Saturday, January 16, 2016

He Doesn't Have to Be Jesus

Martin Luther King Jr NYWTS 4.jpg
"Martin Luther King Jr NYWTS 4" by New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer: Albertin, Walter, photographer. - Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I'm familiar with a certain type of conversation around Martin Luther King, Jr. 

When he's being noted or praised, one or more people in the conversation will decide to mention that MLK, Jr cheated on his wife or plagiarized parts of this thesis or committed this kind of crime or that.

Keep in mind the conversation was never about whether we should add him to the Trinity or the Pantheon or what-have-you. Yet, in the conversation, there seems to be the need to shine a spotlight on MLK, Jr.'s flaws. 

It is also characteristic of this conversation to note "If he hadn't been martyred, he wouldn't be so beloved." 

I've heard all of these comments more that once, more than twice, more times that I can count. 

The truth is, though, he was killed. Martin Luther King, Jr was shot and killed because he advocated for equality of black Americans with white Americans and because he was part of a group that was no longer prepared to see the goal of justice pushed away until a "more convenient time". 

My first-grader came home this week and asked me if I knew about "King Junior". Once I figured out who he was talking about, I asked what he'd learned. He told me that once there was a time when kids with different skin colors could go to the same school. "King Junior" helped fix that so kids [like black kid in his class] could all go to the same school. I asked if he learned what happened to Martin Luther King, Jr. He said, "They shot him." 

They shot him. 

I did explain that Martin Luther King, Jr didn't exactly work with schools all the time. That he did a lot of work so that people with different skin colors would be allowed to choose who was in charge and who makes decisions...  what we do when we vote. Some people did not want to allow people with black and brown skin to vote. 

As I drove and talked, I wondered when I should explain that it is still that way. 

And I wonder how long it will be before someone adds to the "conversation" about MLK, Jr with my son. How long will be before someone feels compelled to mention the character flaws of the man alongside his work? Will this be the same person who is silent about Tamir Rice or Freddie Gray or believes the death of Michael Brown was justified or has no concerns about Sandra Bland? 

When I read "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", it is everything to me that Romans or Galatians was and is. I expect no more perfection from the author of those epistles than I do of the later letter, itself as much an epistle. 

Martin Luther King, Jr didn't have to be Jesus to be right. He didn't do everything perfectly, but he was still right. He didn't have to be a non-sinner to still be a saint. He didn't have to be Jesus carry a message of justice to the world. He didn't have to be Jesus to see God's affection for all people. He didn't have to be Jesus to dream of a time of unity and community. 

And he didn't have to be Jesus to be killed for being a threat to the status quo. 

There are times when I haven't replied in The Conversation. When the other words start and I have indigestion, but I don't say "Stop right there." I wish I had. I hope that I will. 

In the meantime, many people have a three-day weekend. Sales, vacations, rest, family time... Somewhere in there, let us remember the man who was one of the main voices of a movement that dared to dream of something different for the world, for America, for their communities, and even for the church. 

Dr. King wrote in the aforementioned letter: 

We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

A three-day weekend contemplating that will not be wasted. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Affirmation of Baptism for Epiphany

I ask you to acknowledge the gift of faith in Christ Jesus, reject sin, and confess the faith of the church.

Do you say no to external spiritual forces that defy God and attempt to disrupt the presence of love in the world?
Response: I forcefully say no to them.

Do you say no to lies that are told about God, including ones that perpetuate fear, scarcity, and control?
Response: I forcefully say no to them.

Do you say no to sin, that is, actions that cause you feel far from God and God’s love?
Response: I forcefully say no to it.

Do you believe in God, the ground and source of your being?

I believe in the eternal love that is God, creating, redeeming, and healing.
God’s grace is greater than anything that opposes it.
Neither the will of the flesh, the twists of the mind, or the efforts of evil
can bring lasting destruction where God is working for good.
Eternal love, which is God’s ultimate manifestation, bears all things.
All time exists within this love.

Do you believe in Jesus the Christ, God enfleshed and the pioneer of our faith?

I believe in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, Emmanuel, and fellow child of God.
Emmanuel, God with us, walked as Jesus in a certain place and a certain time.
Emmanuel, God with us, still comes in unexpected ways, through ordinary and extraordinary means.
Emmanuel, God with us, anchors us, and our hope, within God’s eternity.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

I believe in the Holy Spirit, holy breath, holy mystery.
The Holy Spirit has brought us here.
Beyond our understanding, but with our trust, the Spirit gives us faith.
Our lives are our response to all we have been given,
The sum of which is greater than we know.

We are grateful. Amen.


Worship resources posted here are written by the Reverend Julia Seymour. They are available for use, in full or part, but only with attribution and permission. Use without both attribution and permission is stealing. 


Monday, January 11, 2016

Baptism of Our Lord (Year C)

What is the proper motivation for baptism?
- tradition
- fear of hell
- desire for salvation
- to please someone else
- to dedicate your life (or the life of your child) to God
- a response to irresistible grace

            Why did Jesus get baptized? Luke has already made it clear with the beginning of his gospel account that John and Jesus are on parallel, if not exactly similar tracks. This passage is where the tracks diverge. John is aware that he is not the Messiah.

            However, Jesus does not seem to be aware that he (Jesus) is the Messiah. John’s proclamation of the One who is to come, who will separate the useful part of God’s harvest from the wasteful part… Jesus does not leap up and say, “Yes, and the day is at hand!” John calls out the leader of the people on his immoral behavior and is imprisoned for it.

            Luke seems to organize the story this way so that we cannot say for sure who baptized Jesus. If John was in prison, he didn’t do it. Moreover, if John is in prison, who exactly has taken up his place down at the Jordan River? And what is Jesus’ motivation? Why does he go down and get dunked, along with many others?

            The baptism that John offers in the wilderness is one of repentance. It  is a bath of reorientation, of metanoia, turning around and going in the correct way. We assume that this isn’t something that Jesus needs. When last we saw him in Luke, he had gone to the temple as a young teen, but was instructing the temple officials in the fine points of the Law and the Prophets.

            Yet, maybe Jesus wasn’t totally sure when to begin the work to which he was called. Perhaps he realized the indigestion his temple visit had caused his parents and he pulled back a bit. Maybe Joseph died and Mary need help caring for the rest of the family. Maybe Jesus grew up hearing the story of his birth and knowing that he knew more about the universe that others did, but his divinity ran up against his humanness and he just didn’t know how to get started.

            So he ends up at the banks of the Jordan, with other baptism seekers. Some are devout. Some are curious. Some are derisive. And amid them all stands Jesus, the Messiah. They’re invited down into the water- murky and cool. Perhaps it is more like a mikveh- a temple ritual bath- where they are guided into dunking themselves, rather than being lowered and raised by someone else.

            They go under, one by one. There goes Jesus. And then they rise into the desert sun. Do they feel different? No one can tell. Maybe they don’t speak to each other because no one wants to admit that they aren’t sure what to feel. Perhaps they feel clean or renewed or confused. And then, a dove descends and lands upon one of the newly baptized- standing off by himself, praying. The dove, the sign of God’s presence and the visual symbol of the Holy Spirit, glides down and perches.

            Does only Jesus hear “You are my beloved Son” or does everyone? It’s hard to tell in Luke. Who needs to hear it? Perhaps only Jesus does. Even Jesus needs baptism to be only about grace, only about God doing the naming and the claiming. This could be the push Jesus needs, maybe even his baptism motivation answered. Now, now the work begins in earnest- the work of being Jesus combining with the work of being the Son of God.

            Frankly, even when we baptize in a gallon or so of water in a shallow font, it’s still a similar scene. People not entirely sure what to think, but coming with a variety of intentions and motivations, adults and children come to be baptized. We all come, no matter what our motivation, but when we approach the font of grace, nothing that we have in mind matters. God’s desire overrides everything else.

            At the edge of the water, it becomes all about grace, irresistible grace. Some people resist the call that the water is wide because it feels like they can retain some control. The truth is, our hearts long for it. We come to water because we thirst. We come to baptismal water because our souls thirst to be quenched with the assurance that we are beloved children of God, that we are beloved no matter what we have done or what has been done to us, that God is pleased with us as part of creation, that we have purpose and place- warts and all.

            This is what baptism is about- for Jesus and for us. Not what we can do or say or claim or who pours the water or whether it’s from a cup or in a river… it’s all about the vast expanse of God’s grace and how God claims each and every baptized person as a beloved child.

            Baptism has been given to the church as our work. Not as something around which we should form strict barriers and even motivation tests, but as something free, hopeful, and accessible. We are formed around the water, washed by it, and in its outpouring, we are flooded into the world to be carriers of grace.

            Ultimately, our motivations are no match for the Holy Spirit and the irresistibility of grace. We are drawn, even Jesus was, to a place where we can stand still, be open to relationship, and hear… and even comprehend… “You are my beloved. With you, I am well pleased.”

Psalm 29 for Alaskans.

Give credit to the Lord for all power, all glory, and all strength.
Give the Lord worship that is holy and beautiful, a response to God’s glory.

The voice of the Lord roars across the oceans and whispers in the streams.
The voice of the Lord is strong and gorgeous.

The voice of the Lord bends the spruce and snaps the birches.
The voice of the Lord stirs the bear and leads the salmon.

The Lord makes the people of the land to skip like moose calves
And the people of the water to frolic like seal pups.

The voice of the Lord bursts forth like a river relieved of an ice dam.
The voice of the Lord shakes the bases of the Alaska range.

The voice of the Lord rumbles, stirring molten rock
And all around God’s throne shout, “Hallelujah!”.

The Lord resides above the tumult, yet sees everything.
The Lord reigns forever.

O Lord, give strength to your servants;

O Lord, give them the blessings of peace.