Sunday, January 15, 2012


First of all I’d like to thank you for coming out to the celebration today. The weathermen predicted an inch of slushy snow. So thank you for making the effort.

Thirty-one years ago today it was snowing in Washington, D.C. It was a light snow falling gently through a gray sky. A colleague and I were walking across the Mall at lunch time and past the Washington Monument we came upon a small gathering – small by National Mall standards.

There were thirty or forty thousand people standing in the snow, listening to Elihu Harris and other representatives from Congress, to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., and to remind us what he meant to our nation and the world.

Stevie Wonder was there and sang a new song, Happy Birthday to Martin, written for the occasion. We can still sing the song – and now we have a holiday – Martin Luther King Day.

But why talk about Martin on a snowy day in Edmonds, Washington, thirty-one years later?

The gospel reading after all is about the calling of Jesus’ first disciples … and that is why!

Nathanael was the quietly faithful one – we next hear his name in the accounts of the Resurrection. Philip is the one who broke the news of the Messiah to the nations, by teaching the Ethiopian eunuch, the vizier of the kingdom of Meroe, all about Jesus, and baptizing him then and there. For all we know that Ethiopian, who went on his way rejoicing, was the first to bring the gospel to Africa. Well done, Philip. Good and faithful, Nathanael.

What does this have to do with Martin – and me?

Well, in 1955 Martin was a fairly successful person, who had recently taken a pretty good job at a nice church in Montgomery, Alabama. May be the disciples Philip and Nathanael had pretty good lives too. But they seemed to be searching for something – or someone – more. So – “we have found the one – the one we have been searching for.”

I suspect Martin was searching for something too. And it found him!

Rosa Parks in 1955 was a nice churchgoing lady who rode the bus to work, and home again at the end of the day. If you have ever been sitting on a crowded bus late in the evening, ready to go home, when one of these ladies comes down the aisle looking for a place to rest her feet, you know what tired looks like.

But back then, in Montgomery, Alabama, you had to move to the rear of the bus unless you were white. And if you weren’t white, and a white person wanted your seat, you had to get up and give it to them.

But this time, in December 1955, something happened.

Mrs. Parks sat down. She sat down in the front part of the bus. Even though she was black.

The driver told her to move. A white person wanted her seat. She did not get up.

Soon it was all over town.

“Every body can sit any where on the bus – or we won’t be on it at all.”

This caused some consternation – throughout the community.

And Martin Luther King, as a respected local pastor, was asked to speak – to say why. Why justice needs to roll down like a river just as much as buses need to roll down the street.

Since that day things began to change – for Martin, who was called to something more than Sunday-morning piety, more than success, to preach good news to the poor and justice to the mistreated.

And things began to change – for the people of Alabama – and for us, too.

What had happened? Martin had stood in his pulpit in front of the church facing his congregation. But now he and his church were facing outward – toward the world, where they were needed, where their witness was needed: their hearts, their hands, their faith, their prayers, their walk with the Lord hand in hand with the people of their city.

Like Philip and Nathanael, we seek something more, we are called to something more, than simply to be “Israelites” of no guile.

Like Martin we are called to something greater than our own success.

Even – like Rosa we are called to put aside our own quiet life – and join something larger. We call it the Kingdom of God.

What is the Kingdom of God to look like here? How will we seek it?

No comments: