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In order to expedite posting the worship services here on our website, we are reducing the transcript to just the scriptures used and the message. Union Grove UMC in partnership with Southland Books & Cafe, began holding Second Sunday Community Church in January 2023. Second Sunday Community Church takes place at 3 p.m. ET the second Sunday of every month, meets in-person at The Bird & The Book, and is also live-streamed on Facebook. Holy Communion is offered at every Second Sunday service. If you are worshipping on Second Sundays online whether during the live-cast or through on-demand viewing, you are encouraged to have bread and juice or wine available as you watch the service and to participate in communion just as if you are present with us.
God, open us to hear and receive your scriptures today as you would have us hear them, understand them as you would have us understand them, and to act upon them as you would have us act upon them.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
*Scriptures this morning are included in the message.
MESSAGE – MLK, Missing Stairs, and the Monster at the End of the Story
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer, and may you see fit to use me as a vessel from which you pour out your Divine Word.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
“I have a dream,” declared Martin Luther King, Jr., as he addressed a crowd of several hundred thousand gathered on the Mall around the Washington Monument.
Sixty years ago tomorrow, on August 28, 1963, the day Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream,” speech, America was uneasy. It was a time of social unrest. In the midst of a nation torn by racial strife and social unrest, Dr. King painted an indelible picture of America as it could be. His oratory was soaring, his imagery was vivid, and his cause was right.
Fifty-nine years, 364 days later, it is difficult to see any progress from the way things were when Dr. King made his speech, when hundreds of thousands of people marched on Washington in support of everything he laid out in that speech.
America is no longer uneasy. It is fully agitated bordering on inconsolably irate. America is angry. America is filled with hostility. And American has regressed in every area where gains were made because of the Civil Rights activism of the sixties. Yes, I said every area, every … single … issue. Because all the issues of Dr. King’s time, all the issues he referenced in his speech are still issues today. They just have different labels and expanded demographics.
Slavery still exists through leased labor programs run by privatized for-profit prison systems, the “labor force” for which is provided by a legal system consisting of law enforcement and court practices built on a long history of systemic racism, implicit bias, white supremacy, and the inability of most of those in the labor force to afford adequate or any defense due to income inequality which also continues to be an issue and is, in fact, growing wider and wider by the day. And, while the statistics still show a disproportionate percentage of the “harvest” of that labor force comes from populations of color, the field from which the harvest is being gathered is expanding as well as more and more Americans suffer income inequality.
While schools were required to desegregate, while lunch counters, restaurants, restrooms, and water fountains no longer bore signs of racial gatekeeping, segregation in other forms continues and, in the past few years and especially the past year, had reared its ugly and venomous head in new forms. Forms like altered or eliminated histories, banned books, and the infiltration of governing boards, councils, commissions, legislatures, and even Congress by false prophets of religious fanaticism that no longer resembles anything Christ-like.
Civil rights, human rights, and even human dignity are being eroded, eliminated and, at the hands of radicalized individuals, literally eradicated in a society where the Klan no longer needs to wear masks and, too often, are commended, supported, and encouraged by like-minded pundits, preachers, and politicians.
Civil war has once again been declared, this time subtly, silently, and there is nothing civil about it. And, once again, the Christian church is dividing on the premise of the war.
In that speech as he was … and most pastors are … prone to do, Dr. King referenced scriptures including Amos 5:24 (“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.”), Isaiah 40:4-5 (“Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain…”), Psalm 30:5 (“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”), and Galatians 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is their male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”).
Chapters 5 and 6 of Amos contain some of the most moving poetry in the Bible and strongly denounce religious hypocrisy and economic inequality, so it may come as no surprise that Dr. King would reference the book of Amos in his “I Have a Dream” speech. Throughout the text, Amos voices prophetic rage against the injustices of the day. The entire book is given to denouncing the excesses of Israelite life in the 8th century before Christ, and to reminding people of their true conventional obligations. Amos reminds us that those who are at “ease in Zion” and “feel secure on Mount Samaria,” those who “lie on beds of ivory” and “eat lambs from the flock” will “be the first to go in exile” (Amos 6:1-7).
Perhaps the most famous line from the book is Amos 5:24. The context of the powerful statement is a prophetic denunciation of the sacrifices and meal offerings of a people who have failed to keep a covenant which is constituted by justice and fairness.
Throughout Amos 5 to 6, the prophet lashes out against those who have become rich at the expense of the poor and against public – but hollow – displays of piety. According to Amos, God says, “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies” (Amos 5:21). Religious devotion is meaningless if it is accompanied by unfair taxes to the poor, backdoor bribes, and working against those in need. Amos would likely disapprove of the concentration of wealth and the corresponding increases of poverty and he would rage against displays of self-importance and, in all likely-hood, the nationalism so pervasive in the Body of Christ today.
In his reference to the scripture from Isaiah, Dr. King’s speech may invite us to ask ourselves some questions. What is happening in your dreams? Are they being realized or are they gradually fading away? Have you lost hope because they now seem impossible?
We can all learn how to revive our dreams and keep them alive from Dr. King. He gave us the answer when he quoted Isaiah 40:4-5, saying, “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made straight, and the glory of Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” Dr. King understood that his dream of social justice and racial equality was in harmony with God’s dream, and that God’s dream will surely be realized.
Dr. King makes more subtle reference in the passage from Psalm 30. This biblical allusion provides a moral basis for King’s argument. We know that we will all face problems and trials in life and some of these are completely beyond our control. These are all trials that test our faith. Anyone can have faith in God during fair weather but the true test of our faith is how we respond during stormy weather, when we can’t see our hands in front of our face.
Lord knows, we are in stormy weather right now, weather that seems to be bypassing the tropical storm stage and developing straight into a supercell hurricane.
Christ should be our example during our times of pain, mental anguish and suffering. Though we will endure trials, God promised in Psalm 30:5 that weeping only comes for a night but joy comes in the morning.
But right now, it is increasingly hard to see the joy, isn’t it? And yet … even when it’s hard to see, the promise remains.
Dr. King makes another subtle reference to scripture with the passage from Galatians. We are created by One and all made in the image of God. We recognize from this passage that each of us is connected through our creation. In my understanding of the scriptures and, more importantly, of God’s plan, if we were to actually fulfill Dr. King’s dream as he laid out in his speech, God would be well pleased. We should love one another as we are all God’s children.
His cadences, inflections and biblical allusions gave Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech memorable structure. His powerful argument gave the speech its moral weight. “I Have a Dream” reminds us that all human beings are equally created in the image of God. As Christians, it’s important that we realize this. But it is also important that we recognize the sins of racism, of “othering” and demonizing and dehumanizing those in marginalized communities for any reason, and we should recognize those sins are the fundamental problems creating the divisions within not only the US and Christian church, but in much of the world.
In Revelation 7:9-12, we read of the redeemed people of God as “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, and all tribes and all people and tongues, standing before the Lamb.”
There is still much work to do. And, while there are those who believe we will struggle in a fallen world until Jesus comes, I would offer the Gospel disagrees. I would offer that Jesus has come, has shown us what is expected of us, has told us the Kingdom is at hand, within, and that both Jesus and God are watching and waiting for us to pick up The Way Jesus brought and taught us.
By God’s grace, we know that real progress is possible and that we are accountable. The church must divest nationalism and gatekeeping from its body and must – as St. Francis said – Preach the Gospel. And if necessary, use words.
But we don’t. We keep in mind the missing stair, and we continue you to step over it rather than fixing it. A “missing stair” is a person or problem within a community, family or organization that everyone avoids and refuses to address, so it inevitably keeps hurting people. Sometimes these missing stairs go unfixed for generations, and create cultures of disrepair and harm.
Like the lyrics of the song, “Missing Stair,” point out, we walk on eggshells, walk away, always so careful with the words we choose to say … careful in part out of fear of triggering a violent reaction and careful in part out of fear of being rejected like those the gatekeepers of hate reject. Again, as the song lyrics point out, we blur the lines between lies and what we really know.
We become fearful of what it is we might lose if we dare stand up for someone else or stand up to those dark forces that are working so desperately to destroy the very culture, democracy, and even faith in which we live, breathe, and believe.
Russell Moore recently wrote of a conversation a pastor shared with him. The pastor had been preaching on the Beatitudes, I believe. Following the service, a church member came up to him and asked him where he got all that “liberal” stuff the pastor had talked about in his message, to which the pastor replied, “Out of the Bible. Jesus said/did it.”
The church member responded – and I’m paraphrasing here – “Well, that’s weak. That’s that liberal leftist woke agenda. That’s not who we are.”
Do we cry out against that kind of talk? Do we stand up for the Lord and Savior we follow? Do we silently, internally, painfully mourn what is happening to the community of faith we thought we know as we tell ourselves:
“Shoulda done something, Coulda done more. I didn’t see you when you opened up that door. They’re gonna blame you for breaking your bones. Call it gravity while casting all their stones. Still we whisper, still we warn, ‘Cause we can’t burn down the house where we were born. Made a monster, hid him there. Tell me, when will we repair the missing stair?”
To understand how this impacts us, we need to understand both who we are and what Christianity is. Kurt Struckmeyer suggests:
When we refuse to stay true to Christ and what Christ taught us … when the only part of Christ’s life and ministry we take seriously is that part where his suffering, crucifixion, death, and resurrection ensure our forgiveness and golden ticket to an eternal afterlife … when we then focus only on the afterlife and ignore the neighbors, the least among us, the earth we’re supposed to steward he TOLD us to love and care for … we not only fail to replace the missing stair, we create, feed, and embolden the monster living in the hole in the basement. In too many cases and is pointed out in a popular children’s book, we not only create that monster, we become the monster – just not the furry blue loveable kind in that children’s book.
End of the hallway, door on the left in the darkness don’t forget to skip a step. Down in the basement, there is a hole, and they won’t fix it, though it’s claimed so many souls.
Still we whisper, still we warn, ‘cause we can’t burn down the house where we were born. Made a monster, hid him there. Tell me, when will we repair the missing stair?
The Church is missing a stair, and there is definitely a monster in that hole that too many are refusing to fix. Tell me … when will we repair the missing stair?
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