This sermon was preached at Revolution Church in Minneapolis, MN January 19th, 2014
We’ve become so smart and advanced at articulating what we believe is right or wrong, correct or incorrect, just or unjust…but somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten that not only must we articulate our values, we must also practice them.
I would like to read an excerpt from Dr. King’s famous speech:
“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, Black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds”.
I would add to Dr. King’s summation, women, children, the elderly, people of differing physical and mental abilities, people from different socio-economic classes, people who are transgender or gender nonconforming, same-gender loving and affirming folks, and people of all shades and determinations that fall outside of a middle-American white, heteronormative structure. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, and after 50 years since those words were spoken by Dr. King, it is clearly evident that the debt of American justice is larger than ever so it is not surprising to me that the American justice bank continues to default on this promissory note.
For the women who still earn nearly 30% less than men in pay for doing the same job, the American justice bank defaulted on this promissory note.
For CeCe McDonald, the Minneapolis transgender woman who, this week, was just released from serving time in a male prison for killing her attacker in the midst of a hate crime, for CeCe and transwomen all over the nation, the American justice bank defaulted on this promissory note.
For senior citizens with chronic health issues, working class families with sick children, AIDS and Cancer patients, the quality of their life in this country is dependent on whether or not they can pay for the medication and medical treatments they need–that aren’t covered by their insurance…for the sick folks on fixed incomes, the American justice bank defaulted on this promissory note.
For poor children growing up in inner cities or along remote boating and appalachian areas, the quality of their education is determined by whether or not their schools receive adequate funding… and for those of us who manage to beat the odds, the quality of higher education received is dependent on sports scholarships or passing standardized tests that weren’t written for folks on the margins anyway…it’s either that–if you aren’t super smart–or take your chances by learning to swim upstream in thousands of dollars in student loan debt with no promise of gainful employment in a constantly failing economic structure that continues to favor the rich over the poor. For the poor, the American justice bank defaulted on this promissory note.
For gay and lesbian couples who love and live…and desire to share homes, lives, children, and commitments…the right to marry is still being voted on by people who believe in the separation of church and state only so far as it perpetuates their own misguided agendas and distorted beliefs. For LGBTQ folks, the American justice bank defaulted on this promissory note.
For spiritually hungry people who reject the notion of an anthropomorphic God that hates, judges, and kills people on a whim…while blessing, favoring, and advancing a select few based on pretentious merits, for them, access to a theologically progressive community or education is still very much defined by whether you are learned enough or white enough or rich enough or heady enough to be a part of the group. For the seekers and people who desire growth and development through progressive religious discipline accompanied by spiritual practice, the American justice bank defaulted on this promissory note.
For every group that seeks to exist within the lines and confines of society’s margins, those who don’t fit into the neat boxes we create in our efforts to understand, measure, and categorize our differences, a huge effort has to be made to beat the odds, or ‘cross over’ into the mainstream which often results in exploitation, tokenism, criticism, disappointment, or the pressure to conform and assimilate into a watered down less authentic version of yourself that is passive and less threatening for those who fear difference. For those people, the American justice bank defaulted on this promissory note.
With all of these things being said, I refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt!
In this time, in this age…of bullying, school shootings, poverty, hunger, war, discrimination and injustice, what do we do? How do we live? How do we overcome these crimes of evil, injustice, and oppression? If in fact we believe in God, and if in fact we believe that God is the infinite life force that weaves all of life and creation into itself, the answer lies within each of us. The power to realize this dream is all our responsibility. It takes each of us to make it happen.
We can continue to bicker, fight, display to our children that if we hate, fear or disagree with someone that it’s ok to kill them, berate them, or bully them to death if they refuse to conform to what makes us comfortable. We can continue to hoard money, education, and medicine. We can continue to sit on our separate sides of the fence worrying more about how well someone articulates their position rather than whether or not they actually carry it out.
We can continue to scratch our heads and wonder why our table isn’t as diverse as we want it to be. We can continue to wonder why poor people are poor, why racism, classism, and sexism is perpetuated, or why younger generations know more about entertainment than they do about how to live whole, fruitful, peaceful lives.
Or we can dream. We can dream with Dr. King. Because I believe that the bank of justice is real and that it’s over-flowing with goodness and mercy. I believe that it is possible for all people with a dream and a plan to succeed. I believe that compassion exists and I believe it exists beyond political party, beyond denominational affiliation, beyond skin color, beyond difference. I believe compassion exists because it is the breath of God that flows through every atom of life, through every heartbeat and every sunrise, through every smile, and in every dream.
Dr. King had the dream but it’s up to us to bring that dream to fruition. It’s not enough to quote the words and to celebrate his birth with a service project that pumps us up and makes us believe in a dream that deep down we think is someone else’s responsibility to pursue…this dream is all our dream. We all want these things.
We all want justice, we all want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…so if we all want it, why aren’t we willing to change how things are done in order to make sure that this dream is accessible to and for all because until everyone can have these things, no one REALLY has them.
Until all of us are free, none of us are free. In addition to our dreaming, we must also DO some things! Risk being uncomfortable, risk being challenged, risk being wrong, risk being right, risk working to make Dr. King’s dream come true.
Let the words of freedom spoken by this prophet preacher ring in our ears and let this dream remind our hearts of words spoken by another, less familiar prophet preacher. In Micah chapter 6 verse 8, we are told exactly how to fulfil the dream Dr. King spoke of 50 years ago. “He has shown you clearly, O mortals, what is good…and what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Now is the time! The Spirit of all that is holy inextricably binds us to one another. It’s up to each of us to make this dream come true.