Invited to preach at the MLK Memorial Service at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, this sermon is wrapped around Romans 12:9- and following:
A couple of questions:
How many renewed their baptism when entering the chapel?
How many of you were born after 1968?
How many of you have taken the January trek to the South and to Atlanta? Especially the King Center?
In the past, earlier sermons focused on the work of Dr. King, his history and his legacy. Every time I go to Chester, PA to a soccer match, my son and I park on the property of the church he served while attending Crozer Theological Seminary. I have, with some degree of envy appreciated your delaying the service of memorial from a January date when students may be scattered to the four winds and placing it closer to the date when he was taken from us. For if he were still alive he would be 83. For those of you born after 1968 he has only been an historical memory. You may have listened to his words, seen clips of him from Black and White television, and read the reviews of many political stripes who have praised him or taken him apart. And as of this year the “Activist” is now cast in stone, that in some ways notes his unfinished business.
For the last month and more recently in the last few days we have heard of another Martin, first name Trayvon. His death will be examined, but it has raised some other critical questions from folks close to me and closer to you in age. “Day, didn’t the Civil Rights Movement address issues like this?” My answer isn’t sufficient for the questioner or to me. “Civil Rights was an issue of laws which compelled behavior modification, but it did not address attitudinal modification.” I have even wondered out loud whether we will remember Trayvon a year from now.
Last week at the Preaching with Power event, the Tuesday Lecture was given by Eddie Glaude, Professor of Religion and Chair of the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University, gave a lecture to a relatively large crowd. Many had gathered to see if he would address his Huffington Post article from a year ago which stated, “The Black Church is Dead”. He teased us by walking around his central theme that the Black Church is no longer the CENTER of Black Community Life. He did say that we have three issues that need to be address in our communities and they are not based upon color, ethnic background or religious affiliation. 1. We need a Livable Wage. 2. We need to affirm quality education for all with a subtext of Public Education and 3. We need to address the Incarceration Industrial Complex, where we have privatized prisons which uses public funds for a profit making enterprise. These three issues seriously affect 90 percent or more of our population.
Now when I place those elements along side the Romans passage that was given to me for this memorial, there is a substantive challenge given to all of our churches, no matter where we live in this complex society that is America. Here those words again:
Romans 12:9-21 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20 No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Frankly I don’t care where any of starts, if the Gospel is the foundation for our agenda, then we have some definite challenges before all of us no matter where we are in our educational process. The challenge is to seminary students and seminary professors. The challenge is to parish pastors both urban and rural. The challenge is how do we live out our calling as the body of Christ in a time and place that may need wise counsel as much now as it did from a thirty-four year old priest, who in the midst of teaching his students, used the blog of his day, a church door, to create some interesting discussion about the context of his day. A twenty six year old minister who was new to the community had the church that was the closest to downtown in small city as some community members discussed how to address seating on the bus system.
We received yesterday a letter from our presiding Bishop offering wise counsel in the context of our day. In a “Message on Racial Justice in the wake of Trayvon Martin's death,” Bishop Hanson offers the following words, “Let us together courageously engage in God’s work of restoring and reconciling communities. Let us together pursue justice and work for peace no matter how long the journey or wide the chasm. Let us tear down the walls we erect to divide us and turn those walls into tables of conversation and reconciliation.”
In the context within which we all study, we are to be about the task of Community building. In our communities there seem to be increasing amounts of incivility. We live in a season of political challenges that uses words to demonize. Every news reports speaks of winners and losers. In the midst of that we are called to do something different with the communities that call us and train us. We are called, maybe even summoned to share the experience of love we have received. Our lives as leaders in the Christian community compels us to “love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.”
The challenge is to confront. Even Romans uses the word “Hate” when addressing Evil. In many ways the living in community here may have some benefits in learning how to offer hospitality even when every one of the students seems to be in need. Living in a commuter environment, hospitality has to be worked at and planned. Yet that is a central part of who we are as the Body of Christ. Most importantly we are called upon to offer that gracious hospitality to the stranger.
In this service in memory, can we commit ourselves to not only to the Dream that is too often referred to when speaking about Martin Luther King, Jr., but to the capacity to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” As people who are called to a myriad of situations. I pray that we are capable of learning to “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.” Maybe we can even find the ability to work together as congregations to make some of the critical changes that may be needed to address the three issues that affect all of our communities of faith. For the three items lifted up by Eddie Glaude, could just as easily be lifted up again as they were 44 years ago by Martin. To see that all have access to a liveable wage. That education be available to all as a part of the public building a future. That we find ways to decrease the level of incarceration and seek rehabilitation rather than retribution.
That second lesson from Romans may also have a final piece of information for those of us who remember their baptism each and every time they enter the church. "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20 No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. May we continue to walk in the shoes of the saints who have preceded us.