January 14, 2024

Across our land and around the planet in this hour a battle is raging.  It is a struggle to claim the hearts and minds of the next generation – those who will plunge our world into the abyss of endless rivalry and global warfare, or lead us to the heights of unprecedented mutuality and human achievement.  It is a contest for the future.

There is a battle raging.  We try to deafen ourselves to the noise and fury of its fray, but it resounds nonetheless above the ramparts of our comforts and securities.  Its trumpets and detonations echo from the walls of our living rooms with the nightly news.  We hear a mortar round and fear the tide of the battle is turning to the side of ceaseless hatred as we stare in shock at the images of bodies piled up in make-shift morgues in Gaza or pulled from the rubble of a home in Israel.  We hear the rifle report of enemy fire threatening a victory for carelessness and greed  when the newspapers tell us about corporate officers, bankers, and captains of finance who cover their eyes to the welfare of their clients and the nation as a whole in the pursuit of short term profits.  We see the ranks of hostile troops burgeoning, threatening to overwhelm our human village with global disaster, when oil companies, auto companies, emerging markets, and government leaders point fingers at one another instead of taking initiative to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

There’s a battle raging in the world.  Do not be lulled into the myth of apathetic non-involvement.  There is no place of withdrawal.  As the late Dr. Gene Bartlett once reminded me, you cannot stand forever on the shore of life, and seek safety in a non-committal spirit.  Sooner or later you must decide whether you will “throw the meager weight of your existence” on the side of truth and beauty and love and justice, or whether you will not.

There is a battle raging.  But the outcome is not in question.  Dr. King said that “the universe is on the side of justice.”  We know this.  The outcome of the battle, my friends, is not in question.  The only question is, while it rages, in whose army will you serve?

From where do we derive such confidence?  The same place as did Philip when he appealed to Nathanael to believe that Jesus was the one for whom they had waited, the one who would change the world.  Nathanael was skeptical.  He said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Philip gave him an answer for the ages.  It is an answer to every challenge presented to faith, to all those who are inclined to despair, and who strain to see any sign of hope.  He simply said, “Come and see.”

That’s my appeal to you this morning: come and see.  We mark tomorrow the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  But I don’t want to set before you merely the high ideas or the grand sounding dreams of a generation gone by.  I want to appeal to you to come and see what the power of Goodness and Love has done in this world, what is happening all around us, and what can, by the grace of the Almighty, be our future.

When Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and shook the land with his mighty words, he wasn’t setting himself up as “dreamer in chief.” He was sharing something with us that grew out of our common American experience and resonated profoundly in the depths of the American psyche.  He was revealing himself to be an ordinary dreamer, and sounding a trumpet to summon each one of us into the battle as ordinary dreamers.

Fighting for the last half century under the banner of justice and equality, this army of dreamers has breached the walls of hatred and injustice.  And look what happened: The Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 1968, and 1991, the Voting Rights Act, Affirmative Action, Loving v. Virginia (the abolition of discrimination against inter-racial marriage).

The battle for racial justice has not been won; we have yet a long struggle ahead.  But if anyone questions that a stiff-necked people can be turned around, learn new ways, and build a new world, I invite them to “come and see” what has happened in America.

And yet the battle still rages.  Our weary world is bleeding.  Too many of her daughters suffer on bloody and rubble-filled streets in Gaza; too many of her young men are satiating their rage by firing rockets into Israel; too many of her children go to sleep hungry and too many cower in fear; too many of her people live in oppression.  And too many of her nations are withering from smallness of vision.

Of all the diseases that wrack our world, perhaps the most pernicious is myopia.  Rulers who try to make themselves bigger than the countries they rule only succeed in making their nations smaller.  It is a weak nation that is only as strong as one person.  This was understood by the founders of our republic.  At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the words that were crafted and inserted into the Constitution created an oath to be sworn by every President who assumes the office.  In the first drafts, the oath was simple: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States.”  But George Mason and James Madison knew this wasn’t enough, and George Washington agreed.  They added the phrase, “and will to the best of my judgment and power, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  As the Constitutional Convention continued, the words “to the best of my judgment and power” were changed to “to the best of my ability.”

This is profound.  The framers were doing something new in the world.  They were, according to Marvin Pinkert, Executive Director of the National Archives Experience, creating nothing less than an “oath of subordination to the Constitution.”  Our president would not be free to simply use his (or her) best judgment to do whatever they felt was in the interests of the nation.  The oath of office insists that the president will pour all ability into preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution.  In other words, the Commander in Chief is enlisted along with the rest of us as a foot soldier in the army for justice and equality embodied in the Constitution.

And to those around the globe who languish in nations made tiny by self-absorbed leaders who place themselves above the law and above the people, I say: if you want to know how the world can be different, come and see.  Come and see how a nation is made great.

But a battle still rages.  When a man walks into a bowling alley and restaurant in Lewiston, Maine with a semi-automatic assault rifle and kills 18 people at random, it feels like a small victory for blind hatred and reckless folly.  But when the battle is joined, and a community mobilizes to respond with expressions of support and solidarity, such hatred and folly are defeated once more.

When the crumbling economy, the global wars of hate, and even the frigid weather seem to conspire to send everyone to the brink of hopelessness, it can feel at times like folks are left to barricade themselves in their living rooms, hunker down, and fight for their own slice of security.  But then the ice and snow come and the power goes out. Come and see how neighbor calls on neighbor, and a church family pulls together to celebrate the ties that bind them, and a community brings food to the school house and shares in a meal, come and see that together we’re fighting the right battle.

When greed takes over our financial institutions, calloused indifference pervades the marketplace, and cynicism fills the headlines, it can seem as though the forces arrayed against us are too great and the battle for the hearts and minds of the next generation is hopeless.  But come and see how places of faith and caring like this one still abound, and Prince of Peace isn’t done with us yet.

Do you wonder if there’s any point in living a faithful life, and sharing that faith with others?  Do you wonder if standing up for the things you believe in really matters – things like peace, or equality, or justice, or love, or faithfulness?  Do wonder if it will really make the least bit of difference in the world?  Philip knew that it could.  When he was summoned by Jesus to take up the cause, he dropped everything.

You and I have been drafted, in a way, into an army of ordinary dreamers.  And if anything will turn this world around and finally win the battle for racial justice and equality, populate the world with nations that are greater than not only their worst leaders, but even their best, and mark a victory for faithfulness and hope, it will be through battles large and small waged by folks like us.

Are there those who ask if there’s any power to be found in believing, in caring, in working for justice?  Do they wonder if people like us are just wasting our time thinking that the world can change for the better and that walls of hostility and distrust can be broken down, or if perhaps there is something deeper, lovelier, more profound and life changing to be discovered?

Does the world wonder if competition, dirty tricks, violence and greed have taken over, or if America can still be a place where love rules, hearts are opened even a little, and caring for others, sharing of gifts, and mutual understanding prevail?  Do they wonder if this land is just full of self-interested hypocrites, or if it indeed contains people who are genuinely trying to find their way to a deeper truth, a finer humanity, a richer and more compassionate way of life?

Are there those who wonder if there is any genuine love, community, and support to be found following the footsteps of Christ in a church like this one.  We have an answer for them: come and see.

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