Epiphany 2 The Commemoration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. January 20, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

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

Tacoma, Washington

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,”

the power,

the divinity,

of Jesus.

 

Water become wine

for a wedding celebration . . .

 

not exactly in the same league

as the ensuing six signs . . .

a child

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” . . .

 

his glorification

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.

 

Instead,

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

and appropriate

to intervene

when a hospitality crisis

occurs.

 

The hosts

have run out of wine

long before the festivities

are supposed to wind down.

 

 

I wonder

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

shone

in his ministry as

pastor, preacher, prophet . . .

 

as leader of the Civil Rights movement

of the 1960s

(inspiration for

the Women’s Equality movement,

and the Gay Rights movement),

 

as proclaimer of and activist for

a transformed

American society

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:

 

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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 triumph,

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

must endure

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,

and

as I thought of today’s readings

and this sermon.

 

What does it mean,

I wondered,

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) .  .  .

 

Conversations

with others

brought other,

different, questions:

 

Might “Lift Every Voice” be sung

by whites

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?

Women?

Native Americans?

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?

Muslims, Jews,

 

any victims of oppression

and their repentant oppressors?

 

 

Can we sing it

despite the reality

that

we have been and are

part of the problem . . .

 

because we intend

to be

part of the solution?

 

 

Might our differences

lead not to dissonance and discord,

but to the beautiful harmonies

of freedom,

of unity of respect

in our

diversity of being?

 

Have the Johnson brothers,

with their words of lament and protest,

and their compelling and uplifting melody

and harmonies,

 

their call for transformation,

 

given a gift

that reaches beyond

the people whose story it tells

to capture

a universal and timeless human truth:

 

 

our propensity

for creating misery,

as we visit on one another

our suspicions, fear,

anger, cruelty,

greed, rapaciousness . . .

 

and our power

when we come together in unity,

in solidarity,

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

throughout history:

 

 

Isaiah’s vision

of God’s vindication of Jerusalem

shining out “like the dawn,”

 

Jesus’ vision

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,

of

 

“. . . 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?

 

In fact,

the carilloneur was

Laura Ellis, Associate Professor of Music,

white and a woman.

 

But does it really matter?

 

 

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