Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 18, 2009

2009.01.18 “Answering the Call”

Answering the Call

 

Today marks the beginning of a historic week for our country.  This is the Sunday before the day that we honor the birth of  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr AND the week that the inauguration is going to be held for the first African American president elected under the current Constitution of the United States, Barack Obama. I qualify that because the first man to govern the United States of America under the Articles of Confederation in 1781was also black man, John Hanson.  Technically they called him a “Moor”.  If you look up the word “Moor” you’ll find:

====================================================== Moor Pronunciation: \ˈmu̇r\   Function: noun   Date: 14th century

1 : one of the Arab and Berber conquerors of Spain 2 : berber

======================================================

 Ber·ber   ronunciation: \ˈbər-bər\  Function: noun   Date: 1732

1: a member of any of various peoples living in northern Africa west of Tripoli.

I think that I’m pretty safe in saying that he had dark skin. 

When Pastor asked me about speaking today – I felt honored and very excited to do it, yet when I was working on writing what I wanted to say – I had a very difficult time.  I struggled with it all week, asking myself – “why is this sooo hard?  I’m a writer – why am I having such a difficult time with this”? Finally, Friday morning – the blinders came off and I was able to see what the problem was.  I had been very dutiful and went to the United Methodist website that Pastor had given me to use as a resource and a place to get references about Dr. King, but it finally hit me – the stuff I was writing was strictly from my head – not my heart.

The first scripture Barb read related the experience of the boy Samuel being called by the Lord into active service.  Can you imagine being a young kid and hearing voices – a clear and distinct voice in the night, calling your name?  So clear that you get up, run into the next room to your master saying, “here I am, you called me.”  And having that master say, not once, but two times – “I didn’t call you.  Then finally him telling you to : “Listen and the next time you’re called, say “speak Lord, for your servant is listening” .

Would you do that?

In John we read about Jesus calling Philip and Nathanael into discipleship.  In Matthew 4:18-22,  we’re told of Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John who were asked  to leave behind their families, their jobs, their friends – everything familiar to them, to follow Jesus – a man that they know little about except the fact that they hope that he is their long-awaited Messiah.  There was no concrete proof and all around them was dissension and doubt about who or what Jesus was. When Nathanael said “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”.  It was the equivalent of saying. “Southside Chicago – can anything good come from there? The deep south in the U.S.  – can anything good come from there?”  Nazareth was “the Hood” of Jesus’ day.  He was stereotyping Jesus!

They didn’t have the benefit of seeing into the future so they were basing their beliefs on faith and their hope for a better future and eternal salvation being given to them through Jesus Christ by his father – Almighty GOD.   A God that Jesus told them said they “should love thy neighbor as themselves” and “To do unto others as you will have them do unto you”.

Can you imagine giving up everything that you know and love to follow someone who is a political and religious dissenter, a rebel, so to speak?  That’s what Jesus was.  Read John 2:12 – 16.  He physically threw the money changers and men selling livestock out of the temple. Overturned their tables and scattered their money –  threw them out. That’s not a passive action.  He challenged political and religious leaders. Read Matthew 12:1-14 for examples.  Verse 14 ends with the Pharisees plotting how they might kill him. {Who were the Pharisees?}  

An ancient Jewish sect that emphasized strict interpretation and observance of the Mosaic law in both its oral and written form. In the New Testament the Pharisees appear as Jesus’ most vocal critics. Their insistence on ritual observance of the letter rather than the spirit of the law evoked strong denunciation by Jesus; he called them “white washed tombs” (Matt. 23:27) and self – righteous lovers of display (Matt. 6:1 – 6, 16 – 18).  
     

He questioned their authority and their knowledge and was not shy about doing so.  Was he radical for their time?  I think so.  Jesus went against the grain of everything that these men, these future disciples, believed and had been taught all their lives.

Can you imagine making this kind of a decision? “Give up your job, leave your family, let someone else bury your dead father.  You come and follow me”.

Would you do that?

What if you didn’t have a choice?  What if you were just out making a run to the grocery store or on your way to pick up your kids from school and all of a sudden – someone stops you and says ‘you have to come with me and we are leaving right now.  I can’t tell you where you are going yet, but you must go with me or risk losing your life.  No time to pack, no time to say goodbye, no idea where you’re headed……Can you imagine that scene?

Well, fast forward a few thousand years – that is the reality of my ancestors. Forced against their will to leave their loved ones and homes and come to a country that they didn’t know, a language they couldn’t speak, to answer to a name that their parents didn’t give them, to work land that they would never own, to harvest crops that were not theirs.  THAT was their reality.  There was no promise of salvation or hope for a good and happy life.  It was the closest thing to a ‘living hell’ for those that fell victim to slavery. 

Just as being called as a disciple was a life-changing event for those Jesus summoned and the generations of their family that followed, being captured and sold into slavery affected the men, women and children that were abducted and brought to the United States to provide slave labor.  This drastically changed their lives and the lives of their descendants.  They lost their heritage, their history and their sense of family.

We know America as a place where you supposedly “could pull yourself up by your bootstraps”, but what if you didn’t have boots or shoes – period! You couldn’t earn money to buy’ em and even if you managed to get a few pennies, you weren’t allowed in the stores to spend them.  Your entire life and livelihood was controlled by someone else who had the power of life and death over you.  What would YOU do? ….  Ponder that and the long term affect that this type of life might have on you and your family as we fast forward again a few hundred years to our generation, our time, our lives.

I grew up like most of you probably, being taught in church what the Bible says about loving one another. How we should love GOD with all our heart and love our neighbors as ourselves. Yet – I couldn’t worship in that church with some of my Christian brothers and sisters because they were white and the law forbade us meeting together, so we’d have to attend an identical service that began when theirs ended – in the same facility!  We had our “fellowship” in the hallway or on the stairs on our way in and their way out. 

Would you do that? Would you accept that as your reality?  My guess is probably not!

You would not have been alone.  One individual that I’m sure would have been there with you is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King was a Southern Baptist minister, an author and undoubtedly one of the most effective civil rights leaders in this nation’s history.  He preached universal love and brotherhood for his fellowman.  He became a symbol not only of the civil rights movement, but of America itself: a symbol of a land where people of all races, creeds and nationalities could live together in harmony.  

The resource book had all of the historical stuff about Dr. King – his accomplishments, his work as a minister and as this country’s greatest civil rights leader.  It talked about his impact upon our country and the world. But – what I want to talk about today is the Martin that I learned about during my lifetime.   The Martin that answered the call that GOD put on his life so that all of us would have an opportunity for a better life and a better future.  You can read the book yourself.  It’s in the library – that’s where I got it from.  “Martin and Malcolm and America: A Dream or a Nightmare”by James H. Cone..

I want to talk about the Martin Luther King, Jr.  that grew up in my home state of GA;  grew up in Atlanta – where I lived for 24 years.  GA is known as the “Peach State”.  Life there was not always “peachy’, especially during the time that Martin was born and grew up there and Dr. King was not always the “dreamer” that we now recognize him to be. 

Home and church were the most important influences upon his early life   He grew up in a stable, middle class home with his father, Martin Luther King, Sr, and his mother, Alberta King.  His father came from humble beginnings. He rose from being the son of a poor sharecropper in Stockbridge, GA to become a major force in Atlanta’s black community.  Martin, Sr. succeeded his father –in –law, A.D. Williams as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church where he grew the membership to over four thousand.  He became an influential businessman and a prominent citizen in the Atlanta community.

If  Dr. King had followed in the exact footsteps of his father, we may not necessarily know him today as the father of the non-violent protest movement.  Daddy King refused to be ridiculed or belittled even in the days when it was dangerous for a black male to assert his rights as a man.

Daddy King, as he was affectionately called provided for young Martin’s material, educational and religious need, but he could not provide him an environment free of racism.  He couldn’t protect him from the ugly manifestations of segregation.  When he was 6 years old, young Martin had his first significant experience with race and he never forgot it.  The father of a white friend told him that they could no longer play together because he was “colored”.  He didn’t understand what the problem was – he just knew that he was sad that he couldn’t play with his friend, so he went home and told his parents.  They sat him down and calmly explained to him the “facts of life” about the color problem in America.  His initial response was anger and resentment, but his parents also reminded him that it was his Christian duty to love everyone, regardless of race. Regardless of how they treated him

Would you do that?

Martin observed that his father did not “turn the other cheek” to inequality and injustice.  Daddy King often proclaimed that, “when I stand up, I want everyone to know that a man is standing there.  There was one occasion when Martin was riding in the car with his father.  A  policemen stopped them and said, “Boy, show me your license”.  Daddy King shot back, “that’s a boy there, pointing to young Martin.  I’m a man.  I’m Reverend King.”  This was just one of the many instances where Martin saw his father stand up for what he believed in despite the possibility of being harmed.  

Young Martin was slowly starting to grasp what it meant to be born a black man in a white dominated world.  Some of the experiences that he had made him deeply angry and resentful, but he didn’t let those experiences override the Christian values that he learned at home and at church.  Church was like a “second home” for Martin. He experienced a community of worship at Ebenezer.  The spirituality of the Black church was deeply planted in his being and it grew to be the sustaining force in his life – but- he did not answer the call right away.

He grew up in church and had an inner urge to enter the ministry during high school, but his exposure to modern thinking at Morehouse College created many doubts in his mind about the truth value of religion in a scientific world.   He was an exceptional student and had been skipped three grades in high school.  As a result, he was only 15 years old when he was admitted to Morehouse College.  

He found that the critical discourse of the secular disciplines seemed to conflict with the claims of religion. Anyone that has ever taken a critical thinking class can probably relate to this.  Martin actually said that “he had doubts that religion was intellectually respectable”. He was even somewhat embarrassed by the emotionalism of  Negro religion.  That was why he initially rejected the ministry as a vocation and wanted to become a doctor and later a lawyer.  However, he was convinced by Dr. Benjamin Mays, then president of Morehouse and George Kelsey, Morehouse professor of religion that the ministry could be socially relevant and intellectually stimulating. Part of his broader education too was learning that racism was not primarily personal, but structural and thus linked to the political economy of capitalism

So, in 1947 at the end of his junior year in college Martin decided to answer his call and enter the ministry. He was eighteen years old.  A year later he was ordained. Unlike other Baptist ministers, he said his call “was not miraculous or supernatural something”, but an inner urge calling me to serve humanity”.  

Martin graduated from Morehouse and went on to attend Crozer Seminary in Chester, PA in 1948.  Like most blacks in an academic situation where you’re in the minority – he was, in his words,  “well aware of the typical stereotype of the Negro – and for a while I was terribly conscious of trying to avoid identification with it” . Martin’s rejection of these negative stereotypes led him work hard and study so that he finished first in his class.

Despite the fact that he was well-liked by both teachers and students at Crozer, he had some unpleasant racial incidents.  The best known was when a white student from North Carolina drew a gun on him and threatened to shoot him.  He accused Martin of messing up his room – a prank that other students often played on each other.  Martin calmly explained that he hadn’t done this as other students persuaded the North Carolinean to put the gun away.  Martin refused to press charges against the student, even though he was well- known for his racist views.

Would you do that?

Another time, Martin and his friends were refused service at a New Jersey restaurant.  The owner forced them out at gun point.  They filed suit against the owner, but none of the white witnesses to the incident would agree to testify in court.  Despite these experiences the social and intellectual environment at Crozer reinforced his optimism that justice could and would be achieved if everyone worked together to eliminate racism.

As a result  – Martin became convinced that integration  was the most appropriate goal that he could work toward.  He also believed that non-violence was the best method for achieving it.  While in Seminary – King attended a lecture on Mahatma Ghandi’s nonviolent struggle for freedom for the people of India.  Ghandi’s teachings had a profound affect upon the young minister.  He was deeply moved by his life and teachings.

After graduating from Crozer in 1951, King went on to Boston University for doctoral studies.  There he met Coretta Scott, a very talented voice student at the Boston Conservatory of music.  They were married in 1953.  When he completed his PhD in 1955 – Coretta tried to persuade him to stay on the East Coast so that she could pursue a musical career.  Martin had several job offers from churches in New York and Massachusetts.  His father wanted him to come onboard as an associate pastor at Ebenezer and eventually succeed him.  As children will do – without offending his father, Martin made it quite clear that he wanted to start out on his own.

After much soul-searching and discussion between them, Martin and Coretta chose to return to where “our greatest service could be rendered – our native South”.  He became the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL where they settled and started their family.

Dr. King began to answer his call to “serve humanity”.  He placed the value of serving the less fortunate of society in the center of his ministry.  He acquired the character of humility and self-sacrifice for others that set him apart from his peers.  His view of serving people meant helping them to raise their religious and moral standards, their educational level and political consciousness.    

Dr. King was very active in the political life of the Montgomery community.  Montgomery was well known as the “Cradle of the Confederacy”.  Segregation was alive and well and no African American could escape it.  Martin’s rise to national prominence began in Dec., 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus.  By the way – Mrs. Parks was not the first black woman to refuse to give up her seat, there were several bus incidents – one of the best-known – prior to the Rosa Parks event was a young, 15 year old girl, Claudette Colvin, who was” pulled off a bus, handcuffed and taken to jail because she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger”.  This incident nearly produced a boycott.  It did produce a “citizens committee” that Dr. King was asked to serve on.

The stage was being set for the Rosa Parks event and the emergence of Martin Luther King, Jr as the leader of the now famous Montgomery bus boycott.  Dr. King became a social activist pastor, speaking out against the injustice of segregation whenever  and wherever the opportunity presented itself.  He joined the NAACP – which was considered a very radical organization during the 1950s.  He urged members of his congregation to do the same.

Dr. King led nonviolent demonstrations for integration, open housing, jobs and educational opportunities across the nation.  He preached love for the oppressor and walked hand-in hand with the poor and the abused, regardless of race.   He was brutalized and arrested more than 30 times, his home was bombed, his life and those of his family were threatened.  Despite all of these challenges – he never lost sight of his dream or his commitment to nonviolence.

Could you do that?

It seems that Dr. King’s life from his birth to the beginning of his second year as pastor of Dexter was shaped so that his proclamation of the “American Dream” was just about inevitable.  Martin’s dream was of a country where an individual is not judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.  Where every individual has an equal opportunity to be successful.   He led nonviolent demonstrations to end segregation in Albany, GA and Birmingham, AL.  In 1963 he helped organize one of the greatest demonstrations in the history of our nation, “The March On Washington” where he delivered his famous, “I have a Dream” speech in front of approximately 250,000 people.  In 1964, he watched Lyndon Baines Johnson sign a comprehensive Civil Rights Bill which had been submitted by President John F Kennedy before he was brutually murdered. 

Dr. King’s last demonstration was on March 28, 1968 when he led more than 6000 protestors through downtown Memphis, TN in support of a sanitation workers strike. The workers had staged a walkout on February 11, 1967, to protest unequal wages and working conditions. At the time, the city of Memphis paid black workers significantly lower wages than whites. In addition, unlike their white counterparts, blacks received no pay if they stayed home during bad weather; consequently, most blacks were compelled to work even in driving rain and snow storms.

On April 3, King returned to Memphis to address a gathering at the Mason Temple. His airline flight to Memphis was delayed by a bomb threat against his plane.  With a thunderstorm raging outside, King delivered the last speech of his life, now known as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” address. As he neared the close, he made reference to the bomb threat: “And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats… or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now.  Because  I’ve been to the mountaintop.  And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised  land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

On April 4th, 1968, Dr. King was murdered while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine hotel in Memphis.  They may have killed his body – but they didn’t kill his dream.  I still remember clearly the expressions of  disbelief and grief: my classmates sobbing while we were waiting for our 2nd school bus to get home, our teachers crying, our principal saying that “he just couldn’t believe it”. Watching the news on TV, seeing it over and over.  Listening to the political leaders in the big metropolitan cities, Chicago, Detroit, New York asking the people to “stay calm”.

Would you have done that?

Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to himself as “a debtor – eternally in the red”.  He was in debt to the many seen and unseen people that had gone before him, making it possible for him to achieve excellence in education, culture and social development.  He felt in debt to African American leaders of the past, like Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington who paved the way on the racial front demonstrating that black people deserve an equal chance in America

His “I Have a Dream” Speech will be played numerous times over the next couple of days because, finally, there is a new testimony to Dr. King’s success as a religious and political leader, as an advocate for equal opportunity and equal rights for all, a new acknowledgement of what he contributed through his own sacrifice to the advancement of African Americans as we see the national observance of his birthday tomorrow and – on Tuesday – the Inauguration activities for President- Elect Barak Obama – the first African American president elected under the U.S. Constitution. 

Many say that Dr. King’s dream has been fulfilled.   As Tim Valentine in his internet blog said “- not yet – Barack Obama is the continuation of the dream.  Just as Martin Luther King Jr. was a continuation of those who sacrificed before him, so is Barack Obama. His election is a nudge in the awakening of open- minded Americans to the possibilities that exist.  It is a step in the direction of America keeping its promise to its citizens”. 

On Tuesday, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.  As Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta said , “Barack stood against the fierce tide of history and achieved the unimaginable, but he did not get there by himself”.  One of those in attendance was Dr,. King’s sister, Christine King Farris.  She was reminded of her brother’s presence. “ As he predicted the night before he left us, I may not be with you, but as a people we will reach the promised land” .

Barack said in one of his recent speeches “I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all those who came before me and that in no other country on earth is my story even possible”.

He is one man with a hard job before him.  He isn’t a messiah or miracle worker and it’s going to take time to resolve the issues that are before him.  He is a catalyst for change, but he won’t be doing it by himself.  He’s willing to answer the call to try to lead this country in the midst of the worst economic conditions that I have seen in my lifetime.  He’s willing to work to help restore America’s confidence in our government.  These are no easy tasks.  We all need to keep him in our prayers – whether you voted for him or not.  He‘s answering the call on his life.   

We all have the ability to make a difference in our lives and in our communities by reaching out to those who are different from us. We can follow Jesus’ example by being accepting of all people and welcoming them.  This is our call.  Are we answering it in mind, in body and in true Christian spirit? 

Amen

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