54 years, and it’s still a Dream

My sermon from 1/15/17. The riskiest thing I’ve ever been part of. Shared with you. The text, is MLK’s I Have a Dream Speech.

 

“Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have 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 men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream 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.

I have a dream today!…

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

 

August 28th, 1963. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered that speech, spoke of his dreams, on August 28th, 1963. It was nearly 54 years ago. And it is still a dream.

If anyone here today was expecting a sermon extolling the virtues of the legacy of Dr. King, I’m going to disappoint you. Because I truly believe that the greatest way to celebrate Dr. King is not to rest on our laurels, as we have for the last 50 years, but to be true to his cause. To speak truth to power. And to remind us all that this fight is not over. It is far from over.

For proof, on Friday a man will be installed as our president who won the election because he espoused a rhetoric of racism, homophobia, and xenophobia. Please save me the argument of he won in spite of those things. Look around this country. Look at what is happening. I was ordained the Saturday after the election. I spent Sunday, my first fully ordained day, in Silver Spring at the Church of Our Saviour, whose signage and building were defaced in an act of racial violence. That was less than a week after the election.

And now this man, whose words emboldened and strengthened people who never lost power, is set to become the president.

So today, I wish to honor Dr. King’s legacy, by doing the best I can do, as a white woman, to draw light to the fact that we are still fighting the same fight for civil rights and to end racism that Dr. King spoke of in 1963. The fight has of course evolved over the last 50 years. Racism looks different, but systemic inequality is still alive and well. Partisanship, fear of the outsider, fear of anyone you consider to be different, and the desire to separate yourself from them, is still tearing this nation and world apart.

I know there are some of you in this room who don’t believe me, or who question the idea that racism is still alive. To you, and to all of us, I say: look around this room. Look around this room and tell me racism isn’t dead. Save the demographic, sociological, and systematic explanations. I know them. Racism is still alive and well.

Fun fact: American Christianity helped create racism. Christianity, the love of God through Christ, the great equalizer, a place where all are free. In a country that was racially diverse from the beginning, Native Americans, Caucasian European Settlers, and African Slaves, a system was set up to differentiate us based on the color of our skin. And that system remains today. It looks different today, it looks different today than it did even 50 years ago. And now we’ve added to the list.

Well, let me rephrase that. Because we haven’t added to the list. We’ve always categorized, differentiated, and judged people based on race, sexual orientation, nationality, disability, religion, and what is or is not between their legs. Now, we’re talking about it.

What we’re talking about is changing how we live our lives, and how we judge people. Moving closer to the idea that Dr. King spoke of so eloquently: to judge a person on the content of their character, instead of a checklist of characteristics that some white, heterosexual, Christian, man made up.

It’s easy to judge people on checklists. That’s an outward focus. Towards an end. It’s a lot harder to judge someone on the content of their character. That requires relationship. Talking to people. Actually spending time with someone, engaging, with someone who might not look or talk like you.

Just like Jesus did.

Jesus didn’t spend His days talking about the characteristics of a person needed to get into heaven. He certainly didn’t say to judge other people as to their suitability to be Christian based on a checklist. Look at the people he hung out with? Poor people. Outcasts. Disabled people. Tax collectors. Sinners. Women. People society looked at and judge as unworthy. Different. Wrong.

And if you think, for a second, that we don’t still do that today, you’re wrong. You might not consciously do so, but you do. If you’ve spent your life not thinking about these things, then you too are complicit in the continued systematic oppression of people who are not white, Christian, and heterosexual.

Listen to that again: if you have never thought about how society differentiates, categorizes, and assigns values to people, then you too are complicit in the systematic racism and oppression of America.

So what do we do? Right now this engrained system of oppression, violence, and differentiation is set to take over this country. Led by a man who has probably never thought about how society separates and assigns value to people.

Now, today, here, is the moment that we who have thought, or are willing to think, need to take action.

It starts by thinking about things you’ve never had to think about before. Think about why you selected the job you have. While remembering that you had a choice in that, and many do not. Think about the stores you shop in, the money you spend, and what that money supports. Think about who you voted for, and why. Think about your life. Realize that you have been privileged by the color of your skin. You had opportunities that others just did not. This is not to say that your life has been easy. I know mine has not and I would not even begin to assume that your life has been smooth sailing.

But how did you get to this place? And why are so many highly qualified, intelligent, people of color, or of a different religion, who may or may not speak with an accent, why are they not here too?

Think. Then talk. Talk with your families about these things, with your closest friends. Listen to their responses. Do they actually hear you? Are they defending themselves and their lives, or are they listening?

This isn’t an attack. It’s not an attack on you, and it won’t be an attack on them. It’s a conversation. No one is placing blame. This is an exercise in awareness.

Then, after you’ve thought, and talked to the people around you, talk to someone who doesn’t look or talk like you. Talk to them about their lives. Ask them their story. Ask about what it took to get where they are, if this is where they wanted to be. Learn about their daily struggles. Get to know them. Be in relationship. Judge them by the content of their character and not the color of their skin, or some other item on a checklist that says we’re different. And allow them to do the same to you. Understand the fullness of another’s humanity, and help them become what they were created to be. It’s the only way we will ever become who we were created to be.

“And when this happens [as Dr. King says], and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black and white, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, [gay and straight], will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

 

54 years. 54 years and this is still just a dream. We are the ones who can help make God’s dream a reality.

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