Hi, friends. Thank you for joining me for a little online worship this snowy morning.
Since it’s Martin Luther King, Jr, weekend, I want us to start by listening to some of his most famous words. You know the speech—maybe even know it so well that it almost feels like scripture to you. But when was the last time you listened? Here is a remastered, edited version. Please watch and listen.
I am moved every single time I listen to it. The way he repeats the “I have a dream” line—sometimes at the beginning of a sentence and sometimes at the end—pulls and pushes the listener forward, always forward.
I’m guessing the “I have a dream” portion of this speech is the most famous. But are you aware of what was skipped in this video? These words:
In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.
Here are a few questions I’d like for you to consider, or discuss if you have someone with you today.
- In what ways has America defaulted on the promissory note that guarantees all people the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
- What do you think are the most urgent issues facing us today?
- Where do you find hope that we will one day create a more just society?
- In what ways are you contributing to the healing of the world?
The questions are personal, too.
- What are the most urgent issues you are facing today?
- Where do you find hope in these situations?
- In what ways are you contributing to the healing of your own soul?
In the recent Women in Harmony concert at our church, the director mentioned that some of their songs come from the Justice Choir Songbook. I downloaded it and found a song we will be singing in church sometime soon. Take a listen.
The second and third verses of this song declare “Be the voice you want to hear in the world” and “Be the light you want to shine in the world.” Although the lyrics are inspired by words often attributed to Gandhi, they also are consistent with our Christian tradition. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is quoted as saying, “I am the light of the world,” but in Matthew Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” I think the truth lies in both. We are not the source of the light, but it is our responsibility to shine . . . and that includes shining a light on injustice so that all can see.
This week my favorite poet died. She may be yours, too. Mary Oliver was sometimes criticized for being too simple, too accessible to the average reader, and therefore not deep enough. But for me, her poems have multiple levels of meaning that speak to me differently at different times. In keeping with the message we received from MLK, I want you to read this poem:
by Mary Oliver
Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing.,
and for which, if you have not heard it,
you had better hurry to where
they still sing.
And, believe me, tell no one
just where that is.
The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.
May our hearts be broken open—like the bread of life, like the body of Christ—so that we may be open. Open to the suffering of the world. Open to the needs of those around us. Open to the Spirit moving within us in new ways. May our healing come in one another.