Saturday, April 7, 2018

Year B 2nd Easter 2018 MLK Observed What Will Become of His Dreams

Year B 2nd Sun of Easter 2018 (MLK, Jr. Observed on the 50th Anniversary of Assassination) 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“What Will Become Of His Dreams” 

Collect: Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.  
Genesis 37:17b–20 Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” 

Ephesians 6:10–20 Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak. 

Luke 6:27–36 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; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.  “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” 

From Holy Women Holy Men: 
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta. As the son and grandson of Baptist preachers, he was steeped in the Black Church tradition. To this heritage he added a thorough academic preparation, earning the degrees of B.A., B.D., and Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Boston University. 

In 1954, King became pastor of a church in Montgomery, Alabama. There, Black indignation at inhumane treatment on segregated buses culminated in December, 1955, in the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat to a white man. King was catapulted into national prominence as the leader of the Montgomery bus boycott. He became increasingly the articulate prophet, who could not only rally the Black masses, but could also move the consciences of Whites. 

King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to spearhead non-violent mass demonstrations against racism. Many confrontations followed, most notably in Birmingham and Selma, Alabama, and in Chicago. King’s campaigns were instrumental to the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 1965 and 1968. King then turned his attention to economic empowerment of the poor and opposition to the Vietnam War, contending that racism, poverty and militarism were interrelated. 

King lived in constant danger: his home was dynamited, he was almost fatally stabbed, and he was harassed by death threats. He was even jailed 30 times; but through it all he was sustained by his deep faith. In 1957, he received, late at night, a vicious telephone threat. Alone in his kitchen he wept and prayed. He relates that he heard the Lord speaking to him and saying, “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice,” and promising never to leave him alone—“No, never alone.” King refers to his vision as his “Mountain-top Experience.” 

After preaching at Washington Cathedral on March 31, 1968, King went to Memphis in support of sanitation workers in their struggle for better wages. There, he proclaimed that he had been “to the mountain-top” and had seen “the Promised Land,” and that he knew that one day he and his people would be “free at last.” On the following day, April 4, he was cut down by an assassin’s bullet. 

I was born one year and 5 months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. He does, however, hold a big place in my life. Growing up in the 70s, especially during February’s African-American History Month, we were told stories, made posters, and watched movies. Many of them were about Martin Luther King, Jr. I always liked that he was a Baptist Pastor, like I wanted to be. And I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the phrase, “I have a dream.”  
50 years since he was taken from us, his dream remains just that, a dream. We are still striving for a place where people are judged not for the color of their skin but for the content of their character. For the last several years much of my work has been focused on helping us move into MLK’s Dream, and reconciling us with the nightmare of race based slavery upon which this country was established. We are still paying for the sins of our our forebears. Not to mention the sins of our day, as well. 

Personally I work on this issue with all my work with the Triangle of Hope with the Diocese of Virginia, the Diocese of Liverpool in England, and the Diocese of Kumasi in Ghana. We are working together on forgiveness, hope, and reconciliation. As Romans quotes (3:10): “None are righteous, no not one.” We were and are complicit in the slave trade. Even if not slave holders, or descendents of owners, there is a position of privilege allowed to us and to those who came before us by the color of our skin, and there are those for whom the opposite is also true. All three dioceses recognize the sins of our precedents. Ghana sold conquered enemies and tribute payments to Europeans because they made more money doing that than in the gold that originally brought the Gold Coast to the attention of the West. Slavery was far more profitable they found than gold itself. Liverpool was the shipping fleet and banking of the merchant marine. As you walk around the city, you still see the traces of trade in bas relief on the walls of the banks and buildings. And we, the United States of America, and our Caribbean neighbors, purchased the enslaved Africans for our benefit of cheap labor to supply the raw materials.   
We sent the raw materials to England, which shipped the manufactured goods to Africa, and swapped out human cargo to take the Middle Passage of the Atlantic creating a horrible triangle. And together, the three dioceses are working to transform this heritage of shame and hate to one of reconciliation and hope. God help us. God forgive us. For the last several years, I have worked on building up the Youth Pilgrimage between Liverpool and Virginia to prepare a new generation to continue the work of MLK’s Dream of a Beloved Community where people are honored and respected for who they are, which is the fulfillment of our Baptismal Covenant no matter what words are used. 

At the end of this month I will be going to both Liverpool and Ghana, continuing the work and preparing the way for the pilgrimage to expand to Ghana as well. You will be in good, capable hands with Harrison Higgins, our deacon, while I am representing you and the Diocese of Virginia overseas. Please be in prayer for our journey, and my knees on the airplanes. 

Another important area working toward racial reconciliation is that I have served at Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School in Richmond, where I worked for 5 years. I taught many subjects, but was mostly the chaplain for this wonderful school serving East End kids in Richmond, most students coming out of the housing projects on Church Hill. Vastly African-American in its student population, the school is also about living out our baptismal vows of serving Christ in all persons, loving neighbor as self, striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. The Episcopal Church should be about this work because every life matters, and black lives matter in particular. 

Now by using that phrase, some of you will bristle. All lives matter. Which is exactly what our baptismal vows say and most of you have promised to do. But think on it this way. All houses matter. All should be safe and protected. And that is why we have a fire department. When we have a fire, though, what would it look like if the home owners whose houses were not on fire demanded that they be sprayed down first to protect their property while the house on fire is being destroyed? BECAUSE ALL HOUSES MATTER, WE PUT OUT THE ONES ON FIRE FIRST. And the words, “All lives matter” can only be uttered from a place of privilege which shows that someone does not comprehend what is going on. 

As a straight, white male, there are many assumptions I am given. I receive the Benefit of the Doubt because of the color of my skin, my gender, my orientation. It is not fair. It is not right. Add to that my collar, and I am the beneficiary of much trust and privilege. We, as a society, are wrestling with so much of this now. Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and the fallout from Parkland. So much has happened in so small a space, but let that drive us further into the call for the respect and dignity of all God’s Children. [Sung] 
Red and Yellow, Black and White,  
they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.  
We have a long way to go. We have a lot of work to do. I want to be in on that. I want to be a part of making King’s Dream, and I believe God’s Dream, come more true each and every day. 

On May 10, you can help us take a step in that direction as we join with our brothers and sisters of Shiloh Baptist on South James Street for a joint worship service. May 10 at 7 p.m. Together we can come and celebrate our unity in Christ, and our unity in spirit and truth. Start praying for this today. Put it in your calendar if it is not already there. 

Students and parents, we are already preparing for our pilgrimage to start again in 2020, so if you are in 8th or 9th grade next year you can start thinking about going with us to Liverpool, around Virginia, and to Ghana over three summers. Exciting and big days getting us closer to that Dream of the Beloved Community.  

And lastly, I want to speak on Dreams. Dreams are the encapsulation of what we hold most dear. Dreams speak clearly to us what is the desire of our heart, and puts it in such a way that we can fully grasp it with all our senses. We can taste it, touch it, hear it, and see it. It is so real it can drive us even when it is hopeless and senseless. JFK’s Dream for America took us to the moon, even after he was dead. MLK’s Dream is still out there, drawing us more fully into the promise of this country, that which many have called the bright and shining city on the hill which echoes the words of Jesus himself. 

Never have the audacity to scorn someone’s dreams or dismiss them. That may be all they have. 

In today’s Genesis reading we have Joseph’s jealous brothers trying to squash the dreamer. They think of killing him to tear down his dreams. They eventually instead, to line their pockets, sell him into slavery. And in their deriding of him utter this haunting phrase, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” Little do they realize that the dream they tried to tear down, they insured that it came true, and God could be glorified in it. MLK often said, that the redemption of the African-Americans may well prove to be the salvation of the United States of America and that even in the horrors imposed on MLK and so many others during the Civil Rights movements, God could be glorified, much like in Joseph’s story. Imagine that, all the things that happened to MLK, and he wanted, prayed for, and marches for all our redemption and fullness in God. That was his Dream. Not just for himself or his children, but for us all. 

I hold that Dreamers are actually the prophets at times, speaking truth to us in ways that we need. God can speak to us in our dreams, and our dreamers can be those prophets who proclaim the truths we need to hear. 

We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams, Wandering by lone sea-breakers, And sitting by desolate streams;— World-losers and world-forsakers, On whom the pale moon gleams: Yet we are the movers and shakers Of the world for ever, it seems. 
-From “Ode” by Arthur O'Shaughnessy 

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a mover and shaker, and a dreamer of dreams. And his dream still resonates with me, and I hope for you as well. How can you further God’s Dream for the Kingdom by striving and sweating for the inclusion of all God’s Children into the Beloved Community? 

On the National Archives of this great nation we see these words carved into stone. It is taken from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest: 
What Is Past Is Prologue 
For that to be true, then together we have to write the future. May it be so. Amen. 

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Blessings, Rock