Sermon for Epiphany 2, Year C January 20, 2019

Isaiah 62:1-5                       Psalm 36:5-10                                    1 Corinthians 12:1-11                      John 2:1-11

As I began to reflect of this Sunday’s lessons, remembering tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I wondered if he referenced any of today’s scriptures in his speeches.  If he did, they were not among what were considered his key speeches readily available on the internet.  His speeches were filled, however, with references to the bible and its call for justice, love, and even forgiveness.

Today’s passage from Isaiah, is one that reminds me of the cry for justice that rang out in his speeches:

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,

until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.

The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;

Isaiah writes this just before the people of Israel return from exile to Jerusalem, their holy city.

“For Zion’s sake, I will not keep silent.”  For the prophet Isaiah, this meant he would not keep silent until the people of Israel were once again in their Holy City of Jerusalem.  In my mind, I can hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., say this and mean he will not silent until his dream comes true.  His dream that, “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

When I was a child, my family went to Atlanta to attend my brother’s graduation from seminary.  My father, a man inspired by Dr. King, drove us to the church where King had served, in hopes of going inside.  The church was locked, and as he was about to get back into the car a man asked if he could help us.  That man was Martin Luther King, Sr.  I didn’t know a lot about the Civil Rights Movement, but I did know I had witnessed a sacred moment for my father. Something in my father’s voice, when he told us who the man was he had spoken with, made a lasting impression on me. From that time forward, I have always felt a connection to Dr. King and what he stood for. I did not understand why that moment was so important then – I just knew that my dad, talking with his dad, was a big deal.  Some things we experience as children don’t make sense until later, much later.

As a grew up, I learned of the risks my father had taken throughout his life and ministry to help break down the barriers that divide us by race.  By example, my father taught me to internalize King’s dream.

King’s vision of the world and Isaiah’s vision are not that different, in my opinion.  God’s vision, which Isaiah proclaimed, was that Jerusalem would become a light to draw others to God.        We read the book of Isaiah with Jesus in mind and Jesus did come to lead all people to God, Jews and Gentiles – or as the song says, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.”  King’s dream hasn’t been fully realized, Christ’s work is not yet complete, so it is important that we not think it is time to rest.

Laws have changed, but not all people have changed their attitudes and discrimination continues.  Fighting discrimination for many of us today is more challenging, because we are sometimes unknowing participants.  I know that growing up in the South, I heard and ignored more racial slurs than I care to remember.  Unfortunately, growing a deaf ear to such comments makes me a participate.  Isaiah said, “For Zion’s sake, I will not keep silent.”  Zion represents the ideal, the world in which people are judged by the strength of their character, not the color of their skin or their nationality.  Keeping silent does not lead to change – and I know I have been guilty of keeping silent far too many times.

In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth he says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  He goes on to say:

To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit.

These are the gifts that help us come together as the Body of Christ – wisdom, knowledge and faith.

We have all been given gifts of the spirit and, if we do not share the gifts we have received, we are not doing our part to bring about changes that are needed to make this a stronger parish, a better community, and a more just world.

In the Episcopal Church, I believe we made progress when we quit talking about our work as “anti-racism” and began to talk of racial reconciliation. Much of King’s work was to focus our attention on his vision of a more just nation.  He did so by using the gifts of the spirit – gifts that are not anti-anything.  The gifts of the spirit are FOR something, they are for building God’s kingdom here on earth – as it is in heaven.  A kingdom which is built on love.

We do this by filling our hearts with grace and our souls with love as Dr. King said, “Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service…You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”  He also said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend.”

I will close with prayer Dr. King prayed. Let us pray.

“Use me, God. Show me how to take who I am, who I want to be, and what I can do, and use it for a purpose greater than myself.”  Amen.