Second Sunday in Lent
February 21, 2016
The Attorney General of the United States came to warn him. “We have reports that there’s a sniper in the outskirts of Montgomery waiting to shoot Dr. King.” King refused to leave his supports behind and seek safety in a northern state. “I don’t care what happens,” Dr. King told his advisors, “I have to march and I have to be in the front line”.
Martin Luther King was in trouble. The same sort of trouble that Jesus found himself confronting near Jerusalem. Dr. King had been arrested in Birmingham for leading a freedom march. Governor George Wallace, the ferocious segregationist, a ruler not unlike Herod, sought to destroy King. Now, 3 days into the long march from Selma to Montgomery, Dr. King faced a solid line of armed state troopers wielding clubs, nightsticks, and tear gas.
Beaten and shocked with cattle prods, trampled by horses, and choked by tear gas, the marchers fled for their lives. When someone called for an ambulance, the sheriff replied, “Let the buzzards eat them.” (Selma’s Sheriff, Jim Clark Daily Beast)
“We stone our prophets, then build monuments to them after they’re gone,” writes Richard Paul Evans. (The Gift, pg 331) Indeed, move the calendar forward 50 years and Martin Luther King JR. is honored as a prophet for our time. Once “despised and rejected” by the majority of white America, monuments, schools, streets and justice centers are now named in honor of King’s legacy. A man of deep and abiding faith, the time has come that we call Dr. King ‘blessed.”
Why do we kill and stone our prophets?
Perhaps it is because prophets see something most of us have yet to see, God’s reign fully realized, the Promised Land in all its glory. But the journey to get to the Promised Land is long and dangerous – requiring that we walk out of the valleys of despair, travel across lifeless deserts and climb the mountains of hope. And sometimes we respond to the difficult journey by rejecting the prophet who tries to lead the way.
We respond to the shrill calls of those “foxes” whose false pledges and empty promises pull us away from our better selves. We turn our back on the kingdom of God and leave our sisters and brothers for the buzzards.
It was Dr. King’s faith in the living God that moved him forward to Montgomery, and it was his faith in the kingdom of God that gave him the vision, strength, and courage to never turn back, to always keep moving forward in the face of bigotry, legalized racism, imprisonments, violence, and ultimately death.
It was Jesus’ faith in God the Father that moved him forward to Jerusalem and it was his faith in the promises of the universal kingdom that gave him the vision to see things in the fullness of all its potential, and in the fullness of what God had intended for us from the beginning when God began creating the world.
Our journey is not over. We have not arrived at the place where all are gathered together in unity and respect. And as people of faith, we have an obligation to keep the march alive – to follow the path of the prophet – whether it leads to Jerusalem or Montgomery or Seattle.
So what does this gospel reading mean to us today? It’s very easy to listen to the foxes – politicians who pull us into a dialogue of hate and despair. But we as followers of the One Living God we are guided by a deeper vision – we can consciously and deliberately make a choice. We can say no to the foxes among us. For all intents and purposes we will become sojourners in a strange land – coming here to this holy place – on a Sunday afternoon to pray for justice and peace – with these people. We come together in unity to lift up the wounded, to listen to the prophets, to hear the Word, and to sing the praises of thanksgiving.
It is here that we come to the table where we are forgiven, strengthened, healed, blessed, and fed and sent forth in peace so that we can return to the world, looking for the one who is called “blessed”.
Thanks be to God.
Which is worse, Pastor: a stoned prophet or a high priest? 🙂