Second Sunday after Epiphany (MLK, Jr. Weekend)
I suppose it’s a hazard of my profession, but I find it difficult to go anywhere without looking for, look at, and thinking about churches and houses of worship. I did it again this past week when I was in Los Angeles visiting friends. As I drove from Torrance to West Hollywood and back I couldn’t help but notice how many churches or other houses of worship I passed. There were Roman Catholic churches, Lutheran churches, Presbyterian churches, non-denominational Christian churches of all flavors, Synagogues, Buddhist Temples, and buildings that appeared to be for religious organizations that I couldn’t even identify. Houses of Worship seem to be everywhere. And when I see all these buildings that are maintained by faith communities, I often wonder. What good are they? Does their existence really make a difference in peoples’ lives? Does the presence of these buildings have any more of a discernable effect on our world than, say, an Elks Lodge?
In 1963, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote to his white ministerial colleagues, asking similar questions. In his letter from the Birmingham City Jail Dr. King writes:
“I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at her beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlay of her massive religious education buildings.
Over and over again I have found myself asking: ‘What kind of people worship here: Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification: Where were they when Governor Wallace gave the clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when tired, bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright walls of creative protest?’“
Where were the church people then? I suppose we could just as easily ask ourselves, where are we now?
When I do the math and add up the numbers for the state of race relations and the Civil rights movement 2 years after the retirement of the first black president of the United States, I have to wonder how far we’ve really come.
It’s true that a lot of progress has been made. We are not still in Egypt land. But we are not yet in the Promised Land either. Instead, we are, perhaps, somewhere on the rocky shores of the red sea.
In our reading this morning from Paul’s letter to the church in the city of Corinth, we are told that we are all given gifts by the Holy Spirit for the doing of God’s work in the world. And with tomorrow being the day when we remember and celebrate the life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I can’t help but wonder, just what gifts have we, as a faith community of people, drawn together by our love and trust in God, what gifts have we been given by God to further Dr. King’s dream? Which, by the way, is a dream that I believe was rooted in and inspired by God’s gift of prophetic vision and courage given to Dr. King.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream where the sons of slaves and sons of slave owners would sit down together at a table of brotherhood. Where children in Alabama, boys and girls, black and white, would hold hands and go to school together. A dream where his four children would be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. It was a dream based not on guilt, but on relationship. And relationship is the very essence of our reason for being here this morning. It is our relationship with God and our relationship with one another as children of God that draws us together each Sunday.
So, how then will Dr. King’s dream come to be? How will that dream become a reality? There is one way: and one way only—through you and through me and through our faith communities. In fact, through this faith community—through our God-given sense that we have not been created by God to be in isolation, but rather to be in relationship. In relationship with the people around us who are different from us in any of a number of ways, but especially with those people who look different from us.
When asked what churches could do to end the scourge of racism, Dr. King said, “Eliminate the fear, the distrust, the misconceptions, and the lies.” To do this we have to tell our stories, we have to listen to each other’s stories, we have to ask questions, we have to connect, and we have to be the friends who speak up and act out against those in our society who play on the fear and mistrust that draws us away from people who differ from us.
Can you do that?
When was the last time you did do that?
I said that Dr. King’s dream was about relationships. Well, Jesus knew about relationships too. He knew that when the people of God gather, there is the potential not only for sufficiency, there is the potential for abundance. At the wedding in Cana, Jesus showed us that when the people of God are gathered, water is changed to wine. And not just any wine, but the very best wine.
When we come together as God’s beloved children, the miracle of God’s abundant love is manifested in us.
Imagine, if you will, what our world, our community, would look like if we truly lived into the reality of Dr. King’s dream.
Do you really want it?
Do you really need it?
If we don’t—our children do. Because as the world changes and increasingly becomes a places where people are taught to mistrust each other, to feel safe and secure only when we are “protected” from other by both virtual and actual walls, Dr. King’s dream becomes all the more crucial.
Dr. King said, “Too often churches and church people have been the tail lights of change.” That is not how it’s supposed to be. We need to be the headlights. Showing a light, making a path, pointing the way toward something more. If we don’t, if we choose not to—then we and our faith communities will be little more than buildings that we pass as we drive through town.
Let us pray.
Gracious God-we thank you this day for the life and witness of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. May we live out—may we embody your longing for justice and righteousness in our world. That unity may overcome estrangement; Forgiveness heal guilt And the blessing of your love be known among all people. In your holy name we pray.