Reasons for Hope – ML King Sunday



Pastor Rich Knight

Central Congregational Church

Gospel Music Sunday – MLK Holiday Weekend

Jan.14, 2018

Martin Luther King Weekend is a natural time to ask ourselves . . .

How are we doing when it comes to race relations in our country?

Which direction are we headed? How would you answer that question? Are you hopeful? Optimistic? Or are you not very hopeful at all? Are you quite pessimistic? Or are you some place in between?

(The congregation then held a very thoughtful discussion. Several folks commented that we’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got a long way to go.)

It’s hard to be extremely optimistic after this past week. It’s easy to be discouraged, especially after our president’s comments.  This is the first time I have ever mentioned Donald Trump in a sermon, and I’ve been preaching in this pulpit for over a year and a half. So this is out of the ordinary for me, but I believe that I would have no integrity at all if I preached on the subject of race relations and didn’t mention current events.

President’s Trump’s recent words disparaged entire countries and their citizens, using an incredibly crude phrase. And in case we couldn’t guess exactly what he meant and who he was degrading, he let us know by commenting that we need more people immigrating from Norway. (Thanks for clarifying)

Of course, these comments for Mr. Trump are not out of the ordinary.

Last June he stated that all Haitians coming to this country have AIDS.

He also said that all the Nigerians who come here stay because they don’t want to go back to their huts.

And of course there was the Charlottesville incident where he said that, “there are good people on both sides.

And we all know what he said about Mexicans at the very start of his campaign.

You know what I know about Mexicans? They’re concert pianists, they’re first-rate organists, they’re outstanding conductors, they’re string players, they’re sopranos and baritones and tenors. In fact, you could form an incredible orchestra here in the Boston area, made up entirely of Mexicans! That’s what I know about Mexicans! They’re beautiful children of God!

I want to talk about reasons for hope this morning. But first let me lay out the vision of Scripture: 

Genesis 1:26-27Then God said, Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness . . . So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

You’ve never looked at a person who wasn’t made in the image of God. Every human being is created as a reflection of the Creator.

Galatians 3:28   There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

St. Paul clearly lays out a vision of racial equality, gender equality and economic equality. He made the same point in his letter to the Colossians.

Colossians 3:11 . . . a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

The earliest Christians were known for their compassionate, welcoming treatment of the poor. Listen to how James, an important leader in the early church, puts it.

James 2:1-4My brothers and sisters, do not show prejudice if you possess faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

In the Old Testament the Israelites were to love the foreigners and strangers in their land.

Leviticus 19:33-34When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

Exodus 22:21 – Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.

1 John 3:15-16 – Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

1 John 2:11 – But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

That’s the vision of scripture. The one, holy God is the God of all people. Christianity itself is a religion that embodies this truth, because our faith is not confined to one ethnic group. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit taught us that the love of Jesus Christ, the love of God, is for all people, not just a few.

Let me share with you some reasons for hope, when it comes to the issue of racial equality and racial harmony.

#1. God never gives up on us. God will never give up on this world.

God would never write off our world the way the president’s comments wrote off whole countries. God would never say, “I’m done with Planet Earth. Let’s see what else we have here in the Milky Way.” No! The Holy Spirit will continue to inspire us all to live into God’s Vision.

#2. Our President’s Words have exposed the racism that still runs rampant in America, but shedding light on something helps diminish the darkness.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, Rev. Bernice King said recently, “Trump’s election could be a blessing in disguise. This is the opportunity for America to correct itself.”

I don’t know about you, but I feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of racially insensitive comments. But it’s a wake-up call to us all, that we can’t sit on the sidelines when it comes to these issues. We have to battle the prejudice within ourselves and strive to make a difference whenever and wherever we can. The stakes are high.

Pres. Trump said something interesting yesterday. In trying to defend his comments, he said he was only talking like many Americans talk behind closed doors. That’s actually quite helpful to know. It’s good to get that out in the open. We can then ask ourselves questions like – Is that who we are?  Is that the vision of America?

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

  • – James Baldwin, friend of Martin Luther King, Jr.

#3. The American Experiment is based on Racial & Ethnic Diversity and Equality, founded on the principle that “all men are created equal.”

I’ve been doing some extensive research on other countries in the world, and here’s what I’ve found: Most Italians are . . . Italian! Most Scots are . . . Scottish! And most Russians (are you ready?) . . . they’re Russian! But Americans don’t just come in one flavor! If America was a bowl of soup it wouldn’t have just one ingredient and be one color. It would be a melting pot.

Martin Luther King said this (July 1965): And I tell you this morning my friends, the reason we’ve got to solve this problem in America; because God somehow called America to do a special job for mankind and the world. Never before in the history of the world have so many racial groups and so many national backgrounds assembled together in one nation. And somehow, if we can’t solve the problem in America, then the world can’t solve the problem, because America is the world’s miniature.

The vision of America is so unique, beautiful and important, that I have to believe we’ll never stop trying to live out that vision.

#4. The “Me, Too” Movement gives me reason for hope when it comes to race relations & prejudice.

What we have witnessed in the past 4 months has been extraordinary. I believe it started a year ago when those women’s marches were held not just all over the country but all over the world. Some wondered what would come of that day? Would it have a lasting, empowering impact? And now we know. And that gives me hope when it comes to other struggles.

#5. Martin Luther King, Jr. was optimistic! 

Listen to King’s words:

Those of us who call on the name of Jesus Christ find something at the center of our faith which forever reminds us that God is on the side of truth and justice. Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumph of Easter. Evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a Cross, but that same Christ arose and split history into BC & AD, so that even the life of Caesar is dated by his name. Yes, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. So in Montgomery Alabama we can walk and never get weary, because we know there will be a great camp meeting in the Promised Land of peace and justice

Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. That will be a day, not of the white man, not of the black man; that will be a day of man as man.

This is from a speech of Dr. King’s that came to be called, “How Long, Not Long.”  (March 25,1965, at the conclusion of the march from Selma to Montgomery, AL, in support of voting rights for African-Americans) 

 “I know you are asking today, ‘How long will it take?’ I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because ‘truth crushed to earth will rise again.’ How long? Not long, because ‘no lie can live forever.’ How long? Not long, because ‘you shall reap what you sow. How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. How long? Not long, cause Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Coming of the Lord! He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. He has loosed the fateful lightening of his terrible swift sword. His truth is marching on. He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat. He is lifting up the hearts of man before his judgement seat. O, be swift my soul to answer him. Be jubilant my feet. Our God is marching on!”

Following the sermon we then shared the following responsive litany.

A Prayer Litany for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday 

Dr. King’s work reminds us: church and state must work together for the common good; laws must establish justice for all, but hearts must change for God’s Beloved Community to flourish.

We will do the work of justice for all; we will open our hearts to an ever-expanding vision of community.
We will trust the Spirit of God to guide and move us between the present and the anticipated Realm of Justice.

You are our God; be gracious to your children, for we cry out to you all day long.
Bring joy to the soul of your servants, for to you, O God, we lift up our souls.

Dr. King’s vision inspires us: “We are tied together in a single garment of destiny caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.”

We will work for a world where lives are enriched by difference; where people of different genders, races and sexual orientations work together in Shalom for the good of the whole. We will work for a nation where persons will be judged solely upon the content of their characters.

For you, O God, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you. Give ear, O God, to the prayers of the marginalized; listen to our supplications.

Dr. King’s words challenge us: “…injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

We will listen to the cries of the poor; we will stand in solidarity with those who suffer oppression; we will take as our own the hopes of all who long for full human life; we will create in our midst God’s Beloved Community with room for all, justice for all, joy for all, Shalom for all. We will listen to the voice of Christ, who stirs about liberating all minds, hearts and spirits.

In our days of trouble we call on you, for you will answer us. There is none like you, O God, nor are there any works like yours to the ends of the earth. Teach us your ways, O God, that we may walk in your goodness and truth.

Dr. King’s life inspires us:
“I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land…I still believe that someday we shall overcome.”

We will overcome because of our faith and trust in God. We will reach the goal laid before us without faltering.
We will never give up our hope for equality with one another. We will live Dr. King’s dream into our reality.

(Toward a Just and Beloved Community: Martin Luther King, Jr., Sunday was written by Rev. Dr. Bentley de Bardelaben, Minister for Racial Justice, Justice and Witness Ministries.)

We then sang, “We Shall Overcome,” the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.

We shall overcome, we shall overcome
We shall overcome some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We shall overcome some day

The Lord will see us through, the Lord will see us through
The lord will see us through some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
The Lord will see us some day

The truth shall make us free, the truth shall make us free
The truth shall make us free some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
The truth shall make us free some day

We shall live in peace, we shall live in peace
We shall live in peace some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We shall live in peace some day

The service ended with the choir singing this verse of “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.”

Will you decide now to follow Jesus?

Will you decide now to follow Jesus?

Will you decide now to follow Jesus?

No turning back. No turning back.

Combating prejudice and racism within ourselves and within our world is part of our discipleship. It’s part of following Jesus!

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