I am on the board of That All May Freely Serve, a national Presbyterian organization working for full inclusion of LGBT persons for ministry. In that capacity I am part of our board’s pastoral care team. We use an online ministerial presence with one another to create the spiritual support and presence ‘while we are absent one from another’ (Genesis 31:49). I offer my latest meditation and prayer to the board, wondering if in celebrating and honor Rev. Dr. King trying to answer the question, “Does Rev. Dr. King have a message for Us?
I am sitting here thinking about the sermon I am in the middle of processing for a Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock on Sunday, January 16, 2011. It is a sermon I am giving on behalf of the Poverty Initiative here at Union Theological Seminary. The Poverty Initiative’s mission says that “The Poverty Initiative is dedicated to raising up generations of religious and community leaders committed to building a movement to end poverty, led by the poor.” The sermon I am preparing is based on Rev. Dr. ML King’s speech “The Drum Major Instinct”. I’ve attached a link below.
Here is my reading for the day from that speech:
“I know a man—and I just want to talk about him a minute, and maybe you will discover who I’m talking about as I go down the way (Yeah) because he was a great one. And he just went about serving. He was born in an obscure village, (Yes, sir) the child of a poor peasant woman. And then he grew up in still another obscure village, where he worked as a carpenter until he was thirty years old. (Amen) Then for three years, he just got on his feet, and he was an itinerant preacher. And he went about doing some things. He didn’t have much. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. (Yes) He never owned a house. He never went to college. He never visited a big city. He never went two hundred miles from where he was born. He did none of the usual things that the world would associate with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.
He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. They called him a rabble-rouser. They called him a troublemaker. They said he was an agitator. (Glory to God) He practiced civil disobedience; he broke injunctions. And so he was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. And the irony of it all is that his friends turned him over to them. (Amen) One of his closest friends denied him. Another of his friends turned him over to his enemies. And while he was dying, the people who killed him gambled for his clothing, the only possession that he had in the world. (Lord help him) When he was dead he was buried in a borrowed tomb, through the pity of a friend….
I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)
I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that’s all I want to say.”
I share this text with you for a couple of reasons today. I share it to remind us that Christ always went against the grain of what others thought should remain the status quo. King did not say this to remind us the suffering we have to go through in order to fight for what’s right. He did it moreso to remind us that greatness is adjective that is assigned to us by others. Meaning, it doesn’t take greatness to make the change in the church we are making. It takes very real people, willing to humbly stand for what’s right, willing to speak up for injustices. And everyone of us are a part of what makes this church we serve “great”. You see others cannot defend the status quo of this church and it’s greatness without realizing that it is each person in it, each part of the body, is what makes up that greatness. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. The picture on the outside of the box is what we call “great,” but it is its pieces working together inside the box that make it so.
In all honesty, Dr. King’s attitude toward the work we do would have had to undergo some major shifting to get behind us. The leaders of the Civil Right’s movement relegated the openly gay man, Bayard Rustin-organizer/planner extraordinaire, to a behind the scenes piece of the legacy of the movement. It was fear of the government leaking Rustin’s sexuality that convinced King to take a part in this process. But in my heart, I do believe that King would have come around. I believe that King would have stood shoulder to shoulder with Rustin in solidarity. I believe that he would be able to finally stare Rustin in the eyes and say the words to him that mean so much for the work we do, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”*
That is a Jesus message if I ever heard one. That is the truth of the Good News we bring to our church. May we stand steadfast in the struggle.
I remember last fall, here in NYC we had these winds like you wouldn’t believe. One could barely walk down the street without having the wind blow you off balance for a second or two and sometimes you could barely walk against the wind without threat of being blown over. I remember looking out the window watching person after person walk up the wide boulevard, struggling to walk into the wind. From a less windy side street, I saw an older couple who I imagined to have been together for at least 50 years. Before they turned the corner onto the windier street they did something I will never forget. They turned and looked toward one another and then side by side they burrowed into each other. They turned the corner and walked straight into the wind together. Step after measured step, they held tight and walked unwaveringly through that wind. When they reached the deli their destination they stepped into the doorway and gave each other a quick kiss and went inside.
If we can continue to link arms and walk forward in the wind of opposition, we can cut through it, diffuse its power, and reach our destination. The winds died down that day. Be assured dear friends, that we can weather the storm. But remember to hold on to one another tightly. We have turned a corner and are out of the shadows of the church. That is why the winds of resistance have been so fierce upon us. Hold on…the deli is at the end of the corner for us too!
We serve a church that tries to care for the poor, the unloved, those devastated by war, the hungry, those who don’t have clothes on their backs. We are a church that seeks to love and serve humanity from Arkansas to Angola. But let us continue to remind this church and shine the the light on their shortsightedness. Let us continue to speak of our injustice here within the church as we minister to the world outside. Friends, let us remind ourselves, the church we serve and the world we are a part of that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Ashe and Amen.
Loving and most gracious God,
We come to you in thanksgiving because we have come so far. ’We’ve come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord. Trusting in Your holy word, we can’t turn around.’ Int his moment of renewed commitment to service in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Help us to cling to one another as we move along this journey we have undertaken. Help us to recognize our failings and our prejudices, the ones that hinder us from serving your church. Help us to remember as we fight our struggle, so that one day all of your children can be free, that our struggle is the struggle of the poor, those in prison, those with no food or clothes. As we get bogged down with the important work of strategizing, planning, organizing, claiming victories and mourning defeats–help us to remember that we are not just fighting our fight but we are fighting for injustice everywhere.
Bless this board, oh Lord. That we may hear and discern your will for us and in the work that we do. Bless the ones we love as they support us in this work. Help us to love those who would see us fail, those who would rather see us leave your church. Help us to maintain the truth of our ministry. We ask these things in our solitary prayers, but we ask them now collectively that you would bless this body with those virtues that you hold so dear.
We ask these and so many other blessings, we bring these concerns and so many others in our hearts to you. Thank you for giving us the courage through your grace. We thank you, oh God and give thanks in the name of Christ and the blessed communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen
*Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963
picture from Yahoo Pictures