Tag Archives: Martin Luther King

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

Readings
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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Can these bones live? (Lent 5A, 6 April 2014)

Readings
Ezekiel 37.1–14
Romans 8.6–11
John 11.1–45

 

It’s 6 April. I remember 6 April 1968 (forty six years ago for the arithmetically challenged among our number). It was a Saturday; 6 April was the first day I awoke after accepting Jesus into my life. Today, I want to talk a bit about that time.

The night before, 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. I was distressed that Martin Luther King had just been assassinated. 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. But the rhetorical flourishes of a preacher from the South of the good ol’ US of A were quite foreign to me. And he did go on a bit.

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 knowing how to find them later.

I just couldn’t stay in my seat.

It struck me reflecting on the story of Lazarus this week that I can identify with him. When Jesus says, ‘Lazarus, come out!’, he just came. It wasn’t a suggestion, it was 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 be dead.

As I reflect on identifying with Lazarus, I think How was I dead? After all, in the story Lazarus was dead. As a doornail. How was I dead?

I could simply say I was dead in my trespasses and sins, unable to know God. And while that may sound harsh, it’s an image that works. I was constructing a life that kept God at bay, while at the same time wanting to know God better. We could use other language too; I was AWOL, and I was afraid to return to barracks. The scriptures also use other language, and we’ve come across it the past few weeks. So with the man blind from birth, I too was blind from birth. I couldn’t see Jesus, the true image of God.

And like the Samaritan woman, I needed to drink of the living water. I was spiritually dehydrated. I was being poisoned at the wells of false hopes and plastic dreams.

I was in need of a new birth. Just as Nicodemus had to be born of the Spirit, I needed the Spirit-wind to breeze through my life and turn me right around.

I think if I were telling a story like this for today, I’d use yet another image. I’d remind people of the frustration of trying to get your computer to work, asking around your friends for suggestions, finally gritting your teeth and calling the help desk only to be asked: ‘Is it plugged in? Is it switched on?’

Once you plug it in, everything is different. Just that one little change makes all the difference!

It seems a little grandiose to say that I was born again, drank of living water, made to see and brought to life that night. (Oh, and that I was plugged in to the transcendent Source of power.) Yet if you judge that night by the effect it has had on me, then these words are as good as any and better than most.

Those early days of April 1968 brought other discoveries to me.

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Inclusive, welcoming and forgiving—Feast of the Epiphany, Year C (6 January, 2013)

Readings
Isaiah 60.1–6
Ephesians 3.1–12
Matthew 2.1–12 

Fifty years ago, back in 1963, Rev. Dr Martin Luther King said this:

We must face the sad fact that at 11 o’clock on Sunday morning, when we stand to sing…we stand in the most segregated hour in America.

In his gospel, Matthew tries to show us that God’s vision for his people is an inclusive one, which grows from Israel’s calling as the people of God.

It shows how the Gentiles are called to become a part of God’s chosen people. In other words, everyone—“Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female” (Galatians 3.28), black or white, left or right, gay or straight—is now an equal member of the chosen people.

Paul bears witness to this truth. He speaks of his ‘understanding of the mystery of Christ’:

In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Unlike Paul, but like all the other gospel writers, Matthew speaks of this “mystery of Christ” by telling a story. We call it the story of the Three Wise Men, but I’m not convinced there were three. Or that they were all that wise, when they fall as they do for Herod’s machinations. And it’s not at all important that they were men.

Let’s call them what Matthew called them: the magi. We get our word ‘magic’ from ‘magi’. Magi were considered to be sorcerers, astrologers, interpreters of dreams, potion makers. They seem to belong more on the set of a Harry Potter movie than in the pages of the Bible. But here they are.

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The arc of the moral universe… Sunday 33, Year B (18 November 2012)

Readings
1 Samuel 1.4-20
Mark 13.1-8

Some of us are going on a tour of the Holy Land next year. I’m getting ready to be seriously impressed by the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The Western Wall is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple’s courtyard. It is all that’s left of the Jerusalem temple that Jesus knew; the rest of it was utterly destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. The Western Wall isn’t much compared to the temple in all its glory, but it still impresses to this very day.

So we can understand one of Jesus’ followers exclaiming,

Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!

Of course, the temple would have seemed just simply staggering to a hick from the backblocks of Galilee.

But Jesus had had quite enough of the temple. He replied,

Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.

No wonder Jesus was all ‘templed-out’. You’ve got to remember the week he’d just had. It started when he drove the money changers out of the temple, declaring:

Is it not written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a den of robbers.

Then day after day he had discussion (argument!) after discussion (argument!!) with the religious leaders about marriage and divorce, death and resurrection, paying taxes to Caesar and who was John the Baptist. Jesus won all these arguments, which just made the leaders angrier and angrier with him. And all the more determined to put him away for good.

And then the poor widow came along. She put a pittance into the temple treasury—two tiny coins which were everything she had.

And why did she have so little? Because of the way widows were left on the social and financial scrapheap by everyone. Including the temple system, including the scribes, who grew fat on widows’ misfortune.

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Easter Day

The former things shall not be remembered

********

Let us pray:
God ever-new,
you brought life out of death,
and hope from despair
when you raised our Lord from the grave.
May we always proclaim the victory of Jesus
in the world,
for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

*********************
Readings
Isaiah 65.17-25
Luke 24.1-12

  • Killer blasts in Moscow Metro
  • Decomposed body found at shops
  • Bank boss admits he took cash
  • Digger, Afghan wounded in explosion
  • 3 dead, 6 injured in DC shooting
  • Daylight bashing in city gardens

These were all news headlines in the last week. When we look at the world, it’s pretty much of a mess. The human race isn’t doing a great job.

  • We make technological advances, but we use this knowledge to build weapons.
  • We have an ever-increasing amount of information, but precious little wisdom.
  • We extend our influence over the earth, and put other living things at risk.

The world is in a state. Yet in our Old Testament reading today, the prophet Isaiah writes that God says this:

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice for ever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.

‘For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.’

This doesn’t gel with the headlines, does it? Is Jerusalem a joy these days? It’s been the focus of huge difficulties lately, with Israel building new housing for Jews in the Arab district of East Jerusalem.

And all the indications are that Jerusalem will continue be a focus of deep hostilities for the foreseeable future.

Mind you, Jerusalem didn’t look too good back then either. These words about a ‘new heavens and a new earth’ were written about 500 BC. Jerusalem looked like a war zone. No wonder—that’s just what it had been just fifty or so years earlier.

The city walls had been torn down, the great temple of King Solomon was still in ruins. Yet Isaiah says, ‘I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.’

It appears that we’re still waiting for Isaiah’s words to be fulfilled. Continue reading

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Conversion #1

It was 5 April 1968. Forty years ago today. I had gone for the first time to the Methodist youth group in Inala. My parents thought I needed to get out more, and had got a lad to invite me. He was apologetic when he realised that the group was going to the Billy Graham rally in the Brisbane Exhibition grounds, and said he would have told me to come the next week if he’d known. Since we were there, though, we might as well go…

I was secretly glad. The Anglican priest at school RE had suggested to the class that we should read the Gospel of Luke. I started reading Luke in my Gideons KJV, but I was hopelessly bogged down in the archaic language. But I wanted to know more about God.

I did have one test for Billy Graham: Martin Luther King had just been shot dead, and I had been shaken. I wanted to hear something positive about him. I wasn’t disappointed.

As far as I know, it was the first time I’d ever heard the Gospel. I’d never heard of altar calls before, but I couldn’t stay in my seat. I didn’t understand how anyone could! I went out—I was drawn out—and gave my life to Jesus. The youth group leaders were cheesed off that I’d held everybody up by going forward.

When I got home, I told dad what I’d done. He told me not to write to send the studies in, they would just send ‘begging letters’. Weeks later, I did write, and dad accepted it without comment.

I didn’t stay in the Methodist group for long; the leaders never spoke to me about what I’d done, and I just didn’t feel it meant anything to them. Months later, I started going to my best mate’s church, which was Open Brethren.

And the KJV? I found that it suddenly made sense to me, funny language and all. It was totally different reading it after giving my life to Christ! I don’t use it these days, but making sense of it was a wonderful gift and a clear sign to me of the rightness and realness of what had happened to me.

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Greatness and Service

Forty years ago today, Martin Luther King was killed. A great man, he made a huge impression on me as a boy. And the next day, I became a Christian—I’ll say more tomorrow. This was a ‘coincidence’—providence, surely!—but it’s the way it happened.

Go here and just listen to King’s words on greatness and service. (And listen to the people responding with their Amens!) It’s the best commentary I know of on Jesus’ words in Mark 10.42-45 (“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’”).

EVERYBODY CAN BE GREAT, BECAUSE EVERYBODY CAN SERVE. Amen!

And be inspired again by the “I have a dream” speech.

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