The Very. Rev. Douglas Travis
Martin Luther King Sunday, January 15, 2012
St. James Episcopal Church, Austin
Who am I to preach to you?Here I stand, a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, heterosexual male, one of arguably the most privileged group of people in the history of the human species.
Who am I to preach to you? A descendant of Chatham Jack Alston, in the 19th century one of the wealthiest men in all of North Carolina, the owner of hundreds of slaves.
Who am I to preach to you?
Paul encourages us, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave . . . .” (Philippians 2:5-7)
The night before he died, Jesus said to his disciples, “I do not call you slaves any longer, because the slave does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends . . . .” (Jn. 15:15)
Jesus also said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn. 15:12-13)
Who am I to preach to you?
The night before he died, Martin Luther King told the crowd in Memphis,
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead, but it really doesn’t matter with me now because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long time, longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned with that now. I JUST WANT TO DO GOD’S WILL . . .
And then, with that extraordinary voice and presence he had, that presence that told you that there was SOMEONE ELSE with him, some larger ONE who spoke with Dr King when Dr. King spoke, he boomed out . . . .
And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I’ve looked over, and I’ve seeeen the Promised Land! I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land! And so I’m happy tonight! I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!
Dr. King was not always without fear. Facing what he faced, he could not always be without fear. No man, no woman, could.
But he knew he was not alone. Twelve years before he had learned he was not alone. One night, during the Montgomery Bus Strike, King found himself faltering. It simply seemed too much. History had thrust upon him this challenge of leadership. He hadn’t asked for it. He had just received an anonymous death threat on the phone:
As he later recalled that late night hour of desolation, “I couldn’t take it any longer” and “tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward.” Dropping his head into his hands, he suddenly realized he was praying aloud in the midnight hush of the kitchen: “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right . . . . But Lord, I’m faltering, I’m losing my courage. And I can’t let the people see me like this. . . . But I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.” And at that moment, as King would tell it, he seemed to hear “AN INNER VOICE . . . THE VOICE OF JESUS,” answering him: “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.” That voice of Jesus, Dr. King recounted, “promised never to leave me, no, never to leave me alone.”
The night before he was crucified, Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane. Going to be by himself, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Daddy, for you all things are possible; REMOVE THIS CUP FROM ME; YET, NOT WHAT I WANT, BUT WHAT YOU WANT.” (Mark 14:32ff)
What is the Holy Spirit of God? WHO is the Holy Spirit of God? He is the breath of God that blows around us and through us, that dwells in us, that gives us Life, that Holy Life that we will have with God always. I have the Holy Spirit and YOU have the Holy Spirit, and that breath of God that fills us with life will make you and me friends, friends forever.
At Pentecost the friends of Jesus were gathered together, hiding from the authorities, frightened of being arrested, feeling alone, and “suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filed the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” (Acts 2:2-3) The sound of this event was so loud that people throughout the city of Jerusalem gathered to see what was happening, and the Apostle Peter – the same Peter who had abandoned his Lord as he hung naked on the cross – this same Peter suddenly understood, and he stood up, quoting the prophet Jo-el, and he said,
In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
And your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.(Acts 2:17)
I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh . . . . and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. (Acts 2:17)
Dr. King had a dream, Dr. King had a vision.It was a dream he received from God Himself, it was a vision he saw with God’s own eyes. Isaiah described it this way:
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them. . . .
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
FOR THE EARTH WILL BE FULL OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE LORD AS THE WATERS COVER THE SEA.(Isaiah 11:6-9)
THE EARTH WILL BE FULL OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE LORD.
What does the knowledge of the Lord look like? Better yet, what does the knowledge of the Lord make us do?
Jesus said, “I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also . . . . (Luke 6:27-29)
One night during the Montgomery Bus Strike a bomb exploded on the front porch of King’s home. King had been at a meeting at Ralph Abernathy’s church. He rushed home to discover, to his relief, that Coretta and their infant daughter were safe, but a crowd had gathered outside. A very angry crowd. A crowd armed with clubs and guns. A crowd threatening to disintegrate into riot and vengeance.
King stood in the shattered rubble of his front porch, raised his hands and said, “We are not advocating violence! We want to love our enemies – be good to them. We must love our white brothers no matter what they do to us. Love them, and let them know you love them . . . .” At least one of the white police officers at the scene understood that Dr. King had just saved his life.
Why love your enemies?
I BELIEVE IN THE EMPTY TOMB. It seems a dream. It seems a fantasy. But I believe in it! I believe a dead man rose. I could not stand before you today if I did not so believe.
But there’s more to it than that. I believe I executed the dead man who rose. I believe this dead man whom I executed rose and extended his hand to me. I believe this dead man whom I executed rose and extended his hand to me, and said, “COME, BE MY BROTHER. COME, BE MY SISTER. COME, BE MY FRIEND.”
One of the most tangible pieces of evidence we have that the resurrection of Jesus was an historic event is that not one – not a single one – of his disciples sought revenge. Instead they proclaimed a mysterious Gospel of Love, a love that is for everybody, that excludes nobody. A love that’s free for the asking, whoever we are, whatever we’ve done.
This is a very strange way to react to the unjust execution of a friend!
Who am I to preach to you?I am nobody. I do not stand before you with any claim to a right to be here. Certainly I’ve done nothing to earn it.
But the same Lord you call Lord I call Lord. The same Jesus you call friend I call friend. The same Jesus who calls you friend calls me friend.
And because we are friends with Jesus we can breathe his Holy Spirit, we can dream his dreams, we can have his visions.
Dr. King had a dream, he had a vision. He knew he was not alone. He spoke with the voice of the prophet. When Dr. King spoke we heard the voice of God, we saw the Kingdom of God, we knew the love of God.
Who am I to preach to you?I am nobody – nobody but a friend of Jesus and your friend in Jesus rejoicing that God gave us Martin Luther King.
May God’s holy name be praised. Amen.