Sunday, January 15, 2017
Second Sunday after Epiphany / Lectionary 2
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Martyr/Renewer of Society
Prayers of the Day
Holy God, our strength and our redeemer, by your Spirit hold us forever, that through your grace we may worship you and faithfully serve you, follow you and joyfully find you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image. Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression. Help us, like your servant Martin, to work for justice among people and nations, to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
SERMON: Dr. King’s Legacy of Faith in Action
Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7
Martin was a prophet. Like Isaiah before him, Dr. King heard a call and responded with a courageous and faith-filled “yes” to speak truth to power, to speak a word of challenge to his nation to not only be a place of justice and peace for her own people, but to guide the world into such a path.
Through Isaiah, God said to Israel:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Through Martin, God said to America: As I noticed these things (he was speaking of his earlier trip to India and seeing millions of hungry people), something within me cried out, “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” And an answer came: “Oh no!” Because the destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India and every other nation.
He challenged our nation, to “go on with the determination to make America the truly great America that it is called to be.”
Isaiah dreamed dreams of all of creation living in peace on God’s holy mountain. Martin dreamed dreams of the people of our land living in peace with one another. He was not afraid to speak those dreams, to confront the power-brokers who would be threatened by such dreams coming to fruition. The dreams of both Isaiah and Martin have inspired countless to work for the building up of God’s kingdom on earth.
May God guide us and strengthen us so that our light might shine for all the world to see for the sake of advancing that kingdom.
Reading: I Corinthians 1:1-9
Martin was a theologian. Like Paul before him, Dr. King spoke of his understanding and his experience of God so that others might come to know the good news of God that comes for all of us through Jesus Christ. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he was speaking to a church that reflected its city of great diversity. In that growing congregation there were rich and poor, slave and free, formally educated and self-made. And Paul was calling them to live in fellowship. To live into the unity that Jesus prayed for with his disciples the night of his arrest. To live into the one body of which all baptized saints are a part.
Martin spoke of this same unifying power to this diverse nation. He spoke of children of different races holding hands with one another.
Filled with hope and faith in a God who loves and welcomes all, he said: “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
Filled with Spirit-led wisdom he said: People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
May we, experiencing the Almighty who binds us with the divine through the grace and love of Jesus the son, bind us to one another as an expression and a thanksgiving of this gift of holy relationship.
Reading: John 1:29-42
Martin was a witness. Like John the Baptist before him, Dr. King pointed to Jesus and said: Here is the Lamb of God. His commitment to and practice of non-violence echoed again and again his embracing of lamb-power. Power that confronts the sins of this world: injustice, oppression, prejudice, hatred, fear; confronts with loving challenge and not with violence or force. Like John, King spoke unpopular truth that landed him in prison. But neither he, nor those who walked with him, ever fought back.
King knew well what the lamb-power of Jesus looked like in this world. He described it: Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”
And he said: “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the [one] who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”
This is the kingdom of God that Jesus brought near put into world-changing practice. This is the way of the lamb that subdues all earthly powers. This is walking the path with Jesus who came baptizing with the power of the Holy Spirit.
So we can also say that Martin was a disciple. Like Andrew and Peter before him, he left his life to follow that one who called him, the one in whom he found life and freedom, love and light. He surrendered himself with no regard for his own life, following Jesus the Christ, the Lamb of God – the one who gave up his life for the sake of the world.
His life of faithfully following Jesus continues to model, inspire, and challenge. Of this life of faith he said: “By opening our lives to God in Christ, we become new creatures. This experience, which Jesus spoke of as the new birth, is essential if we are to be transformed nonconformists … Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit.”
And of applying this lamb-powered faith to the life we live, King said: “Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”
Through the ages there have been many prophets, theologians, witnesses and disciples of Jesus, however Dr. King is a person of our time. A prophet who spoke to our specific context and the reforms that continue to be needed. A theologian who brings God into the center of the challenges we face together. A witness who sees the risen Christ walking in our land, reaching out a healing, life-giving hand. And King is a disciple, not of an ancient land or time, leaving fishing boats and nets in some romantic story. He is a disciple who followed Jesus through streets of our cities, across bridges in our states. Never shying away from the call to rise up and follow Jesus. Even when it meant facing death. See him, his life and his words, pointing at the one he follows, saying: “Look, here is the Lamb of God.”
(Join me in this prayer of Dr. King’s that is printed in your bulletin.)
Use me, O God. Show me how to take who I am, who I want to be, and use it for a purpose greater than myself. Amen
The Rev. Mark Erson,