North Riverdale Lutheran Church ― January 14th, 2018
Pastor Monte Stevens ― Gospel Lesson: John 1:43-52
Come And Be
A monument or a movement?
Americans will celebrate a national holiday this Monday lifting up and celebrating the black Baptist preacher and civil rights leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Many will again remember his 1963 March on Washington, and the magnificent oratory of “I have a dream!” delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, on the 28th of August, 1963. “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
While both the man and that moment merit celebration, there has been, for several years now, a difference of opinion surrounding the celebrating and the remembering.
I remember reading this comment a few years ago: “Brother Martin spent a fair amount of time in jail, but his worst imprisonment may be how his own nation has frozen him in that moment in 1963. Our national memory wants that triumphant, sun-drenched hero to stay right there, static, bound to the podium before the adoring crowds. We want to be lulled into contentment by his beautiful words, his familiar cadences. We want to keep him safely, unthreateningly, on a pedestal.”
And the American poet Carl Wendell Himes, Jr. who was only in his 20s when King was assassinated, articulated this domestication of King eloquently:
“Now that he is safely dead
Let us praise him
build monuments to his glory
sing hosannas to his name.
“Dead men make
such convenient heroes:
They cannot rise
to challenge the images
we would fashion from their lives.
it is easier to build monuments
than to make a better world.”
It is easier to build monuments than to make a better world…
Do you remember what happened back in August, 2011, as America was preparing to unveil a 30-foot granite statue of King in the National Mall honoring African Americans? That’s right! They had to cancel the unveiling at the last minute due to the approaching Hurricane Irene!
About the monument, one newspaper report said: “The MLK Monument is meant to encourage the visitor to move, literally, from despair toward hope. The design is clearly based on the quote from King’s “I Have A Dream” speech that reads: “With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair…a stone of hope.” With this in mind, the visitor approaching the monument is forced to pass through the Mountain of Despair, which stands like two forbidding sentinels, or to my mind, two sides of the threatening Red Sea, parted by God as Moses led the Hebrew people out of bondage” The making of a different and better world, versus the making of a national monument!
King’s ‘dream’ was not a cozy, abstract idea. It grew out of and flowed back into the practical, active work and struggle for social inclusion and transformation.
Indeed, ‘dreaming’ helped inspire an African-American seamstress, Rosa Parks, to refuse to give up her seat to a white man on a bus that December day back in 1955. A courageous act which triggered a 381-day black boycott of the bus system and ignited the modern civil-rights movement led by King.
Before I get to our gospel story, I want to be sure to comment on my favorite line I just read about Dr. King. The line dealt with the reality that the making of a different and better world is surely more difficult than the making of a national monument. Once we make a movement into a monument we risk toning down the movement and locking it into place.
Don’t get me wrong, monuments are important and necessary, but there is a risk of forgetting what led to the moment of the monument and the continuing movement that started it all.
Another way to say that is that we still need the voice and presence of Dr. King today, now maybe more than ever. We still need to be about making our world into the better world King called for. It’s one of the reasons I am so inspired by Dr. King. And one of the reasons I call him a modern prophet.
We’re not there yet!
Dr. King stands in the tradition of the biblical prophets engaging and reminding the world that we’re not there yet!
While there is still injustice…we’re not there yet!
While there is still war…we’re not there yet!
While there is still poverty…we’re not there yet!
While there is still prejudice…we’re not there yet!
While there is still segregation…we’re not there yet!
While there are still white supremacists…we’re not there yet!
In our gospel lesson, Jesus says to Nathaniel “You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending.” This is a beautiful metaphor from the story of Jacob…when the heavens are opened and we catch a glimpse of the divine.
This happens to Jacob in a dream. We saw it again as Dr. King shared his dream of a new heaven and a new earth. When the gates of heaven are opened we catch a glimpse of the divine…the holy…God’s preferred future. For me, that is what this story about Nathaniel is all about at the beginning of John’s gospel.
John is sharing that just as the heavens opened and Jacob saw angels ascending and descending…when one follows Jesus…they will see the one who is a gateway to the divine.
In John’s gospel, to make this clear, when Jesus is baptized the heavens open up and God’s spirit comes to rest on Jesus. So Phillip goes to his friend Nathaniel and says … we have found him. We have found the one we have been looking for. Come and See! Come and see what?
Come and see the one that when you follow the heavens open up so that you can catch a glimpse of the divine. Come and see one who will transform the world. Come and see the one you need to follow. The one who will lead a movement to make the world a better place. It’s certainly and invitation to come and see, to observe this person Jesus.
Come and see, versus come and be.
But in John’s gospel it’s always a deeper level…a deeper meaning…a deeper invitation. The invitation to Nathaniel, and to you, and me, is to not just to come and see, but to come and be.
Be what God has called you.
Be the person the world needs.
Be all you can be.
Be the beloved child of God who invites others to a similarly transformative experience of relationship with others in Christ.
To come and be is the beginning of a joining a movement and not just observing a monument. The movement is the kingdom of God creating the world that Jesus dreamed of…the world that one of Jesus followers, Dr. King, dreamed of.
This reminds me of another Martin Luther and a quote I like by him. The Martin Luther of the Reformation. He dreamed of a newly reformed faith and also started a movement. He said, “This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness…not health, but healing…not being, but becoming…not rest, but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end, but it is the road.”
Can anything good come out of Birmingham?
Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
Can anything good come out of North Riverdale?
Are there any dreams that God wants us to envision?
Come and see…follow me…says Jesus!
We are not yet what or where we shall be, but we are growing toward it. I’m glad you’re part of it.
The invitation to Nathaniel and to you and me is to not just to come and see, but to come and be.
Be what God has called you. Be the person the world needs.
Be all you can be.
Let’s be what Jesus invited us to be…and what the world needs!