Category Archives: Martin Luther King

Can these bones live?

Ezekiel 37.1–14
John 11.17–45

It’s 6 April in a few days’ time, on Thursday. I remember 6 April 1968 (forty nine years ago for the arithmetically challenged). It was a Saturday; 6 April was the first day I awoke after accepting Jesus into my life. I’ve already told you about that time, but today want to say a bit more.

The night before, 5 April, I had gone to the local Methodist youth group for the first time. I hadn’t known about this, but they were off to the Billy Graham rally in the Exhibition grounds that night.

I decided that I was glad to be going there. I had been wondering about God. I thought Jesus was a good man, the best who’d ever lived. I was shocked and distressed that Martin Luther King had just been assassinated just the day before, 4 April 1968. I felt confused about life.

I listened to Billy Graham preach. I didn’t understand much, but I did note he spoke well of Martin Luther King’s legacy. And that was important to me. But the rhetorical flourishes of a preacher from the South of the good ol’ US of A were really quite foreign to me. And he did go on a bit (over 40 minutes as I recall!).

Billy Graham finished (finally!), and there was an altar call. I felt an irresistible magnetic pull on me. I can recall the feeling still. I had to leave my seat—me, quite possibly the most introverted kid in the whole place that night. I knew I had to leave the people who had brought me, not yet knowing the leaders’ names, not even knowing how to find them later.

But I just couldn’t stay in my seat.

It strikes me that I can identify with Lazarus. When Jesus says, ‘Lazarus, come out!’, he just came. It wasn’t a suggestion—it was a command, a summons. Just so, I felt summoned that day. I had to come.

Jesus summons each one of us. Sometimes, we might even have given up on life when he summons us. We may as well have been dead.

As I reflect on identifying with Lazarus, I think How was I dead? In the story, Lazarus was just dead. As a doornail. How was I dead?

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It’s all Jesus’ fault (Easter Vigil, Year B, 4 April 2015)

Exodus 14.10-31; 15.20-21
Responsive Reading: Exodus 15.1b-6, 11-13, 17-18 (Canticle of Miriam and Moses)
Mark 16.1–8

“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” ― Anne Lamott

It’s all Jesus’ fault.

I can’t read the bible the way I used to, and it’s all Jesus’ fault.

Let me give you an example. One of our readings tonight was from Exodus 15. This reading is always included in an Easter Vigil. It’s a great reading, particularly if you like God utterly crushing his enemies in absolutely spectacular ways.

Horse and rider
are thrown into the sea!

True to the name ‘Lord’,
our God leads in battle,
hurls Pharaoh’s chariots
and army into the sea!

When I was a boy, I could believe in a god who punished his people’s enemies, a god who expected his people to rejoice at the deaths of their enemies.

Not any more.

Not since I realised that Jesus died as an enemy of God’s people. As our enemy. The priests, the crowd saw in Jesus a danger to public safety that needed to be eliminated. Having him put to the grisly death of crucifixion was the surest way to restore public order.

Jesus died as an outlaw, as someone rejected by God, as public enemy number one—but God vindicated him. Any rejoicing at the death of Jesus was short-lived.

The death of Jesus was the crucifixion of God’s incarnate Son. God the Father wept as God the Son suffered, and God the Father still weeps with everyone who suffers.

Jesus calls for his Father to forgive those who are crucifying him. Risen from the grave, he speaks words of peace to disciples who had deserted him.

If Jesus is the Son of God, then God does not throw people into the sea. Perhaps the people of Israel interpreted their victory as the victory of God, as indeed our own countries did at least up until World War One.

But I can’t see it that way anymore, and it’s all Jesus’ fault. Oh, and I blame some of Jesus’ followers too. In particular, today—4 April—I blame Rev Dr Martin Luther King.

Today, 4 April, gives us another reason to remember that God’s ways are peace and non-violence, and to stand with those who suffer. Today is the day the Church remembers Martin Luther King. It was on this day in 1968 that he was shot dead in Memphis, and entered into the peace of his Lord. If you want to gain a little more insight into this disciple of Jesus, I suggest that you see the film Selma when it comes out on DVD if you haven’t seen it yet.

Martin Luther King practised a way of non-violence that has done more to advance the cause of God’s kingdom than any number of acts of violence or terrorism or retaliation against these things. King found the joy of God as he walked this way.

And God’s joy is now for all people too. When prophets like Zephaniah cry,

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!,

God intends all people on earth to hear it whoever and wherever they are. God says

I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.

Not just the outcasts of Israel, but the outcasts of all nations! Everyone is included, and that’s why we can’t read the Exodus story or any other part of the Bible as a simple tale of goodies and baddies. Not any more.

The Exodus story does act as a kind of historical parable of how God deals with the sin and evil in the world, how completely and utterly God deals with it. It is dead and buried. And God says, Step away from evil. Stop your fascination with sin. Join my way.

The Christ of the cross identifies with the suffering and the outcast and the sinner, and calls me and you to join him in doing that. The joy of the risen Christ is for all people on earth, whoever and wherever they are.

I can’t read the bible the way I used to, and it’s all Jesus’ fault.

Thanks be to God.

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