1.19.20 Sermon at St. PJ’s New Haven

Sunday Sermon Series

May these words glorify God and build unity in the human family – amen.

Everybody wants to know the juice. The skinny. The tea. The 411. The gossip. The scoop, the grace notes. ((Ask for other slang)). There’s a part of me that hates that I love to know it too. I think because tabloid talk tends to distract me from from timeless wisdom. From God talk. As if there’s power in feeling like I have a little more reality in my pocket than the next person. As if it might make me a little more righteous or a little more impenetrable from the dangers and uncertainties of life. What I’ve come to learn and try to practice, and what I think John the Baptist knew well as a prophet of God goes something like this: She/He/They who haveth the juice, must serveth the thirst. Similar to the Peter Parker, or Spider-Man principle: With great power comes great responsibility.

Last month in advent we got to know the story of John the Baptist well. John’s prophetic knowledge and faith and actions ultimately leave him imprisoned, and killed. But as we find out last week, not before baptizing the son of God! On this second week of Epiphany, the Gospel tells us that John had to announce not once, but two times that Jesus was in fact the lamb of God, the messiah, or anointed one. They made Jesus circle back a second day, where John gives his two disciples the extra nudge they needed to get up and follow their new teacher. Talk about embracing the role of 2nd place.My faith life is defined by the need for at least a second nudge from God. A relatable offense.

What I love about the season of Epiphany is we are encouraged through scripture to reflect, and look for the ways Jesus is showing up in our own lives. Last week’s baptism of Ava and Aiden was a beautiful physical and symbolic example. I was struck today by the line in Isaiah “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.” In a world that feels like it’s been constructed to generate and reinforce feelings of inadequacy and fear through strategic product placement based on keyword search algorithms, this eternal naming of God feels like a divine reminder. We are sealed as God’s own first.

In our reading of 1st Corinthians Paul writes “just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you– so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” To me this says, God already gave us the juice! And God gave it to us in the easiest way for us to understand – through the very human Jesus. John and Paul commit themselves to the world, giving their lives to point us toward Jesus.

Tomorrow we have the opportunity to reflect, honor, and celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One of the great prophet’s of the 20th century. On Thursday I had the opportunity of seeing Dr. Angela Davis reflect on his life and the beauty, pain, and power of the Black freedom struggle. She reminded the audience that it wasn’t until 1983 that MLK day was commemorated in this country as a federal holiday. Not until 1986 until it was first celebrated. And not until just 20 years ago in the year 2000 that all 50 states recognized this federal holiday. And the fight goes on. That made history much more tangible and somber for us millennials and Gen Z’ers in the crowd.

The best way I can think to honor Martin Luther King Jr might be to read aloud an excerpt from his Letter From Birmingham Jail. This was a piece I first read in high school, and read again the summer before I came here for divinity school. That summer I remember thinking the best way to prepare for school would be to read modern prophetic voices so I could build confidence in my own – so it was a summer of Martin Luther King Jr, Oscar Romero of El Salvador, and Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement. Letter From Birmingham Jail feels most applicable today both because it is a letter addressed to white clergy, which may or may not be in my own future, and also because it prevents the modern tendency of white america to sanitize and co-opt the life, and liberation struggle of Martin Luther King and African Americans then, and now.

[Read the letter]—————————————————————————

As I reflect on this letter, and our upcoming meditation for reparations service set to launch at the end of this month, I can’t help but think that those of us who are white are called not only to honor and stand in solidarity with the black freedom struggle, but also reckon with the reality of the oppression that still lives within us – in our collective history as a lineage of oppressors. A history that may not be my fault, necessarily, but is my responsibility to internalize. In reading this, I can’t help but feel like Martin Luther King Jr. is writing to me just as he wrote to these 8 clergymen and bishops – casting out my inner white moderate, which has been socialized, and programmed by the dominant culture of fear, and projection, calling me to stand in solidarity for equity and liberation in education, employment, housing, healthcare, an end to the prison, and military industrial complex, and so much more. As Dr. King argues “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

So while I don’t think that most of us are called to prophetic extremes and martyrdom, Martin Luther King Jr. day certainly leaves me to wrestle with the uncomfortable question: Am I doing what I can, with what I have to resist, fight oppression, and stand in solidarity with the oppressed? Do I stand with Black America? Because this, to me, is the difficult, and uncompromising story of what it means to follow who John the Baptist knows in his heart to be, the Lamb of God.

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