"then wilt thou not be loath to leave this Paradise, but shalt possess a paradise within thee, happier far. Let us descend now therefore from this top of speculation; for the hour precise exacts our parting hence" Paradise Lost, Book XII, lines585-590

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

MLK Sermon

This is the text of my sermon delivered this morning at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in honor of Dr King.  Our reading was Ephesians 6:10-20.

icon by Tobias Haller
There is some debate over who wrote Ephesians
as well as debate over whether it was actually meant for the church in Ephesus or not. 

But, whatever the specificity of the original context, it seems clear to me that Ephesians is marking a turning point in the thinking of the early Church.

Christ’s imminent return drove the fervor of the early apostles,
but, in Ephesians, is beginning to be seen as not an event to be looked for on every cloudy day.

Rather, it is something whose occurrence may be in some far future. 
Here, we begin to see the Church settling in for the long haul and
turning its focus away from a kind of ascetic preparation for the eschaton and
towards a sober reflection on the infusion of Christ into the mundane affairs of daily life.

We are reassured that Christians are involved in the unfolding of God’s mystery, God’s plan of reconciliation and
that the vehicle of God’s reconciliation is to be the Church’s witness to Christ’s passion with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Two thousand years of waiting later,
I wonder to what extent we can possibly understand the deflation
and doubt
that surely crept its way through the church as the first generation of believers died. 

Surely they wondered,
could Jesus’ promise of return been wrong? 

How much longer Lord, how much longer?

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Day,
and the night before he was murdered,
Dr King gave a speech
where he talked about how he had narrowly avoided death several years before when he was stabbed in the chest in a New York City bookstore. 

He ended that speech by saying this;
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen 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!

Just as in Ephesians,
the people whom Dr King was addressing were anxious about promises still unfulfilled.

we remember Dr King as a great man
and a national prophet,

but on the day he was murdered, we should remember that many people were impatient with non-violent protest and civil disobedience. 

Violent Revolution was on the minds of
many who proclaimed
that only bloodshed could cleanse the nation of the sins of racist oppression. 

Their answer to the question, how much longer, was… not much, not tomorrow but today.

Righteous anger and the desire to inflict justice on the corrupted and debased is a natural inclination. 
It is only human to seethe at injustice.

And that it is so, so should be a warning to us.  For as it says in today’s reading;
“our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness”

Ephesians speaks of standing up against the wiles of the devil,
and it may not be especially popular here,
but I want you to know that I believe there is a force loose in the universe,
a power,
a will ……opposed to God. 

And that that power, however you name it,
is deeply insinuated into humanity such that, try as we might,
all our systems
and governments
and organizations,
all of our creations are tainted by it.

The struggle for justice has expanded greatly since Martin Luther King, Jr died. 

Prophetic voices still challenge our self-understanding
and our identity as a people. 

Our churches are mired in conflicts over the inclusion of homosexual persons in the full life of the church,
and more recently,
our churches have struggled to find their voice in the conflict over economic justice.

Those engaged on the front lines of struggle

and those whose lives have been spent in waiting also ask,
how much longer Lord, how much longer? 

People on different sides of these arguments, driven by their own sense of right-ness, withdraw to their own corners,
defying the unity of the body of Christ.

Our impatience,
our need to ask how much longer,
shows both our yearning desire to see God’s reconciliation
and our willingness to forgo God and implement our own solutions.

How much longer?

It is not now and will never be in our power to answer that question. 

We humans are confronted and bedeviled with systemic evils that thwart God’s desires
and God’s will for us, that we would be reconciled to one another
and to God. 

But Ephesians and Dr King remind us that we are in this for the long haul,

that we in the church are participants not only in a struggle here on earth, but also in a cosmic one that transcends our understanding.

What are we to do then?  
Are we to silently accept the injustices of the world and just wait for God?

Not exactly,
because the incarnation means,
I’m pretty sure,
that God intends that we, God and us, should stand against injustice together. 

It is not just the death of Jesus that lays claim to us
but the life of Jesus as well,
the example of Jesus’ ministry and the lessons of Jesus’ teachings. 

And the life of Jesus says that we are not to ignore injustice,
not to ignore oppression
and not to ignore suffering. 

God has solutions for these problems,
for all the problems of the world in fact,

but those solutions can’t be implemented at the point of a sword or with the barrel of a gun. 

Nor can they be implemented with hateful words or vindictive rhetoric.

But only with the armaments that God has given us,
the Gospel,
the Holy Spirit
and the Word, which is Christ.

God is delivering God’s people from the powers of fear, death, violence and injustice

and we are to be the witnesses to these things.

Dr King said;
the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

“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.

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