “God’s boundless love infuses every vine, and every crop, and every budding flower with grace!” God’s boundless love – God’s cosmic sustenance – God’s surging fullness.
We are not alone. We will not be alone. And we can walk every highway, we can navigate every crisis, we can face every challenge without the fatigue of pessimism. Without the fear of abandonment. Without the distortions of cynicism. Because the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, said Jesus. And the Spirit of the Lord is upon you. And the Spirit of the Lord is upon the planet and the creatures and the waves and the treetops.
And where there is Spirit there is grace.
And where there is grace there is good news.
And where there is good news there is hope.
Thanks be to God.