7 Ways to Be Sure You Are a Martin Luther King Jr. Kind of Christian (Reblog)

By New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer: DeMarsico, Dick, photographer. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Reblogged from Huffington Post

By Paul Brandeis Rauschenbusch

To understand the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. one should first look to his Christian faith, which gave him the language, spiritual strength and community to fuel and sustain his singular efforts for justice, peace and freedom.

Faith was at the center of his life.

However, as we honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. it is worthwhile to consider the kind of faith King embodied. Because there isn’t just one kind of Christian; and not all faith leaders lead towards freedom.

Click here to read the full article

Too Small A Thing

We’re having our Annual Congregational Meeting today at North Church, so I don’t have a sermon to share.  But my wife, Rev. Sarah Schmidt-Lee, is preaching at First Presbyterian Church in Decatur, MI.  Here is her sermon on Isaiah 49:1-7.

In 1954 a 25 year old pastor, fresh from seminary, started serving his first congregation in Montgomery, AL. It would have been so easy for the church to eat up all his time. To teach him everything he didn’t learn in seminary. To rely on him to keep their doors open and their bills paid. But they knew that focusing on what was going on inside that church building was too small a thing for their pastor. They supported him as he took leadership in community organizations, and within his first year as their pastor, Martin Luther King, Jr. involved with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and at 27 he helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This young pastor had such a tremendous influence beyond the scope of his own congregation that we honor him with a national holiday tomorrow. It was too small a thing for that church to demand their pastor’s energy be focused solely on them and their needs. They knew they were called, and he was called to something bigger—to be a part of God’s work of changing the world.

“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.”

When I was in college, I had the privilege of meeting a homeless man named Bill Smith. In the course of volunteer work I did, I heard stories from Bill about how frustrated he was by churches in the area around Charlotte, NC. Many of them would send vans downtown to the rescue mission each Sunday to pick people up and bring them to church, which seems like a really great ministry. The problem was that once they got to the church building, these homeless men and women were usually ushered into the back pew, where no one would see them, and they were treated like an evangelism project. The church members seemed intent on sharing Jesus with them, despite the fact that most of them were Christians, already. As Bill put it, “Most of them would not have survived this long if it weren’t for their deep faith in Jesus. Those churches should stand those men and women up front to tell their stories, not stick them in the back and treat them like outsiders.”

One day, during my junior year of college, an excited Bill Smith shared with me how one congregation in town had partnered with the rescue mission to give Bill a part time job counseling other homeless men and speaking as an advocate for the homeless in area churches. That congregation recognized they had an opportunity to experience God in new ways, through new eyes, and sticking those homeless brothers and sisters in the back pew and treating them as outsiders to convert—it was too small a thing. They needed to hear the stories and learn about God from people who were struggling in different ways than they were.

“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.”

A few years ago a congregation in Tulsa, OK took a big risk, and decided to give all of their undesignated plate offerings away to other organizations. Disaster response, relief work, humanitarian projects overseas—there were a number of groups they already gave to, and they would add more. They are a large congregation, and in 2003, those undesignated offerings amounted to about $20,000 that many church leaders worried they couldn’t spare. But they took the risk in faith, and in 2004, the congregation gave away $150,000 in plate offerings.

But the biggest surprise? Not only did the weekly offering increase dramatically, the money given specifically to the budget increased by 10%, too. The leaders of this church recognized that meeting their own institutional needs was too small a thing—they needed to give generously to the world. And when they took a leap of faith, they discovered that their whole congregation understood this, too. Funding their own programs was too small a thing. When they saw the opportunity to give toward a bigger purpose in the world, the congregation rose to the occasion and was more excited about supporting the institutional needs, too. They could see that the institution was serving a higher purpose.

“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.”

In our gospel text for this morning, we see John the Baptist after he has baptized Jesus, and what is he doing? He is redirecting his own disciples to Jesus. Here is a man with a meaningful ministry, drawing people from far off cities into retreats where they confess sin and get baptized in the Jordan as a sign of cleansing and a fresh start. But when John encounters Jesus and sees what he has to offer, he realizes that his own ministry is too small. He cannot offer what these followers really need. Jesus is the one who can really give them new life.

In traditional paintings of John the Baptist, he is always pointing his finger away from himself. It’s as if he is always in that posture of redirection—I am not the Christ. I am not the one you need. Look to Jesus. Follow him. That’s the way.

“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.”

This passage from Isaiah was written during a time when a large proportion of Israel was in exile in Babylon, and the nation was in ruins. The prophet spoke of a servant of God who would lead the nation back to Jerusalem and back to prosperity and health. But here, in these words of God spoken to the servant, we hear the heart of God. “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 might reach to the ends of the earth.”

God’s dream for Israel was bigger than rebuilding the temple, or returning to Jerusalem from exile. God’s dream for Israel was that it might shine out as a beacon so that the whole world would see God’s love and justice and recognize that the God of Israel was on their side, too.

Some people describe the current situation of the Mainline Protestant church in North America as a kind of season of exile. Generations ago, the Protestant church stood at the center of American culture. Attending church, or at least sending your children to Sunday School, was practically a civic duty. Nearly everyone knew the Lord’s Prayer, and Amazing Grace, and Psalm 23.

That is no longer the case, is it? Sending kids to sports programs is a much higher parental duty in today’s culture than making sure they get to Sunday School. And most Americans have far more commercial jingles than hymns memorized. Church is not anyone’s default setting, anymore.

And we feel it, don’t we? We see Sunday School classes getting smaller and smaller, and budgets getting tighter and church staff growing fewer, with fewer hours to work with. Most churches I’ve encountered spend a lot of time worrying about these changes, which are for the most part completely out of our control. We cannot change the tide of our culture any more than those Israelites who were carried off to Babylon could wish themselves back to Jerusalem. We can grieve the losses. We can remember who we have always known God to be. And we can learn to look for God in our new situation.

But it is too small a thing to focus on our own survival. As numbers shrink and budgets tighten, it is so tempting to focus our energy on keeping what we still have. Keeping the building in repair. Keeping all the same staff, but cutting their hours and benefits. Keeping all the Sunday School classes, even though we only have one or two kids in each age group. Keeping the Presbyterian Women’s program on a weekday morning even though all the younger women in the church are at work, then.

It is too small a thing to try to preserve the church, or restore it to its former glory. We need to discover the new possibilities God has in store for us. It is too small a thing to worry about our programs and budgets, when there is a whole world out there, and God is in it!

So, how are you pointing away from yourself, and toward Christ? How is your congregation and its money serving a higher purpose in the world? How are you seizing the opportunity to discover God in new places and in new people? How are you supporting your pastor and your members to be agents of change in the world?

If these questions are intimidating, or challenging, or frightening, that’s okay. You don’t need the answers today. You need only a desire to listen again to the heart of God—the God who called you to this community in the first place and marked you as a beloved child. Because God has a dream for you and for this church, and it is not a small dream. It is a big dream.

“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.”

The Most Durable Power

Another treat for the anniversary of ‘I Have A Dream’. This is one of my favorite preachers, Rev. Tamara Lebak, Associate Minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. If you only listen to one sermon today, make it Dr. King’s, but if you listen to two, make this the next one.

The Great Ends of the Church: The Promotion of Social Righteousness

Image is in the public domain.  Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
Image is in the public domain. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

My wife played me a recording this week from an NPR program called This American Life.  The entire episode was about the way kids think and the funny (sometimes profound) things they say.  It was originally broadcast in 2001:

It all began at Christmas two years ago, when my daughter was four-years-old. And it was the first time that she’d ever asked about what did this holiday mean? And so I explained to her that this was celebrating the birth of Jesus. And she wanted to know more about that. We went out and bought a kids’ bible and had these readings at night. She loved him. Wanted to know everything about Jesus.

So we read a lot about his birth and his teaching. And she would ask constantly what that phrase was. And I would explain to her that it was, “Do onto others as you would have them do unto you.” And we would talk about those old words and what that all meant.

And then one day we were driving past a big church and out front was an enormous crucifix.

She said, who’s that?

And I guess I’d never really told that part of the story. So I had to sort of, yeah, oh, that’s Jesus. I forgot to tell you the ending. Well, you know, he ran afoul of the Roman government. This message that he had was so radical and unnerving to the prevailing authorities of the time that they had to kill him. They came to the conclusion that he would have to die. That message was too troublesome.

It was about a month later, after that Christmas, we’d gone through the whole story of what Christmas meant. And it was mid-January, and her preschool celebrates the same holidays as the local schools. So Martin Luther King Day was off. I knocked off work that day and I decided we’d play and I’d take her out to lunch.

We were sitting in there, and right on the table where we happened to plop down, was the art section of the local newspaper. And there, big as life, was a huge drawing by a ten-year-old kid from the local schools of Martin Luther King.

She said, who’s that?

I said, well, as it happens that’s Martin Luther King. And he’s why you’re not in school today. So we’re celebrating his birthday, this is the day we celebrate his life.

She said, so who was he?

I said, he was a preacher.

And she looks up at me and goes, for Jesus?

And I said, yeah, actually he was. But there was another thing that he was really famous for. Which is that he had a message.

And you’re trying to say this to a four-year-old. This is the first time they ever hear anything. So you’re just very careful about how you phrase everything.

So I said, well, yeah, he was a preacher and he had a message.

She said, what was his message?

I said, well, he said that you should treat everybody the same no matter what they look like.

She thought about that for a minute. And she said, well that’s what Jesus said.

And I said, yeah, I guess it is. You know, I never thought of it that way, but yeah. And it is sort of like “Do onto others as you would have them do unto you.”

And she thought for a minute and looked up at me and said, did they kill him, too?

The NPR story ends there, but the answer to the little girl’s question is, of course, Yes.  They did kill Dr. King too, and Oscar Romero, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the prophet Isaiah, and the apostle Paul.  It seems that the treatment inflicted upon Jesus has also been visited on those who stand up for what is true and right in any age.  The apostle Paul himself, before he was beheaded by the Roman state, famously said, “In my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”  Paul seems to have picked up on the inherent connection that exists between what happened in Christ on the cross and what happens in those whose lives are similarly extinguished by unjust powers.  In the mind of God, these events are not separate: They are one.

Jesus himself articulated a similar sense in Matthew 25 when he said to his followers, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,you did it to me.”  The suffering of the hungry, naked, sick, and imprisoned people of this world is one and the same with the suffering of Christ.

We Christians don’t always understand this truth.  At least, we don’t live as if we understood it.  We separate these events in our minds.  We separate the social from the spiritual.  We say things like, “The church shouldn’t get involved in politics.”  While I agree with this statement when it comes to religious institutions endorsing candidates or receiving state funding, I disagree with the idea that our most deeply held beliefs and values should not shape the way we organize our life together.  Politics, on the most basic level, has to do with relationships, and relationships are what Jesus is most interested in.  When someone once asked Jesus about the most important part of the Bible, he said it all comes down to relationships: your relationship with God and your relationship with your neighbors.

The quality of our relationships is the measure of the quality of our religion.  In fact, we read in this morning’s scripture readings how religion should even take a back seat to relationships.  In our first reading, from the book of Amos, the prophet tells the people that Yahweh their God is disgusted with their religious rituals and fed up with their pious posturing.  He says that God isn’t even listening to the sound of your hymns anymore.  Why not?  Because what God really wants is for “justice [to] roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”  In other words, God listens for the harmony and not the melody.  God wants harmony between people, not just musical notes.  That’s what the words justice and righteousness mean in this passage.  God wanted nothing to do with their religion because their relationships were all out of whack.  There is an inherent connection between the way people behave toward each other and the way they behave toward God.  Injustice toward a neighbor is a sin against God.  The spiritual is political.  The quality of one’s religion is measured by the quality of one’s relationships.

In our New Testament reading, we see Jesus cleansing the Jerusalem temple.  As he drove out the money changers, he shouted, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?  But you have made it a den of robbers.”

He was quoting a passage from the book of Isaiah.  In that section, the prophet was setting forth a vision of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem as an international, multi-cultural center of faith and learning.  People from all over the world, not just Jews, would one day be welcome in the house of God.  The place designated for this activity was the Outer Court, also called the Court of the Gentiles.  It was the only part of the temple where non-Jews were allowed to participate in worship.  It just so happens that this was the very place where the money changers and animal dealers had set up their shops.  They had robbed the Gentiles of their rightful place in God’s house.  And for what?  To make more money.  By placing profit over people, they undermined the legitimacy of their spirituality.  They made the house of God into “a den of robbers”, according to Jesus.  Like Amos, Jesus wanted to see “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”

Again, the quality of our religion is measured by the quality of our relationships.  What we do for our neighbors, we do for God.  There is a connection between the suffering of people and the suffering of Christ.

This morning, we are continuing with the fifth sermon in a five-week series on the Great Ends of the Church.  We’re asking the question, “Why does our church exist?”  We’ve already given four answers to that question.  We said the Great Ends of the Church are the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind, the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God, the maintenance of divine worship, and the preservation of the truth.  This week, we’re adding a fifth Great End: the promotion of social righteousness.

This one tends to get us into trouble sometimes, because many (including some within the church itself) say “the church shouldn’t get involved in politics.”  They cringe when preachers bring up controversial social issues from the pulpit, preferring instead that preachers would just “stick to the gospel.”

But here’s the thing: a good preacher can’t preach the gospel without getting into relevant social issues.  Any minister who just wants to save individual souls for heaven isn’t preaching the gospel of Jesus.  Jesus said the quality of our religion is measured by the quality of our relationships.  Jesus said, “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,you did it to me.”  Jesus drove the money changers out of the Gentiles’ place in the temple and told his followers to leave their offerings at the altar and make peace with their neighbors before coming to worship.  Jesus said that God preferred the compassion of the Good Samaritan over the ritual purity of the priest and the Levite.

No Christian who actually reads the Bible can preach the gospel of Jesus without engaging in the promotion of social righteousness.

Now, as I said before, this doesn’t mean that churches should be endorsing candidates, telling people how to vote, or accepting money and power from the state.  What it does mean is that we should all have a clear enough understanding and a firm enough commitment toward our beliefs and values that we are willing to speak up and act up when the culture around us promotes practices and policies that contradict said values.  Do we believe at all people are made in the image of God?  Then we should have something to say about equal opportunity for all races, classes, and genders in housing, education, and employment.  Do we agree that Jesus had a special place in his heart for poor and outcast people?  Then we should not just make room for them in our hearts, homes, and churches; but we should also re-locate and re-orient ourselves to be where they are: in the slums, bars, and jails of Oneida County.  Do we believe that God loves everyone and never gives up on anyone?  Then neither should we.

These Christian values, if we live them, will inevitably put us at odds with American values.  We will have to go against the grain and the flow of the larger culture in order to hold it to a higher standard.  It will be uncomfortable.  It will make us unpopular.  It might even be dangerous.  But let us remember what our Savior taught us: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

People throughout history, from Martin Luther King to the apostle Paul, have followed Jesus on the path of the cross.  Their suffering and his suffering are one in the eyes of God.  They didn’t just preach the gospel, they were the gospel.  And they share in the resurrection life of Christ, who overcomes the bonds of death and proclaims a new reality in our midst, a new community that is overthrowing and replacing the old domination systems of this world: the kingdom of heaven-on-earth.  When the church challenges the unjust practices and policies of the powers-that-be, we show ourselves to be citizens of that kingdom with the saints in light.  The church’s promotion of social righteousness is not separate from the proclamation of the gospel or in addition to it, it is an essential part of it.  Our actions in relationship with our neighbors comprise the text of the silent sermon we preach every day to the people around us.

I Have A Dream

Yesterday was his 83rd birthday.  In school, most of us read the edited half-version of this speech.  If you have never seen the full 17 minute version, I recommend that you take some time to do so now.  Pay special attention to what happens about 11 minutes into the speech: he stops looking at his notes.

He wasn’t martyred for being a nice guy and singing ‘Kumbaya’.  He was an agitator for equality who shook the powers in their high places.  He is still singing ‘We Shall Overcome’.

Elements of Worship: The Word

Starting a new sermon series at First Pres, Boonville.  This is part 1 of 5.

The text is II Timothy 3:10-17.

Click here to listen to the recording of this sermon at fpcboonville.org

Does anybody here remember the Periodic Table?  I’m taking you back to 6th grade science class on this one.  It’s an oddly shaped chart of letters and numbers that’s somehow supposed to explain everything that exists.  Personally, I always thought it looked like somebody started writing the alphabet and then got really confused.  I’m told that students used to have to memorize the whole thing, but they did away with that by the time I got to Middle School (mostly because scientists were coming up with all kinds of new additions like Einsteinium and Nobelium, so the Table was getting bigger every year).  These days, I think we’re up 118 entries.  The Periodic Table is divided into metals on the left and non-metals on the right.  At the far right, there are the Noble Gases like Helium and Radon.  On the far left are the Alkaline metals like Lithium.  Each individual unit on the Periodic Table is called an element.  Elements are the basic units of chemistry.  An element represents the most basic level to which a compound or molecule can be broken down using chemical processes.  To go any father (i.e. protons, neutrons, and electrons), you’ve got to use nuclear means.  So, they are called elements because they are the basic components of the science of chemistry.  In the olden days, that same term was applied to the basic forces of nature: earth, air, water, and fire.  These were called the four elements.  These days, when kids get old enough to go to school, they begin at a basic and introductory level in an elementary school.  An element is a basic component of some larger system or process.

Starting today and continuing for the next four Sundays, we’re going to be talking about elements in church.  Now, we won’t be talking about chemical elements on the Periodic Table.  No, for these five Sundays, we’ll be talking about the Elements of Worship.  We’ll be looking at a kind of Periodic Table for the Church, if you will.  Each week, we’re going to look at a different element and see how each element fits into the big picture of what we do each week in church.  There are five Elements of Worship that we’ll be looking at.  The five elements are as follows: Word, Prayer, Service, Sacrament, and Relationship.  Everything we do in church, from the Announcements to the Benediction, is made up of these five elements in some combination and configuration: Word, Prayer, Service, Sacrament, and Relationship.  Even though we’re only focusing on one element per week, it will quickly become clear that none of these exists in isolation from the others.  They are all connected and intertwined with each other like a great big spider web.  We can’t really think about one without touching on the others.  Nevertheless, you’ve got to start somewhere.  So let’s get going…

This week, we’re focusing on the element of the Word.  By that, we specifically mean the Word of God.  Now, I know what you’re all thinking right now: “I know what that is.  He means the Bible.  The Word of God is the Bible.”  My answer to that is: “Well, yes and no.”  You see, the Bible never actually refers to itself as “the Word of God”.  In the Hebrew Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament), “the Word of God” typically refers to a particular message that came to particular prophet at a particular place and time.  Thus, it says in Genesis 15, “The word of the Lord came to Abram”.  Later on, in the New Testament, “the Word” mostly refers to Christ himself.  Jesus Christ is the living Word of God.  Thus, the Word of God is a person, not a book.

What then can we say about the Bible?  First of all, the Bible is more of a library than a book.  It is a massive collection of stories, poems, and letters composed and compiled over a period of many centuries.  Thus, I like to refer to them as “the scriptures” (plural) rather than “the Bible” (singular).  These writings chronicle the ongoing relationship between God and God’s people.  Opening the scriptures is kind of like finding your grandparents’ old love letters in a trunk in the attic.  When you read them, you get these insightful little snapshots into a romance that has spanned the ages.  We treasure these fragments but we would never mistake them for the relationship itself.  That is something that can only be experienced firsthand.  Thus, the scriptures point beyond themselves to the deeper reality of a relationship into which you and I are invited.  Marcus Borg calls the scriptures “a finger pointing to the moon.”  If you’re looking at the finger, you’re looking at the wrong thing.  Look instead to where the finger is pointing.  Then and only then will you “get the point”.  Jesus himself said as much in John 5 as he was debating with the Pharisees, a group of religious people who had worked very hard to preserve the scriptures in their own tradition.  Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.”  The scriptures point beyond themselves.  They are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

In this day and age when the culture prizes knowledge that can be objectively verified and scientifically proved, people of faith often experience the temptation to find absolute certainty on historic and scientific facts documented in the scriptures.  They believe that the authors of the scriptures were inspired by God in the same way that a secretary takes down a dictation.  For them, the Bible (singular) is literally “the Word of God”.  They see the Bible as a single book with a single author who can never be wrong.

Reading the scriptures in this way can provide a comforting level of certainty in these uncertain times, but it can also cause all sorts of problems.  First of all, the words of the scriptures can be and have been used to justify all manner of brutality and injustice.  Advocates for slavery, exploitation, genocide, racism, sexism, and homophobia have all used the texts of the scriptures to support their causes.  A further (and bigger) problem that arises when we read the Bible as the literal Word of God is that our confidence in the book actually undermines our faith in God.  We mistake that box of Grandma and Grandpa’s love letters for the relationship itself.  We worship the Bible instead of God.  It seems to me that the second of the Ten Commandments has something to say about that: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”  The way I like to read that sentence is: “You can’t put God in a box.”  I think the same holds true whether that box is a statue, a building, or a book.  Make no mistake: worshiping the Bible in God’s place is idolatry.

Presbyterians, on the whole, do not tend to view the scriptures as a single, inerrant document.  We see them collectively as the “unique and authoritative witness” to Jesus Christ as the living Word of God.  For us, the scriptures are that “finger pointing to the moon” and we want to look (and go to) where that finger is pointing us.  We want to get closer to Jesus.  We want to grow in our relationship with God.  For us, the stories, poems, and letters contained in the scriptures are a record of our ancestors’ relationship with God, centering around this amazing person named Jesus.  They remembered, reflected on, and wrestled with everything his life meant to them.  Finally, they wrote it all down in the best way they knew how, using the words and ideas they had available to them at that time.

And so we listen: we listen to these words of our fellow human beings with the ears on our heads, but we also listen for the Word of God with the ears of our hearts.  We believe the Word of God still speaks to us through these human words, limited and imperfect though they may be.  To do this, we need help.  In order to take us from these human words to God’s Word, we need something Presbyterians call “the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit”.  That’s why we stop to say a short prayer right before we read from the scriptures each week during worship.  Go ahead and check it out in your bulletin.  Right before the scripture reading, there is something called the Prayer for Illumination.  We’re asking God to turn the lights on inside of us so that we can see things more clearly.  We’re asking the Holy Spirit to help us find God’s Word in these human words.  This event is central to our worship as Christians.  When we come together, we prepare ourselves to receive God’s Word by gathering together, praising God, confessing our shortcomings, and making peace with our neighbors.  We listen for God’s Word in the reading of the scriptures and reflection on the sermon.  We respond to God’s Word by affirming our faith, praying for our needs, giving thanks for God’s blessings, and offering our whole lives to God’s service in the world.  Finally, we follow God’s Word back out into the world, trusting that the One who meets us in this place will continue to guide us out there during the other six days of the week.  It’s all about God’s Word, not a book but a person, Jesus Christ: God’s living Word.  As the lights come on inside of us and we begin to hear God’s Word through the human words of the scriptures, our lives will begin to look more like Jesus’ life: the life of a radical healer, teacher, revolutionary, and friend.

I can’t help but mention the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, whose 83rd birthday just so happens to be today.  Dr. King knew what we’re talking about today.  During his lifetime, people from all over the United States, even pastors, used the words of our scriptures to put him down and keep African American people under the thumb of segregation.  But Dr. King didn’t listen to those words.  He opened the scriptures and heard the Word of God saying to him (in the words of the prophet Amos), “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  The Word of God showed Dr. King how to dream that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  In spite of being ridiculed, beaten and arrested, Dr. King heard God’s Word in the book of Isaiah, dreaming of that day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”  On that day, he said, all God’s children: black and white, Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic, will join hands and sing together, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”  Through the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit, these ancient scriptures became for Dr. King vessels for the Word of God.  That same Spirit lives in you, illumines you.  May the Word of God be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path.  May you be able to say, along with Martin Luther King:

I’ve heard the lightning flashing, and heard the thunder roll.
I’ve felt sin’s breakers dashing, try’n to conquer my soul.
But I’ve heard the voice of Jesus telling me still to fight on.

He promised never to leave me, no, never alone.