Martin Luther King, Jr. – 2 Epiphany, January 20, 2019

 Rev. Lyndon Sayers
Isaiah 62:1-5 / Psalm 36:5-10 / 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 / John 2:1-11 

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a day commemorating one of the greatest Civil Rights leaders of all time. Having served as an organizer for a MLK community parade in Lexington, Virginia, I wondered how that relationship would play out now that I am living in Canada. I want to be sensitive to the Canadian context and I am wary of simply importing a tradition from one place to another without being mindful of local context. This past week helped me distill some thoughts about the significance of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders in a Canadian context. I had the privilege of attending two events this week led by Chris Hedges, who is known as something of a Calvinist doomsday prophet. I went to his public lecture at University of Victoria on Thursday and found myself in an overflow room with several of you.

 I was also invited to a graduate seminar led by Chris Hedges on Friday and it was there that an idea sparked. He reaffirmed that the vitality of church today lies in continuing movements like the kind Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders helped form in the 1950’s and 1960’s, building coalitions between churches and other groups. And you don’t have to take Hedge’s word for it. You can read Dr. King’s writing directly, which I would encourage you to do, starting with “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” which can be read in a single sitting. His words continue to pop off the page, reminding us of our Christian calling of service and coalition building.

There we hear Dr. King’s plea for the white church to rise up and join African Americans and all people of color in the fight to end racism. Dr. King understood the strength of bringing together different groups under the common umbrella of justice for all our neighbors. And so it is fitting that also this weekend the Indigenous People’s March took place in Washington D.C. and a scene played out illustrative of Dr. King’s call for us to lift up one another as siblings in Christ and neighbors who belong to different traditions. As the Indigenous People’s March was dispersing on Saturday, Nathan Philips, an Indigenous protester who also served at Standing Rock, found himself trapped by teenagers from a Catholic school in Covington, Kentucky. The students had attended a pro-life rally nearby and wouldn’t let him and other Indigenous people pass. In what he called inspiration from the Great Spirit, Nathan Philips starting drumming and chanting, waiting for a resolution to the impasse, which had unfolded. Meanwhile one of the white teenagers stood his ground and simply stared at Philips with a smug smile on his face. It was the same kind of smug smile you see on the faces of white supremacists in old photos from the 1950’s and 1960’s. I realize some will wince at words lobbed at teenagers, but they are expressing the same implicit hate with which the white church has raised them.

We also know that racism doesn’t magically stop at the 49th parallel. Recently Canada revealed a new $10 bill featuring Viola Desmond, who famously was arrested after refusing to leave a white’s only section of the movie theatre in Nova Scotia in 1946 (just 73 years ago).

And more recently the current story unfolding around us concerning pipelines in BC and whether federal and provincial governments, as well as private corporations, are willing to acknowledge the hereditary rights of First Nations peoples at times when it doesn’t align with the interests of the powerful.

It is worth noting that Bishop Susan Johnson just this week has issued a letter of solidarity with First Nations people around these issues and I encourage you to look at it. I have posted a copy on the bulletin board outside the church office.

Wedding at Cana

This morning we are talking about movements built upon faith and love of neighbor and ultimately all of this would be nothing without the one who embodies love and grace in his very being. The Wedding at Cana is some ways a personification of God’s love. Not only is it an incarnate God who shows up to a wedding banquet, joining the feast. Jesus himself becomes the feast. The wedding party is about to run out of wine and Jesus comes to the rescue.

Before we start judging the wedding party for bad planning, and I know we love to judge, think about all the times we have poorly planned for an event. I’m sure UVic was surprised when they planned for a couple hundred attendees for the Hedges lecture and nearly a thousand people showed up.

Beyond poor planning, think about the anxiety we have around scarcity. We are afraid that there will not be enough to go around. We remember our mothers telling us that we can’t have a snack in front of others unless there is enough to share with everyone. Imagine breaking our Kit Kat bar into smaller and smaller pieces. We become afraid of not having enough for ourselves. Like the bread and the wine we share during communion. We keep breaking the break, pouring the wine, until everyone has been fed.

Somehow there is always enough. Jesus is pouring himself out, fully present in the bread and the wine, and there is enough. Notice the take-away of the story isn’t to stop sharing. The moral isn’t that the wedding couple invited too many people to their wedding party. It’s not about inviting fewer people to the table. But rather it’s trusting that when Jesus is present there will be enough.

This is the gospel message we need to hear. At a time when we hear lectures about Christian facism. At a time when we need a Truth and Reconciliation committee at Church of the Cross, in the BC Synod, and in the National church because as Christians we allowed the church to be co-opted by powers of injustice and white supremacy.

And so today we need to hear a story of grace that we can taste. We need a sign of God’s abundance overflowing. We need to hear that who we are today is enough because God is with us. That we can be remade into something greater than ourselves. à

That we can break bread, drink wine, and be part of God’s unfolding kingdom as rivers of justice overflow from our chalice, our font, streaming out onto the crossroads outside our church building.

Only then, when we stop fearing scarcity, can we address scarcity issues for others around food, housing, mental and physical health, legal services, refugees needing assistance, reconciliation, and beyond. The Spirit sets us free first to think about “us” rather than “me.”

Building a Collective

            I realize that it’s one thing to talk about building a collective, talk about living into God’s kingdom more concretely, and it’s another thing to do the work and live that out. However, I believe the Spirit is already at work in our midst. You already have a burning desire for building community with people struggling with food insecurity working with Shelbourne Kitchen, working with refugees as we prepare to welcome another family member, working towards Truth and Reonciliation with First Nations people, working with our students and seniors of all ages, and more.

            Consider for example the selfless work of Jeanie, who has been faithfully visiting those in need in our community, lifting up prayer concerns, and strengthening bonds within the body of Christ. That too is holy work.

            Building a movement includes includes all our gifts, reaching out within and outside our community. We begin recognizing that we are being invited to banquets not only in the church, but also beyond our church walls. And eventually we begin recognizing that inviting people to banquets and being invited to the banquets of others is powerful stuff. Not in the sense of accumulating power for us personally, but in the sense of building stronger neighborhoods and communities, of which the church is a part.

            The work of building community continues to take new shape and new form among us here at Church of the Cross, in the Greater Victoria area, in the BC Synod. In baptism we are told that we experience rebirth. Martin Luther encouraged us to remember our baptisms daily, in part to witness to our daily dying to sin and being reborn as yearn to live into God’s coming kingdom. Each of us, no matter where we find ourselves today, is being reborn. Part of the question is whether we recognize that. Do we see how the Holy Spirit is already calling us into a new way of being? A new way of relating to one another?

            Even as we hear Chris Hedges and others talk about the deterioration of community, how unaffordable housing and mass unemployment ravage families and communities, we know that even a self-styled modern John the Baptist finds hope in the power of the gospel.

Being Bold

            And may I be so bold as to suggest that the Spirit is doing things in our midst here at Church of the Cross that even Chris Hedges could learn from. Even given all his scholarship he struggles with fully understanding the lived experience of trans women and men. And on January 31 we will be inviting Kingsley to come speak with us about their experience. Kingsley’s pronouns are they, them, theirs. Even if you don’t fully know what that means, you now know how to address them in conversation. I have a lot to learn as well. Perhaps some of you are confused or overwhelmed with the amount of information around understanding sexual and gender identities. A good starting point is humility and curiosity. It is better for us to admit that we do not know, than to assume we know another’s experience.

            Next Sunday as we prepare to celebrate Reconciling in Christ Sunday, consider it a continuation of the banquet feast of Wedding at Cana. Just as Jesus gives the gift of rich and varied tones in good wine, so too God gives the gift of rich and varied tones in one another. We are not the same in so many ways, so why should it come as a surprise that God has created us in weird and wonderful identities? Some of these we are born into and others are identities we grow into over time.

Returning to MLK

            Thinking about tomorrow, my prayers will be with our friends in Lexington and every place people gather to remember the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. I give thanks for those with courage to continue marching, taking up space together, and building community.

            My calling to Church of the Cross and the BC Synod in part is to share these gifts of community building and organizing in this context. In this sense Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks to us as well, urging us to create a church movement that looks beyond the current stagnation, trusting based on faith in abundance. Jesus is here with us, entrusting us with this calling that’s not just for us, but like overflowing wine, something we share with others.

Wrap Up

            Wrapping up, come join us at the banquet. Gather around the table. Be brave and feel the courage to listen to the news, read the paper, check on-line updates, while still knowing that we gather here together as the body of Christ. Jesus is enough for us, leading us into abundant life together. Amen.