I am 32 years old, and this is the first time I can legitimately say that I observed and celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I have certainly known it was there, and have been glad it was there. But today was the first time that I made any kind of effort to gather with others for the specific purpose of honoring the dream of Dr. King, which was and is a dream of the Kingdom.
I am embarrassed by that. It says things about me that I wish just weren't true.
Yesterday and today, however, have been so very special. As tired as I am after a a very full couple of days, I have learned how I want to honor days like this and how I want to live my life.
It began with a communion reflection by a friend that was powerfully stirring. My friend Paul spoke of the Freedom Riders who were beaten by the angry mobs in the deep south and of a little girl who walked through the racist, angry crowds to give cold water to the riders choking on the smoke from fires lit by the KKK. He spoke of how her family had to leave their home due to the ensuing and intense persecution. He applied Matthew 25 to say that this girl was giving water to Christ Himself and how we too are to let the cool waters of our baptism be carried to the oppressed to cool their thirst. He spoke in chillingly powerful terms about what it means to come the Table of the Lord, that we can't politely break that bread and drink that cup unless we are intent on actually giving our lives to caring for Jesus in the faces of the oppressed.
I was proud to be with a church that did not sit passively and comfortably at the Table.
My heart was stirred further when one of our elders prayed powerfully and with deep pastoral love over our church. As he prayed he called for justice to come in our nation, that our love affair with violence would end. The Kingdom dream which Dr. King articulated about justice through nonviolence was alive in our hearts.
I was proud to be with a church that did not pray politely thinking that our worship of the Lord could be divorced from our responsibility to live to end violence and injustice.
I was asked to preach yesterday as our minister was out of town. With the topic being Sabbath, which is rooted in God's concern for equality and justice (see Ex 20 and esp. Deut 5), and with the weekend being a remembrance of the Civil Rights movement, I could not speak that day in good conscience without reminding myself and my brothers and sisters of the call to bring about God's Sabbath, God's Jubilee in a world of great unrest and injustice.
I was proud to be with a church that received the prophetic words of Scripture with humility and the courage to respond faithfully.
This morning I woke up early with a small group of students who, with the help of some awesome adults, put on a special feast and celebration in honor of Dr. King's legacy. We hosted children and teens from Burundi, Nepal, Tanzania, India, Sudan, Mexico, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and many other places that I just did not get the chance to find out about. We played soccer together with Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic and Christian children. We played games united by the joy of each other and the delight of a game. We feasted on some of the best smoked chicken I've ever eaten (thanks to smoke master Aaron!) with tables full of vegetables, pasta, and desserts. Right before lunch one of the Sudanese boys asked how many hot dogs we could have a lunch. I told him there would be no hot dogs!
I was proud to be with a church that served a feast fit for a king to children of the King. I was proud to see plates piled high and smiles stretched out wide and cheeks stuffed full.
My heart, too, is stirred with a dream when the church can be what God intends for it to be - the people whom God has sent to set captives free and to release the oppressed, who enact with their lives and proclaim with their mouths the coming of God's Jubilee. It was awesome to see in the hearts and lives of a small group of Jesus lovers such deep hospitality and such deep longing for God's Kingdom to reign in our little corner of the world, Tucker, GA. I long with bated breath the coming of the day when the church catholic in all its diverse and beautiful and complicated and broken and majestic and confused and awesome wonder can stand in one voice in the name of Jesus for the sake of the world.
It was so good to celebrate this day in this way.
It is my hope that my life will never give in to the temptation to divorce worship of God from action on behalf of the oppressed.
No matter how you worship, with what group you worship, in what space you worship, with how many ever you worship, to what tunes you worship, or how often you worship... may you never, ever, ever, ever, ever think that that is enough. Let's end our bickering and judging and fighting about "church" and lets get on with being the church by joining Jesus in His mission to preach good news to the poor, to open the eyes of the blind, the set captives free, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (Lk 4:18-19). It isn't worship and we aren't the church until we are about this very thing.