Reflections to start the week
Monday, January 19, 2015
In one of his several amazing books about the Civil Rights movement, Taylor Branch describes a pivotal moment in the ministry of Martin Luther King. The phone at Dr. King’s home had been ringing with messages of threat and terror, implying peril not only for him but his family. King sat alone after his family had gone to bed. Taylor Branch writes: “
King buried his face in his hands at the kitchen table. He admitted to himself that he was afraid, that he had nothing left, that the people would falter if they looked to him for strength. Then he said as much out loud. He spoke the name of no deity, but his doubts spilled out as a prayer, ending, “I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.” As he spoke these words, the fears suddenly began to melt away. He became intensely aware of what he called an “inner voice” telling him to do what he thought was right. Such simplicity worked miracles, bringing a shudder of relief and the courage to face anything. It was for King the first transcendent religious experience of his life. . . . For King, the moment awakened and confirmed his belief that the essence of religion was not a grand metaphysical idea but something personal, grounded in experience — something that opened up mysteriously beyond the predicaments of human beings in their frailest and noblest moments.” (from Parting the Waters, by Taylor Branch, Simon & Schuster, 1988)
This Monday matters because as a nation we honor this prophet, a prophet in the sense of a seer who has a dream about the future, but also a prophet in the sense of one who has courage to speak truth to power.
This Monday matters because as a church we celebrate this saint as one of the great cloud of witnesses who models what discipleship means, what it means to put faith to work in the world. For the feast day of Martin Luther King, we read about the call of Moses, noting comparisons between the prince of Egypt and Dr. King. We read from Exodus 3 (below), the story of the call of Moses to take on the enslaving, oppressive Pharaoh, to be God’s instrument in the world because God had heard the suffering of God’s people. Moses turns aside to see the burning bush and says the three most dangerous words in the Bible: “Here am I.’ In response, God describes the task ahead. “Tell old Pharaoh to let my people go.” In response, Moses moves from “Here am I!” to “Who am I?” Specifically, he asks, “Who am I to do this job, to change what can’t be changed, to face a problem that cannot be overcome, to counter evil that is too strong?” And what is the divine answer to Moses’ question: “Who am I?”
God says to Moses: “I will be with you.”
The Monday matters because we face problems that defy our cleverness and reveal the limits of our competence. There is still too much work of justice and peace to be done. Perhaps we’ve come some distance since Dr. King’s day but today’s news reveals that it is not enough. Injustices and inequity, violence and treachery persist. They can overwhelm. Our tradition tells us that God not only hears the suffering of God’s people, but also calls us to address that suffering. Who me? Who am I? How will we do that when the problems seem so big?
Once when I was whining with doubts about my effectiveness, a mentor asked me to name the one thing (or more) that I knew I simply could not do without God’s help. She said to pray about that particular thing. She predicted that would be the place where God would work, echoing that translation of the beatitudes: Blessed are those who know their need of God. This Monday morning, the news of the day from around the globe, the challenges of our lives as we face another week, may overwhelm. Who are we to tackle them? If that question is bothering you, I wonder if you can hear God’s response: “I will be with you.”
- Jay Sidebotham
Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘I will be with you.” -Exodus 3
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame will not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. -Isaiah 43
Fear not I am with thee
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.