A reflection offered at the community celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr, hosted by Lakeshore Christian Church, Euclid, Ohio
One year ago today, I stood in a room downtown before a federal judge, and I took an oath, and some words were said and some papers handed down and at the end of it all, I had become a citizen of these United States.
The judge, offering some remarks towards the end of the ceremony, spoke of the service of citizenship, of the responsibility of all people to work together for the common good. He offered his opinion that our society is as good as we make it, and that if we want to live well together, we owe one another our best efforts on behalf not only of ourselves but of the smallest of us all, our best efforts to make this country the best it can be for everyone within its borders, and an example and a promise to those beyond them. It was up to us, he told us, to make the most of what we had been given.
Deciding to become a citizen of this country was, for me, as much a spiritual as a political choice. As a newly-ordained minister, I asked, how could I serve the people of God right here, all around me, unless I committed to being here in body as well as spirit, wholly and truly, working with my mind as well as my heart, my treasure as well as my talent, my vote as well as my voice, for the good of this community, this society, this small piece of God’s good creation?
Working for justice, working for peace, working for the common good, for the good of the whole community and every member of it, is gospel work.
Martin Luther King, Jr, in his Dream Speech, quoted the prophet Isaiah and his vision “that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” (Isaiah 40:4-5; Martin Luther King, Jr, August 1963; source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/17/i-have-a-dream-speech-text_n_809993.html)
When we come together as families of faith, as communities of the children of God bound together by the promises of God, and we recognize that what unites us in God is way more important and essential than anything that divides us, then we begin to live into that dream.
When we work together as communities of faith to remove the high obstacles that stand in the way of equality, of equal access to all of the benefits that this country has to offer, then we are living into that dream.
When we seek out the rough places, and soothe them and smooth them, we live into that dream.
When we pledge to protect the life and safety of all of God’s children, by promoting peace and reducing violence, refusing to be seduced by the myth of security through ever-increasing force, choosing instead peace, promise, respect and love for one another, then we keep the dream alive.
When we look beyond the labels and see instead people, people who care for their parents, their children, their beloved friends, their faithful companions, people who love one another, and we share with them the blessings that we have received, then we keep the dream alive.
When we choose to meet one another on level ground, making straight the paths between us, talking straight with one another, and treating one another with dignity and with the honour due to each one made in the image of God, then we keep the dream alive.
Fifty years ago this August, Dr King reminded us of the “fierce urgency of now.” He said, “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.” (Martin Luther King, Jr, August 1963; source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/17/i-have-a-dream-speech-text_n_809993.html)
We know that we live in difficult and dangerous times; we know that we struggle to get past that which divides us, which keeps us paralysed and would prevent us from building bridges across those valleys, building roads around those mountains which Isaiah would see wiped away.
But in the eyes of the prophets, challenging times are a clarion call.
And when we recognize that there is no time like the present to do the right thing, that there is no time like the time that God has granted us on this earth to work for justice, when we give thanks that we have the opportunity and the responsibility of proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour, liberty to the captives, good tidings to the afflicted, the binding up of the wounds of the brokenhearted, [Isaiah 61:1-2] now, this year, in our own times and our own place, then we keep the dream shared by all the prophets alive. Amen.