Sunday, January 14, 2018
Martin Luther King, Jr – Renewer of Society and Martyr
Second Sunday after Epiphany
Prayer of the Day
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.
Title: Seeing Red for Martin
For those keeping track, you might be surprised to see red and not green. I’m talking paraments. The altar frontal. The stole around my neck. The chasuble that I will wear at the table. If you keep track of such things, you know that the Sundays after Epiphany, (not too many this year,) like those Sundays after Pentecost that go on and on through the summer and fall, are known as ordinary time, for which we use the church’s default setting, the green vestments. So with the 12 days of Christmas over, with the Feasts of the Epiphany and the Baptism of our Lord duly marked, we should be settling down to at least a few ordinary green Sundays before the Purple of Lent descends upon us.
However, today we are commemorating the life and ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, renewer of society and martyr. And its that last word – martyr – that brings out the red. Now when red is used on Pentecost and Reformation it helps us think of the wild workings of the Holy Spirit symbolized by tongues of red flame. But today the red reminds us of the blood shed when a martyr dies for the faith, because of the faith, dies in the faith – the faith in Jesus the Christ who conquered death so that where the world sees loss and defeat in the blood spilled by martyrs, we see victory, truth, and life.
And while some may think “must we have to deal with martyrs blood so soon after Christmas: while gifts of clothes are still looking new, while toys are still working (maybe), while, for some, decorations are still up? Are trees haven’t even been picked up from the curb. And yet, let me remind you that martyrs red appears the day after Christmas, December 26, with St. Stephen’s Day – the first Christian martyr, and then there is December 28, Feast of Holy Innocents, when the red reminds us of the blood shed on the streets of Bethlehem as a violent and fearful world responded to the news that a new king had been born.
But today’s red is different. The blood is fresher. While the 2,000 year old stories are still heartbreaking and inspiring all at once, the blood spilled making this day red is blood that some us saw alive, and vibrant, and speaking peace in the face of fear, and changing the world. And if you are not old enough to have seen Dr. King while he was alive, you probably have read his words, have seen him on video, have heard the testimony of those who walked beside him. And, sad to say, his words are still relevant in addressing the struggles that continue today, the injustices that still cry out today, the violence that is still inflicted on innocent victims today, the systemic racism that continues to plague us today – recent quotes from the White House offered as proof.
But more than someone who died for the faith and because of the faith he expressed, Dr. King lived for the faith. The church gives him the title, renewer of society; also known under the title: prophet. Like the Hebrew prophets of whom we read of in the Old Testament: Hosea and Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel, Micah and Amos, Dr. King spoke truth to power. He boldly named that which the majority wanted to keep hidden. He called for change where the powerful wanted to maintain the status quo. He dared to dream God’s dream while the world offered him a nightmare born out of fear.
In the midst of the fabulous, Father-Knows-Best-Fifties, back when America was great, still high on the victory in World War Two, King had the courage and the audacity to shine light on the truth that not all homes looked like the Anderson’s. Not every dinner table was filled with food. Not every citizen was protected by the law, nor were they treated fairly under the law. Like Amos who told the Israelites that God was not happy with their holy feasts and adherence to the law as long as there was injustice – political and economic – in the land; likewise, King brought the unwanted message that God was not happy with America’s fine Sunday best, and it’s diligent prayers said in school, as long as segregation, discrimination, and degradation were the accepted structures and practices. He told “Christian” America, that boasted of trust in God and was proud of itself for standing up to god-less communism, that we were light years away from living as St. Paul challenges Christians to live in that passage from Romans 12. In the words of Amos, with all its contemporary relevance, King called for God’s justice to flood and wash clean this land, and for righteousness to flow like a stream that will keep all people refreshed and joined together as children of God.
It wasn’t just on that horrible April 4th day in 1968 that King shed his martyr’s blood that stains our vestments red today. Each day of his prophetic ministry was a day he gave his life for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of bringing God’s kingdom, made known in Jesus Christ, to the earth, lifting up the lowly and bringing down the mighty. Each day he was living the beatitudes that Jesus speaks in Luke’s gospel.
He spoke of God’s promise to those who hungered for food, as well as justice. He spoke the hope of Jesus to those who were weeping as innocent lives were devoured by hate. He spoke of the Spirit’s peace to those whose humanity was being stripped away.
Theologian Frederick Buechner reminds us that prophet means spokesperson, not fortune teller. And the one on whose behalf they are speaking is God’s. He goes on to say that the “prophet’s quarrel with the world is deep down a lover’s quarrel. It they didn’t love the world, they probably wouldn’t bother to tell it that it is going to hell. They’d just let it go. Their quarrel is God’s quarrel.” (Wishful Thinking, pg. 73-75)
As we celebrate Dr. King’s ministry, his witness to the power of non-violent protest, his life and his legacy of working for justice; the greatest inspiration I find, is not in his amazing accomplishments (I can never do that), not his brilliant rhetoric (I could never say that), but where he inspires me into action is that he showed up, and he kept showing up. In spite of how his country and those in power labeled him, sought to demoralize him, discriminated against him, separated him, imprisoned him, lynched people like him, threatened him, persecuted him, and so much more. No matter how much power those that Jesus is “Woeing” at had and used against Dr. King and those who walked and worked with him, he and they kept showing up. He kept speaking God’s message. They kept walking the path that Jesus leads his disciples on. They kept looking to the Holy Spirit for the power to do, to be, to change the world with faith, hope, and love.
This day, as messengers of God’s loving promises, as Jesus’ disciples, and instruments of the Holy Spirit, let us dedicate ourselves anew to showing up because of love, love for Black Lives that do indeed matter, love for immigrants whose lives and livelihood are threatened with injustice, love for all who are saying MeToo, love for LGBTQ+ people who continue to face legalized discrimination, love for a planet whose health is endanger. Let us show up in compassion and faith, hope and peace.
We can show up carrying the light and word of God because God showed up and continues to show up in Jesus the Christ – who shows up in the waters of the font, who shows up in the bread and wine of the meal, who shows up in this community of faith. God in Christ shows up not requiring us to shed our blood, but saving and serving us through the blood shed once and for all on the cross.
Thus renewed and refreshed, we go in the power of the Spirit to live, to love, to shine, to serve. To Be merciful just as our God is merciful.
The Rev. Mark Erson,