January 15 2023 “Homily”
In the name of the Creator who loves us ALL. Amen.
Good morning! I am very grateful to be preaching for the first time here at John’s. Though Covid did try to stop me, it was defeated.
I would like to share a bit about me as we move into this homily.
I am one of six children, five out of six. Our mother was left widowed when we were ages 3-13, I was six years of age. Our father died shortly after collapsing from a heart attack. Life wasn’t great after that. While we should have been a solid middle- to upper-middle class family, we were dropped to a much lower middle class as our mother skills were limited to very highly accomplished but clerical skills.
My mother worked 1 ½ jobs, one at a local college during the day and typing for graduate students and professors for publication at nights and on weekends. Mom earned a dollar a page – a huge amount of money in the Seventies for such work. She did it on an electric typewriter. It meant that if the footnotes were off, the entire page had to be redone. No computer magic at that time.
Our mother worked very hard to keep us well fed, well clothed, and well housed. She and the bank owned a house! She managed to own and maintain a car.
It wasn’t easy. Yes, Social Security death benefits helped.
AND SHE COULDN’Y HAVE DONE IT TODAY.
With the cost of living, whether it is housing, food, clothing, gas, insurance, and the list goes on, I doubt she would have been able to do it all today. My mother might have lost custody of some of us. She wouldn’t have had time to keep us on our homework. No way could Mom have kept a car. Have a house? No, maybe a two-bedroom apartment. Two boys in one room, four girls in another, and her in the living room. Probably two full-time jobs. We kids would not have been encouraged to go to college. Economic challenges today are different from when I was young. We had jobs to get what we wanted, you know the $23 orange tag Levi jeans. Today we would have had to work jobs that helped Mom make ends meet.
Now, picture us as a family of color. Same scenario but a family that is Black or Latinx, or Asian. Many are living this. Parents working 3-3 ½ jobs. Small sub-par housing, nutritious food out of reach for 2 of 3 meals. Dependent on a transportation system that is run by those only wanting to be in their cars.
We should understand that this scenario for a family of color in 1968 was what the Reverend King was fighting for. Stunningly, this is very much the situation for many families of color today. No real change.
The Reverend King was continually bringing to the forefront that African-Americans could not get ahead strictly because of their skin color. As he pointed out in a 1967 NBC interview, the African-American was the only enslaved group of immigrants in this country. Hence, the Black man and woman were always judged as a servers, never an achievers.
Now the focus of this interview was what the Black man and woman were facing just trying to do what was necessary to care for their family and survive. Reverend King pointed out how many ways the ‘negro’ was held down and not given the same opportunities to move ahead.
A prime example is when Reverend King points out that former slaves never got free land to cultivate as many poor white farmers did. As he said, they received the right to be free and hungry. I felt I heard legislators of the time saying you got what you wanted, deal with it.
The strongest statement from that interview was the statement flung many times at the ‘negro’ was he should pull himself up by his bootstraps. Rev King referred to that statement as one of the cruelest jests, asking a man to pull himself up by his bootstraps when he doesn’t even have a pair of boots.
It was in that same 1967 NBC interview that Rev King emphatically said that black is only color stigmatized in our society and it was stigmatized by the those who enslaved the Black people.
Think about it. What color cowboy hat does the good guy wear? What color does the bad guy wear? What color are witches, warlocks, and vampires dressed in? What color are saints and angels dressed in? What color to be sultry, sexy? What color to be pure?
What skin color to be inherently good and what color to be perceived as bad?
I raise this as it was first time I remember seeing a bit of anger and frustration and possible despair from Reverend King. I saw a man that was so done with the false promises of help and support. A man so done with the lies and empty promises. He stated in no uncertain terms – we can’t and won’t wait for your support any longer. The white empire may have put us here, but we will fight to move away from here.
I thought of this interview that I watch each MLK day and on April 4th each year, and as I read Exodus and Luke to prepare for today.
And so, what connections?
Exodus is an easy connection. Go against the Pharoah and know I am with you. Take on the powerful and free God’s children, I am with you. I see that as exactly what Reverend King was doing. His faith was going to see him through, not the white churches. He made it very clear when he said freedom for ALL God’s children.
We, too, should take on the ‘tough stuff’. God will be with us, too. It may not make the work easier, but it will make us strong. It kept Rev King strong until the day he was murdered. It will keep us strong, too.
Now, we consider today’s Gospel. Jesus says don’t hate your enemies, love them as you love others. Love them as God loves them – and you, us. Leave the judging to God, just love.
Today we remember a man that was left without real support so many times. Rev King’s movement was stuck stopping and starting each day. He had frustration and despair, and maybe a bit of hate toward those that let him down. But he refused to let them keep him down by releasing the hate and working through love.
In 1967, he was at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was responding to the wait for others to come through with the promised support that wasn’t happening. But, he wasn’t going to let their failure take anything more from him. He said “I have decided to stick to love… Hate is too great a burden to share”.
Later at Christmas 1967 he rephrased it “I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear.”
One time is share and one time is bear.
Perhaps he didn’t want his possible hate of those who abandoned him and the cause to be spread to others. And so, he won’t share that hate any longer.
But I find the bearing of hate a more significant point. I would like each of us to think of a time when someone hurt you, injured you emotionally, or betrayed you. If your reaction was hate – think about the time and energy you put into living that moment, or reliving your reaction to it. Not only the time wasted mulling it over, but also the bile you felt in your throat and the headaches you may have gotten.
Reverend King’s reaction, be done with it and continue the work through love. When we do, we will be the disciples that God asks us to be. We will move onto living as Jesus did on this planet and committing outrageous acts of love, compassion, and hope.
We won’t judge why someone is homeless, we will find them shelter. We won’t’ judge why someone is hungry, we will bring them food.
In the Gospel we hear don’t waste time with hating or judging your enemies. Leave them to God. “God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked”, and us. Though I can land in the first group a lot.
Hate is such a small word, that brings such huge impact.
If we work to banish it from our vocabulary, we can return to doing the work of Jesus and the Rev King. We will only focus on what should be done, not was done. Not on what was, what could be through the love God gives us, our enemies – all that God created.