The Rev. Deborah Silver
January 17, 2021
May we, like the prophet Samuel, say, “Speak for your servant is listening.”
We stand this morning at a strange juncture in time. On one side, we look back ten days ago to the horrific spectacle that unfolded at our nations’ Capitol. And, on the other side of the juncture, we look ahead 3 days from now when a new President will be inaugurated at the same Capitol. How do we bridge the chasm that stretches between these two dates? How do we get from the horror of Jan. 6th to the hope of Jan. 20th?
Marching from horror to hope could be a fitting description of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life path. Perhaps it is fitting that we celebrate his birth tomorrow. And, our first hymn, “We Shall Overcome,” offers us a way ahead just as these words inspired Martin Luther King’s quest for non-violent social change and racial equality.
At the juncture we now face, we have much to overcome. The horrors we faced on Jan 6 cannot be overcome by burying the truth of what was revealed. We cannot cross the chasm of horror to hope by denying the reality of what fueled the insurrection. Many lies paved the way to Jan. 6. And, Dr. King would be the first to tell those who now call for unity, “there can be no reconciliation without truth telling.” And, “there can be no peace without justice making.” From a faith perspective, the call to unity reveals a grab for cheap grace and skips over the necessary steps of self-examination and repentance. We need a moral national reckoning before authentic unity can be realized.
King often paraphrased Jesus by saying, “the truth will set you free.”
Here’s something that I know about truth telling as a priest and a psychotherapist. The truth will set you free, but first it will may make you miserable. Individual self-examination or collective self-examination – soul searching if you will – is harrowing work. It’s about coming to terms with our failings, confessing our sins (known and unknown), and grieving a loss of innocence. This work can feel eviscerating but it can also be cleansing and ultimately renewing. And, as a people of faith, in the tradition of Martin Luther King, it’s time for America to do some real truth telling when it comes to its theology. As my friend Cameron Wiggins Bellm who writes a monthly column called “Spirit and Verse for Jesuits.org says,
“It was not at all surprising to see a cross erected at the Capitol uprising, even though it is a complete perversion of Christian doctrine. This kind of theology runs rampant in America. It’s time for America to take responsibility for its theology ….
If you worship a God of victory and ignore the suffering Christ, you are worshiping a false god. Your god is power. If the primary focus of your faith is bending everyone else to your will and cultural values while ignoring the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, and the marginalized, you are worshiping a false god. Your god is cultural dominance. If you feel that God will “bless” all of your endeavors because you are exceptional and God loves you more than all those other people, you are worshiping a false god. Your god is self-centeredness. If you think God loves America more than any other country, your god is nationalism. If the singular value of your faith is personal freedom at the expense of others’ health and safety, you are worshiping a false god. Your god is autonomy. If you have so distanced yourself from Christ that you are baffled by the concept of personal sacrifice in the service of the common good, you are worshiping a false god. Your god is selfishness. And above all, if you think that God favors white people over everyone else, you are worshiping a false god. Your god is racism and white supremacy. America, it’s long past time, to take responsibility for this. Let’s start by calling it what it is.”
We can start with ourselves and ask, who is the God we worship and who do we serve? Is it the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth who healed the suffering, identified with the marginalized, set free the captives, brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly? How will we respond when Jesus says to us, “Follow me.”
As people of faith, as followers of Jesus, we can and should lead the way towards doing this work of truth telling. Truth telling serves a purpose. It can lead us to repentance and redemption. And, repenting of the national sins of white supremacy, racial injustice and economic inequality is long overdue.
As individuals and as a nation we can turn around. We can overcome the evil that ensnares us. With God’s help, change is possible. Martin Luther King believed this passionately and spoke about it often. He had a dream that “one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal.” And, that “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” King dreamed of a Beloved Community where the redeeming power of God’s love transforms hearts, makes friends out of enemies and ushers in a new age of goodwill among all people.
The truth can set us free, but only the transforming power of God’s love can truly turn us around and empower us to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.
In his last Sunday sermon, preached at the National Cathedral, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. ended his sermon by reminding his listeners not to despair on the hard road to freedom, because “however dark it is, however deep the angry feelings are, and however violent the explosions,” what we are capable of making is “a beautiful symphony of brother and sisterhood…. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
God willing, and with the Holy Spirit’s fortitude and perseverance, we shall overcome.
We shall walk hand in hand. We will not be afraid. We shall live in peace. And, inspired by the
witness of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, John Lewis and CT Vivian, may we believe, deep
in our hearts, that we shall overcome one day.
May these words give us hope for the living of the days. Amen.
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look withPrayer for the Human Family (Book of Common Prayer, p. 815)
compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our
hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through
our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all
nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.