Posts Tagged ‘MLK’

Sunday January 16 – Epiphany 2 – Martin Luther King Remembered

My Delight

          For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.  2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.  3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.  4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, [Hephizbah] and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. [Beulah]  5 For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. – Isaiah 62:1-5  


          Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.  6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O LORD.  7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.  8 They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.  9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.  10 O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart! – Psalm 36:5-10   


          On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”  4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”  5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.  8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.  9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom  10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”  11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. – John 2:1-11  


christmas cards

I don’t know about you, but at our house there are still a lot of Christmas decorations up. We’re really not that far from Christmas yet – just a few weeks out. But our scripture readings skip over Jesus’ childhood and youth, and in today’s Gospel lesson we see Jesus at 30 years old, working his first miracle! I wish we had a little more time to spend with the young Jesus; but instead this morning we’ll take a look back at some of the prophecies Jesus was born to fulfill.

In the process of doing that I’d also like to touch on our remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr. which will be on Monday. Most people today remember Martin Luther King Jr. for his marches and speeches, but he was above all a man of God. Martin Luther King Jr., like his father and grandfather before him – who were also pastors – knew God’s word: and he understood, from the Bible, why inequality and injustice of any kind were contrary to the teaching of scripture. Without the Bible and without Jesus there would have been no Martin Luther King Jr.

MLK Preaching

So today we will look at a combination of prophecy in the Old Testament – and prophetic action in America – and my hope is to tie these two together without touching on politics! (Y’all can keep score on me on that one!)

When I became a pastor I gave up membership in any political party because I don’t ever want my political beliefs to come between anyone and God. This church is God’s church, and this church is a place to worship God and to hear God’s word and to meet with God. It is my hope and my purpose that nothing I say or do will ever interfere with that.

That said, I’d like to start with our passage from Isaiah. Isaiah 62 gives us a breathtaking look into God’s heart. If anyone here today has ever wondered if God really loves you, let this passage be your assurance. These words are meant for you – and for anyone who has come to take shelter under the wings of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If you know and love Jesus these words are for you.

Isaiah writes:

“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn…” He also says: “You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD…”

And in the chapter before this one – Isaiah 61 – we hear more encouraging words. Isaiah writes:

“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor…” (Isaiah 61:1-2)

Jesus read this passage in synagogue one morning, and then put away the scroll, and sat down to teach. And he said, “today these words have been fulfilled in your hearing.” These words are as much for us as they were for Israel back then.

I’d like to ask you to stick a mental bookmark in the sermon right here because I’m going to come back to these sayings of Jesus and Isaiah.

Turning now to look at the world live in today: in spite of Isaiah’s words, things are still far from perfect. Jesus IS the answer, and God’s word IS true, but the story’s not over yet. We live in an in-between time, the now-and-not-yet. There is still a lot wrong in the world; and injustice of any kind can create barriers between God and God’s people and make it very difficult for people to hear God’s message.

Israel slavery

One of the greatest injustices in human history is slavery. Slavery has been around almost as long as human history itself: the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt; many people were slaves under the Roman Empire; there was slavery on our continent from the 1600s until 1865 – and it continued in all but name under Jim Crow. Slavery that continues today, around the world, under the name ‘human trafficking’ – which often involves the sale of children as sex slaves, and also includes illegal exploitation of workers. My husband the carpenter has told me stories of being underbid on jobs where the competing business is forcing its workers to live in the very houses they’re building – without heat, without electricity, without plumbing.

Slavery is devastating in whatever form it takes.  Slavery produces an emotional trauma that often carries through generations. We see this in the Old Testament: before the nation of Israel went into Egypt – back while they were still in Canaan – Abraham’s relationship with God was open and trusting. Abraham negotiated with God for the salvation of any good people left in Sodom and Gomorrah; and when God told him to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham trusted that God would provide an alternative. All this happened before Egypt.

After Egypt – after generations of slavery – with rare exceptions that trust had been broken. It was almost like the entire nation of Israel was suffering from PTSD – which might not be far from the truth. Israel had lived through massive trauma: being physically abused by their taskmasters, being forced to work under inhuman conditions, and finally being forced to kill any male children that were born.

The nation of Israel needed time to heal. But the trip through the desert to the Promised Land was difficult, and the people begin to accuse Moses (and God) of bringing them out of Egypt to kill them with thirst or to starve them to death. God provided water and quail and manna; yet when God told the people he would provide manna every day and not to keep any of the manna overnight because it would go bad, they didn’t believe him. They stored it anyway and it went rotten and stunk up their tents. Time and again the people were not able to trust God, and the sad thing is they wanted to. It took a lot of time, a lot of sharing, and a lot of prayer to rebuild trust between the people and God.

Here in our own nation we had about 200 years of legalized slavery, and after slavery we had many more years of second-class treatment of various groups of people: Native Americans, women (who have only been able to vote for about 100 years), Jewish people, Muslims, the Irish, eastern Europeans, Japanese-Americans during WWII… the list goes on…

All of these groups have suffered after-effects similar to ancient Israel: emotional and psychological trauma resulting in a lack of ability to trust, until they’re sure they’ve been heard and are cared for and are safe.

For people like me, who have never wondered where the next meal was coming from or where a safe place to sleep might be found, I’m not always fully aware of the suffering others have gone through. I confess I am still learning.  This week I attended a Zoom conference called The Afghan Refugee: Trauma Healing Awareness – because honestly I’m not fully aware of what people have lived  through. Even though I’ve heard the news and I know ‘what happened’ over there, I have not heard the stories of the individual people escaping Afghanistan. Even if I did know the stories of a few people, would I know how to help? (Our conference taught us the #1 thing to do for anyone who has suffered trauma is to listen and to ask three questions: “Tell me what happened,” “How do you feel?” and “What was the hardest part for you?”)

Where From

In the past few years I have been making a conscious effort to listen and to ask questions and to understand. Where it comes to African-American friends, I have one observation I want to share, and one story to share. My observation, which has been confirmed by the TV show Finding Your Roots on PBS, is that one of the greatest losses caused by slavery is the loss of personal family history. How many of us here today can say, for example, “my family came from Scotland” or “my family came from Poland”? And we can tell stories about the “old country”.  But it’s rare that our African-American friends know which country their family came from –  or even what their family name was. It’s a loss that can never be recovered.

As to the story: Many of you have met my good friend Denise who is here today. You may have met her at the Mardi Gras, which she absolutely loves (we are so looking forward to this year’s!)  Denise and I have been neighbors and friends for around 15 years. She is a special ed teacher, and we met because we discovered one day that we were both feeding the same stray cat! (Does that surprise you?)

As I have gotten to know Denise I have learned a great deal from her about how difficult life can still be – even in the 21st century – for an African-American in our society. Denise has been harassed and called names by strangers in supermarkets, in Wal-Mart, even driving down the street. And that’s just scratching the surface.

After Denise and I had been friends for a few years I noticed that she didn’t like to go to the doctor. Denise and I both have had a number of medical issues, and we compare notes. More than once I’ve said  “hey, have you seen the doctor yet?” and she would dance around the subject. One day I finally asked her, “what’s up with you and doctors?”

I was completely ignorant of the history of medical care in this country where African-Americans are concerned. I had no idea the inequality that continues to this day. I believe most medical professionals do the very best they can for each patient; but there’s a lot that remains hidden somehow.


Instead of answering my question Denise handed me a book called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. For those of you who, like me, have never heard of Henrietta Lacks: Henrietta was a poor African-American woman, who was born in Virginia and lived in Maryland, who died of cervical cancer in the early 1950s. Just before she passed, her surgeons took a sample of her cancer cells and her cervical cells to study, to see if they could figure out how they might have cured her. They discovered, much to their surprise, that Henrietta’s cells were extremely vigorous. They multiplied rapidly: so fast, in fact, that they shared the cells with other researchers… and they shared them, and they shared them… and over 70 years later, the descendants of those cells are still alive today. They have been shared around the world, and have been used to help create vaccines for diseases including polio and COVID.

Henrietta’s family – until relatively recently – had no knowledge of this. They never gave permission for the use of the cells; and they never received any acknowledgement let alone any assistance from the people who made profits from these cells.

The same year I was reading this book, Allegheny County released a study showing that mortality rates for African-American babies in Western PA are often three times higher than for Caucasian babies.

I was absolutely stunned by all this.

Finally I said to Denise: “Let me go with you to your next doctor’s appointment.”  So I did. As we left the doctor’s office, after what I considered an extremely routine appointment, Denise said to me, “that was like night and day. I’ve never had an appointment like that before.”

This is just one of the legacies of racial prejudice we still live with today.

I want to encourage each one of us to think of creative ways of pushing back against this, and bearing witness, and creating safe spaces where people can begin to heal.

Backing up now to the larger picture: In a world where people are literally addicted to sin, where trauma happens in life even under the best of circumstances – where we experience loss, hardship, betrayals, stone walls – all of us suffer deep emotional injuries. The best thing we can do for each other is listen to each other.

And when we’ve been heard – and when the pain has begun to subside – then, to complete the healing, we share the words God has said:

“I will not keep silent. I will not rest – until your vindication shines like the dawn… You will be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord. For the Lord delights in you and God will rejoice over you!”

crown of splendor

For every person who has known pain and suffering: Jesus says, “today these words have been fulfilled in your hearing.”  You are loved. God is always with you. God will not rest until the nations see your glory, and until you have been given a new name: no longer Forsaken, no longer Desolate, but a crown of beauty in the hand of God.

This is the message, and the promise, and the healing, that Jesus was born into our world to bring to each one of us. This is what Christmas is all about. AMEN.

Preached at Fairhaven UMC and Spencer UMC, January 16, 2022

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