Follow Your Call – January 19, 2019 (MLK Observed)

John 1:29-42

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

Sermon Text

There was a saying among the Rabbis that, “Everyday a heavenly voice resounds from Mount Horeb, proclaiming, ‘Woe unto the people for their disregard of Torah.’” This is true for us today, a voice constantly crying out and telling us, “Woe to you who disregard the instructions of Christ.” Each of us has received a call to follow Christ, that is what brings us here week after week. Each of us has received instruction, in the form of scripture and the form of preaching and study. The life of other Christians who we are in community with, mentors, the saints who have gone before us, all provide ways for us to live into our call, to regard the instruction of Christ.

There is a definite danger that arises in the life of Christians when we let ourselves become stagnant. Worse than acting out against our Christian call is to sit and do nothing with it. If we do evil, perhaps we did it because we were mislead or we acted out of good intent with poor results. However, someone who does neither good nor evil is effectively useless. We can remember the words of Revelation – water that is Hot has its uses water that is Cold has its uses, but lukewarm water is only good to be thrown out. When there are problems in the world, we should know when it is our place to step into a situation and when to sit out. However, if we find ourselves only ever sitting out than maybe we should be honest with ourselves about our lack of conviction.

Today our scripture tells us of the inciting incident in the lives of Jesus’ first apostles. They like us were told second hand to pursue Jesus. Following the call of John, “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away our sins,” the apostles follow Jesus to see what this teacher was about. To see what lessons they could learn. They followed a call without knowing hardly anything about the final destination of it. Jesus, the Lamb of God, was enough to fascinate them.

None of us know what lies ahead for us in life. We pursue a life initiated by God that ultimately is a mystery. We do not know what dangers we will face, what opportunities will come because of God’s work and ultimately where it leads us. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, German minister and anti-Nazi activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it in simple words – “When Christ calls us, he bids us come and die.” Die to self, die to desire, and yes even die for the cause of the Kingdom.

The idea of call, and our need to live into it. Is relevant every day. No aspect of our life is removed from the call of God which is given to us day after day. However, tomorrow we as a country celebrate a minister who followed their call to the very end. The idea of chasing after Christ without knowing what may be at the end it epitomized in the life of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. One of the most controversial figures the twentieth century and one of the most necessary for us to hold up as an example here and now, to understand the way that we are called to cause Holy trouble for the good of God. Especially today in a world which is so full of conflict, so full of hate.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born Michael King Jr. His father decided, after visiting Germany during the rise of the Nazi party, that he and his son should be named for who they considered to be the most admirable of protestors in history. Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant movement. King Jr. was raised by his father, also a minister and lived his youth in a state of internal conflict. He was deeply depressed, attempting suicide at age 12. He also faced profound doubt about his faith, nonetheless pursuing a life as a minister of God. He also, of course, lived in a segregated America. His memoirs of his youth are full of incidents where he and his family were pushed to the edges of society, reviled, hated, mistreated, simply because of the color of their skin.

He would go to college, excel in all he did, and take on his first pastoral roles. His life as a minister. It was hardly a year into his ministerial duties that he became involved in the Civil Rights movement. An action which King felt was the natural outpouring of his service to the church. The Montgomery bus Boycott, campaigns across the South, the historic march at Selma, and the world-shattering march on Washington – these and so many more defined a life that was lived out loud in service to the Kingdom of God.

Throughout all this King faced criticism from others. Especially white ministers criticized how he worked. There was a desire to see a tamer version of King’s ministry. Their voices cry out in a tone that is not unfamiliar to us today. “Rather than disrupting the bus lines, couldn’t you just write letters to them?”, “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?”, “If you have a problem, that’s fine, but this isn’t the right time to express that problem.”, “Rev. King, I just think you have made your ministry too political. Isn’t your business the Gospel?”

All these complaints were not met with silence by King. An excerpt of one of his most powerful responses, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, is printed on our bulletins in place of my usual letter. The critique which is gives is only partial, it does not speak to the fullness of these accusations and “advices” given to Dr. King. In summation to all those that asked why his movement could not be more, “Respectable,” and less disruptive to those who were being protested against, Dr. King had these things to say.

“My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals. We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.”

The protests of all those who wished for a more respectable protest. One that asked less of them, silenced in the sight of the reality of the oppression which others faced in the world. Silenced in the face of Scripture. Silenced in the witness of the Early Church. Silenced, so that perhaps in the uncomfortable space where we find our own guilt, we may hear our call.

We spent some time with a particular example of a call,  because the work of Christ executed through Dr. King is not yet finished. Though we are no longer legally segregated as a country there is much that still divides the life of People of Color and the life of the white majority culture. Almost universally in the United States studies have shown that when businesses are given resumes with identical credentials, one of whom with a traditionally white name and one that is more, “ethnic,” the white name will be receive an interview and the other name cast aside.

In a similar vein, you can still be sent home or terminated from your job in many states for having your natural hair as a person of color. Not to mention expectations about dialect and a variety of other expectations which see anglicized speech as the norm.

Beyond matters of simple discrimination we can talk about matters of life or death. The amount of hate crime offenses against people on the basis of race has increased 40% since 2012. This number of course only reflects reported instances, so the numbers in either year could be higher, but the growth trend pans out across data pools.  People are dying. People continue to be discriminated against and killed because of who they are. Where is the outrage of the age? Where are the voices from the church? Crying out once more for a more civil dialogue, or championing the needs of those who are perishing, accepting uncomfortable silences and moving toward something better.

A cry comes out every day, “Woe to you who disregard the instructions of Christ.” Will we listen to the Messiah who tells us to take up our cross, to give up our advantages in life? Or will we be disregard him, creating our own Gospel which asks nothing of us, pursuing the good only of the things which preserve our own powers and our own households. – Amen

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