Monday, January 18, 2021

A sermon about Martin Luther King Jr.

(I preached this years ago--but, unfortunately, it still rings true.)

1/14/07—Cana and King



Listen to the Promise of God from today’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah: “You shall no more be termed FORSAKEN…but you shall be called MY DELIGHT IS IN HER…for the Lord delights in you….”


      “There’s a lack of something there.” That’s a saying I remember from my childhood. I don’t know if it’s a regionalism or just something people in my family would say—but I grew up hearing the term a lack.

      My grandmother would ask me to taste something she was cooking and say, “Jimmy, tell me if this has a lack of salt….”

      My uncle Del, the auto mechanic, would listen to a car motor that wasn’t running smoothly and say, “there’s a lack of something there.”

      My uncle Russell, who ran the grocery store, would look over the receipt from a delivery of meat or canned goods and say, ‘we’ve got a lack of two boxes of green beans.”

      A LACK is something missing, not there, needed, required. Having a lack meant something had to be done, corrections must be made, action must be taken.

      So at the wedding in Cana, a small town in the hills above Nazareth, Mary comes to Jesus and says to him, “Jesus, there’s a lack of wine. Do something about it.”


      And when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King looked around at the society he was living in, he recognized that there was a lack of ‘freedom’ and a lack of equality and a lack of justice. Dr. King realized someone had to DO SOMETHING to supply ‘what was lacking’—to provide freedom and justice and equality where there was a lack of it all.


      The thing I love about the story from John of Jesus’ first miracle is how terribly human Jesus’ initial reaction was to the lack of wine. Trying to recognize and define WHO JESUS WAS consumed the first four centuries of Christian history. That argument revolved around trying to determine how the balance the ‘human’ nature and the ‘divine’ nature of Jesus. There’s a fancy name for the conversation about the identity of Jesus—theologians call it “Christology”. And the struggle with “Christology” goes on even today. Was he God? Was he a human being? What is the nature of Jesus’ identity?

      More often than not, it seems to me, we tend to come down on the side of ‘divinity’ and short-change the ‘humanity’ of Jesus. But in today’s gospel story, Jesus’ human nature is writ large in capital letters.

      When Mary tells him there’s “a lack of wine”, he reacts in the way most every son sometimes reacts to his mother—with petulance and impatience.

      “Why are you bothering me about this, Mom?” he asks. “Can’t you just leave me alone with my friends?”

      Then, in my imagination, Mary gave Jesus one of those withering looks only a mother can give a son. Just that look—then she walks away.

      Jesus must have shrugged his oh-so-human shoulders and rolled his oh-so-human eyes, taken a deep breath and said, “O…K…., let’s make some wine….”


      The human side of Jesus shows itself clearly here. Because, like all of us human beings, when ‘a lack’ is pointed out, we want someone else to handle it. We don’t want to be bothered. It’s too much work and will take too much commitment and energy. And sometimes, trying to fill ‘a lack’ is dangerous.

      It was no different with Jesus. And it was certainly no different with Martin Luther King. Dr. King was a successful clergyman. He had a family to worry about. He had his own life to lead. So, when he realized there was ‘a lack’ of freedom and justice and equality, he initially resisted the work God had given him to do. He agonized over it, prayed that ‘the cup’ might pass him by, tried to avoid ‘getting involved’ and waited for someone else to act—to step into the breach, to be the ‘leader’, to take on the task of turning the water of injustice into the wine of freedom.

      And that is what I admire most about the life of Martin Luther King—that he was so terribly HUMAN—filled with all the anxiety and reluctance we are all filled with—and yet God would not leave him alone and he stepped into midst of a crusade for freedom that would cost him his life.

      It was this simple, this is how it happened. A woman named Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, where King was a pastor. It was like Rosa Parks said to Dr. King—just as Mary said to Jesus—‘there’s a lack here, Martin.’

      All the rest is history.

      However, any celebration of the courage and astonishing work of Dr. King must stop short of unbridled jubilation. The work he began is not over. The ‘lack’ he sought to meet is far from fulfilled.

      *African Americans still do not share equally in the freedom and wealth and abundance of our country.

      *neither do Hispanics and Latinos…

      *neither do women of whatever race or ethnicity….

      *neither do gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people….

      *neither do disabled Americans.

    *and many people and children...children go hungry each day.

      There are many in our midst who are still called “Forsaken”. There are many for whom freedom and equality and justice are still a ‘dream’. And that dream, the dream of Martin Luther King, can only be fulfilled through the courage and commitment of human beings.

      It is the humanity of Christ and the humanity of Dr. King that can inspire us to dream dreams and to give ourselves to make those dreams realities.

      Like Dr. King, I have a dream. I dream of the Promise of God for all people: “You shall no longer be termed Forsaken…but you shall be called My Delight Is In Her…for the Lord delights in you….”


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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.