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Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday 2012

When I look back over the years of celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday here at Epiphany Church, I find it interesting to note how the design of this Sunday has changed. The first few years the service included Dr. Kingʼs voice, from tapes-- fragments of his speeches. Memorable and moving orations. We wanted, we needed to hear his words in his own voice. Then I remember we set up a large picture of him in the chancel and

surrounded it with flowers. It was as if we were having a memorial service designed like a funeral. Since then, we have added Kinte cloth vestments to honor the African heritage of all African-Americans. Now, 44 1/2 years after his death there is a magnificent monument in Washington, DC. Now every child in every school learns about his leadership and studies his speeches. With a national Martin Luther King holiday, he has become

for our children, like one of the “Founding Fathers.” Now we are becoming more and more aware of his lasting greatness and legacy. Now his words and his vision help to shape our own.  And in the future, he will continue to shape the lives and society of our children and their children.

When our days become dreary with low hovering clouds of despair,

and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights,

let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe,

working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil,

a power that is able to make a way out of no way

and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.

Let us realize...

the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

If Dr. King said nothing else but this, and followed these words with his leadership and actions in the civil rights movement in America, he would have earned a spot in the great progression of Godʼs prophets--those who have been given a deep understanding and knowledge of God in their own day, and accepted the task of speaking aloud, in word and action, that Godʼs will would be known. Itʼs risky business. Hearing and speaking

of Godʼs intentions to the powers of the world. Dr. King was given the task, and accepted it. To be the bearer of hope in a “world become dreary with low hovering clouds of despair” for a people and a nation whose time for renewal had come. King prepared for it, with years of education and involvement, graduate degrees and years of experience, but itʼs fair to say that he didnʼt choose it. God chose him. Throughout his ministry he struggled, he wrestled with Godʼs words, he listened, and he followed the best he could. He knew that his task was greater than he could accomplish

alone. He knew that he was swept up in the revelation of a truth that was unstoppable. He was only the instrument, the drum major, the servant of the Lord.

Dr. Thurman, Kingʼs mentor and chaplain to many of the movementʼs leaders, responded to the news of Kingʼs assassination on the radio that very night with this insight about Dr. King:

Perhaps the greatest contribution to our times, ... is not to be found in      his amazing charismatic power over masses of people. Nor is it to be found in his peculiar and challenging courage. ...Nor is it to be found in the gauntlet he threw down to challenge the inequalities and brutalities of ...people, but in something else. Always he spoke from within the context of his religious experience... And this indeed is his great contribution to our times. He was able to put at the center of his own personal religious experience a searching ethical awareness. ... Racial

prejudice, segregation, discrimination were not regarded by him as           un-American, undemocratic [or any other socio-economic argument],             but as a mortal sin against God.

King elevated the vision of human rights and dignity from the temporal world of right and wrong, to a level that could not be rejected, to the level of Godʼs will and meaning for life. And his success, Kingʼs success, is measured in those terms. Loving oneʼs enemies is not a political means to an end, but is a divine commandment. It is the way we are to live. Racial equality and justice is not a means to an end, but a divine commandment.   It is the way we are to live. For those who were able to hear what King was saying, to embrace the profound consequences of living Godʼs truth--they might have heard the buried within those words,

You ainʼt heard nothing yet!

Godʼs truth is unstoppable. Godʼs words create heaven and earth...mountains and rivers, the sun and the moon and the stars. Even you and me. When God speaks, and there is someone who will listen, itʼs only a matter of time! Once Godʼs truth has been revealed, there is a movement of such magnitude, that repercussions are felt around the world. Itʼs not our own doing, but Godʼs!

You ainʼt heard nothing yet!

Iʼll get back to the origin of that quote in a minute....                                  Last Friday night I saw a production of Hairspray at Signature Theater in DC. The stage production is an adaptation of a John Waters’ film about facing racial segregation set in the 60ʼs in Baltimore. At the end of the

show Tracy and the troupe sing a chant of hope in the face of what seems like overwhelming odds as they break the racial barrier on national dance-TV.

ʻCause you canʼt stop the motion of the ocean

Or the sun in the sky.

You can wonder if you wanna,

but I never ask why.

You canʼt stop the motion of the ocean...or the sun in the sky.

It’s a thrilling song! An unstoppable beat! Thatʼs what a social movement feels like!

Do you know what where the first words spoken in The Jazz Singer, the first full length feature film with sound? The film begins with the usual subtitles and then the central character, Jack Robin literally spoke the silence with these words:

Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ainʼt heard nothinʼ yet.

Wait a minute I tell ya, you ainʼt heard nothingʼ.

You wanna hear...? ... In the third chorus,

I whistle. Now give it to ʻem hard and heavy.

Go right ahead.

Thereʼs no turning back. The silence was broken. Change was inevitable, unstoppable.  You canʼt stop the motion of the ocean! And,  You ainʼt heard nothing yet!

Look at the Gospel reading today. It appears to be a simple story about Jesus gathering his disciples. But Jesus says to Nathanael, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?” You will see greater things that these.” This is the recounting of a thrilling call. An unstoppable beat! You ainʼt heard nothinʼ yet! Mark’s Gospels shows us the beginning moments of a great social, worldwide movement. You canʼt stop the

motion of the ocean! Or the sun in the sky! These are words of hope. Inevitable words of hope to a people under hovering clouds of despair. Divine words of hope move mountains! Divine words of hope are still

working to pull down the gigantic mountains

of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way

and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.

Look at the wonderful story of the prophet Samuel. We are told that as a boy, Samuel did not yet know the Lord. Yet he heard his voice. He was a young boy, serving in the temple. His mother Hanna had been barren and asked God for a child. She bore Samuel and gave him up to the service of God. In this delightful story we witness the first time that the young boy, who would grow up to be a great prophet, ...we witness the first time he is able to hear Godʼs voice. “Samuel, Samuel.” And he answered, “Here I

am Lord. Speak for your servant is listening.” And the Lord spoke. Samuel listened for the rest of his life. But,

You ainʼt heard nothing yet!

To celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday, is to celebrate the fact that we, in our generation have heard the Word of God! We have seen and been part of a great social movement, greater than ourselves! And because of this fact, we know that God is still present with us! The Word of God didnʼt start here, but the Word of God has been heard in this land. And through us, even in spite of us, an unstoppable movement was begun.

You canʼt stop the motion of the ocean, or the sun in the sky!

On a day such as this, let us praise God that we, in our generation, have been found worthy of such a high calling! God is with us! God is working through us! Let us realize [and rejoice, that]

...the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

The Reverend Dr. Phebe L. McPherson

January 15, 2012