EPIPHANY 3 Year C
(Commemoration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corin. 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
Christ Episcopal Church
The Rev. Janet Campbell
Sunday, January 20, 2019
Water become wine . . .
the first of Jesus’ “signs” . . .
those seven actions
that for the author of John’s gospel
reveal the “glory,”
Water become wine
for a wedding celebration . . .
not exactly in the same league
as the ensuing six signs . . .
and a paralyzed man healed,
5,000 hungry people fed,
a walk across the Sea of Galilee,
sight given to a man born blind,
Lazarus raised from the dead.[John 4:46-54; 5:1-15; 6:5-14, 16-21; 9:1-7; 11:1-45]
This first sign
is meant by John to place
all that follows in his gospel
in the context of Jesus’ ultimate mission,
what John calls Jesus’ “hour” . . .
on the cross,
the “hour” which has not yet come,
but toward which Jesus turns
with his decision
to work this first sign,
an early glimpse,
we might say,
of God’s transforming power
at work in Jesus.
Water become wine.
In John’s gospel,
there is no 40-day sojourn
in the wilderness for Jesus
after his baptism.
he spends two days
gathering some followers,
and on the third day
takes them to a wedding.
He and his mother
have both been invited.
This must be the wedding
of a relative
as Mary feels it imperative
when a hospitality crisis
have run out of wine
long before the festivities
are supposed to wind down.
what Mary might have thought
Jesus could do about it . . .
send the servants
to the Stadium Thriftway
or its equivalent . . .
but surely his solution
was not anything
she could have imagined . . .
water for ritual washing
become wine for people to drink,
the best wine
to gladden the heart,
to keep the party going . . .
All this past week
I’ve been mulling (so to speak)
over this story about water and wine
and signs . . .
and Martin Luther King, Jr.,
whom we commemorate today.
Martin Luther King,
in whom the gifts of the Spirit
and the signs of God’s transforming power
in his ministry as
pastor, preacher, prophet . . .
as leader of the Civil Rights movement
of the 1960s
the Women’s Equality movement,
and the Gay Rights movement),
as proclaimer of and activist for
of liberty, justice, and equal opportunity
for all . . .
To conclude our liturgy today
we’ll sing “Lift every Voice,”
which, along with “We Shall Overcome”
and “This Little Light of Mine,”
became one of the great songs
of the Civil Rights Movement.
You may already know the poem
written in 1900
by African American James Weldon Johnson
set to music in 1905
by his brother John Rosamond Johnson:
- Lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring,
ring with the harmonies of liberty;
let our rejoicing rise high as the listening skies,
let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
let us march on till victory is won.
- Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet
come to the place for which our parents sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered;
we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
- God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
thou who hast, by thy might, led us into the light,
keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee,
lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee;
shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand,
true to our God, true to our native land.
[James Weldon Johnson, 1900]
The cry and the proclamation
of a proud, resilient people
who have endured and survived
the dark past
of slavery’s horrors.
A song of striving
and the cost of that triumph.
A song of faith and hope in God,
song of a new day begun,
but whose promise has yet to be fulfilled,
song of a victory
that has not yet been won . . .
as long as even one African-American
the indignities and dangers
of today’s racism
and its ugly twin white privilege . . .
for truly those weary feet
have not yet come to the sighed-for place
they do not yet stand
where the gleam of the bright star is cast . . .
The way with tears is still watered;
the path still leads
through the blood of the slaughtered . . .
The song of
a particular people,
a particular outrage,
a particular desperate and costly struggle.
A song that raises questions
that have the potential
both to unite and divide.
Questions I wrestled with
this past week
as I thought of our custom
of singing this song on the Sunday
we commemorate Martin Luther King,
as I thought of today’s readings
and this sermon.
What does it mean,
when a nearly all white congregation
sings a song
that emerges from the struggles
of African Americans?
Is it hypocritical,
when the white power structure
created that particular stony path,
wielded that particular chastening rod,
caused those particular tears
and shed that particular blood?
Is it a too-easy way
to “feel better”
so we won’t have to feel accountable?
Is it a tone-deaf appropriation
of another people’s
culture and experience?
(which dominant groups
are so adept at doing) . . .
Might “Lift Every Voice” be sung
as an offering of expiation
for our racism
conscious and unconscious,
as an expression of admiration
for the courage of those
who have survived it,
as a lament
for those who have not.
Might it be sung together with,
in solidarity with,
all who have walked
or are walking the stony path,
who have struggled or are struggling
under the chastening rod,
of discrimination and abuse?
Yes, of course, African Americans.
It begins in their experience.
Does it not also capture
the experience of
Lesbian and Gay people?
Transgender and nonbinary people?
Descendents of Chinese railroad workers?
and of Japanese persons
in World War II internment camps?
Latino refugees at our borders?
Immigrants in the Northwest Detention Center?
any victims of oppression
and their repentant oppressors?
Can we sing it
despite the reality
we have been and are
part of the problem . . .
because we intend
part of the solution?
Might our differences
lead not to dissonance and discord,
but to the beautiful harmonies
of unity of respect
diversity of being?
Have the Johnson brothers,
with their words of lament and protest,
and their compelling and uplifting melody
their call for transformation,
given a gift
that reaches beyond
the people whose story it tells
a universal and timeless human truth:
for creating misery,
as we visit on one another
our suspicions, fear,
greed, rapaciousness . . .
and our power
when we come together in unity,
with faith and hope,
to transcend our suffering,
to minister to the suffering of others,
to transform our society,
with God’s help.
What does it mean
to lift every voice
as we wait and work for the day
envisioned by the prophets
of God’s vindication of Jerusalem
shining out “like the dawn,”
of God’s kingdom of justice and peace,
James Weldon Johnson’s vision
of God who has “led us into the light,”
the “gleam of our bright star,”
Martin Luther King’s dream,
“. . . that day when all of God’s children,
black [men] and white [men], Jews and Gentiles,
Protestants and Catholics,
will be able to join hands and sing
in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
“Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”[“I Have a Dream” kinginstitute.stanford.edu]
Might our singing today
be itself a sign
of God’s power to transform
the human heart,
the human community . . .
to turn the water of our tears
into the wine of our joy?
On October 19, 2017,
as white supremacist Richard Spencer
took the stage to speak
at the University of Florida,
from the carillon in the university’s bell tower
came the stirring and subversive strains of
“Lift Every Voice and Sing.”[cnn.com 10/20/17]
Was the carillon player
black or white or yellow or red?
gay or straight?
male or female or non-binary?
the carilloneur was
Laura Ellis, Associate Professor of Music,
white and a woman.
But does it really matter?