A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA, January 17, 2016.
On this second Sunday after the Epiphany we remember prophets, gifts and miracles. The prophet Isaiah is speaking in a time when all is not well with the world. The temple is in ruins but there is a vision for a future in which Jerusalem knows vindication. The sense of isolation and abandonment will end, eventually, for the people of Israel. There will be rejoicing when desolation turns to union… the joy will be like that known at a wedding celebration at the heart of the beloved community.
In our lesson from Paul’s letter to the congregation at Corinth we are reminded that there are many kinds of gifts and that “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1Cor 7)
In our Gospel lesson we have moved, briefly, from Luke (in Lectionary Year C that emphasizes Luke) to the Gospel according to John. We must make this move to John if we are going to hear about Jesus’ first miracle at a wedding in Cana… because this story appears only in John’s gospel. In this story Jesus’ mother plays a key role, before she disappears from the story to reappear again three years later as her son hangs dying on a cross. At the wedding party Mary nudges her son to notice that there is a problem… and says to him, simply, “There is no wine.” Jesus gives a rather unpleasant reply: “’Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’.” (John 12: 4-5) Thank you Mary. Jars of water, common water that was to be used for washing in purification rites, was turned to the finest of wine… not the dregs that would normally be served late in the party to an already drunken group of guests who would not know the difference. On many levels Jesus reveals God’s finest gifts to the world… even as that world was and is numbed, and too often oblivious to the many blessings in its midst. Mary continues to nudge us to notice what is amiss… and do as Jesus asks.
In the spirit of our lessons today, and in honor of the ministry of the prophet Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I would like to share a story with you that has been close to my heart for many years.
There was a horrible tragedy in December of 1998. It was all over the news in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A young, vibrant, spirit-filled teenager named Terrence went up to an apartment in town… to meet some friends. While the group was visiting together one of the boys wanted to show off by pulling out a stolen gun. For some unknown reason the boy pointed the gun at Terrence’s head and pulled the trigger. Twelve hours later Terrence’s family stood around his bed at Lancaster General hospital while the ventilator that had been keeping his brain dead body alive was disconnected. It was a senseless and tragic loss of a promising young life. The headline of the January 10th edition of the Sunday News read “A Boy, Not a Statistic.” Within the article were excerpts of an essay, that Terrance had written several years earlier, as part of his application to the private Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, Terrence was not able to attend the school as his grades were not strong enough for a full scholarship and his family was unable to meet the tuition. The essay, however, is a powerful expression of one young man’s understanding of the “blessedness” that is alive in the midst of the sin of humankind and of society, of the blessedness that is known and understood by prophets, and by those who turn their hungry hearts to God… yearning for justice and peace. This essay is a tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., written by a then 14 year-old Terrence Rineer. I got to know Terrence’s family the year that the annual Quaker-sponsored writing contest for young people was being hosted by the congregation that I was serving… and Terrance’s family was invited to help develop the essay contest theme: “Stop the Violence.” Through the contest Terrence’s family sought to share his story, the whole story, of both his promising life and his tragic death, in hopes of inspiring young people in the community to be agents of positive change in the world. Through the season of the competition we shared Terrence’s essay widely, the same essay that I now share with you.
A Conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. By Terrence Rineer (1995)
If I could spend one evening with anyone, I would pick Martin Luther King, Jr. the night after his meeting with Malcom X. A teacher of mine from Project Forward Leap told me that these two men supposedly met only once. I chose the night after this meeting because then Dr. King could talk about the two most important people to me in history, himself and Malcolm X.
As a kid who has a white mother and a black father I’ve grown to realize that there is a lot of negativity in the world. Everyday people are judged by the color of their skin. I have been called “Oreo Cookie” and “Chocolate Milk” by both Blacks and Whites. I have become used to this, so it really doesn’t bother me , but it was more harmful to be called these names in the 1960’s.
Both men fought hard and even gave their lives so that race would not matter. From what I know about Malcolm X, he wanted black people to be proud of being black, and Dr. King wanted peace between both races. My question to Dr. King would be, are black people proud of who they are? And is there peace between blacks and whites in 1995?
When I see and hear about young men killing each other I feel very angry because Malcolm X and Dr. King did not die so that we could kill ourselves with drugs. When I see the KKK and Skinheads on TV saying how much they hate people such as myself who have both black and white parents, I become very angry. I think to myself that there is still hatred between blacks and whites which would disappoint Dr. King.
In Summary, I think that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X were two of the greatest people ever to live. My teacher once said that they both died when they were 39 years old. I wonder what the world would be like today if they were both here. I find it strange that Malcolm X wanted to teach black pride and was killed by black people and King wanted to stop racism and was killed by a racist person, James Earl Ray.
During my talk with Dr. King I’m sure that I would learn a lot, and hopefully teach him about our society today. I would also say to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that I am living proof that his dream is still alive. I have pride in myself. Myself and my friends do not use or sell drugs. I don’t kill or carry weapons. I look forward to getting through high school and going to college. I would also tell him about Project Forward Leap which has kids of different races trying to become better students.
We spend five weeks every summer for 3 years at Millersville University. Last summer we took a trip to New York and Met Mrs. Loida Lewis, the chairman Beatrice Foods. Finally, I would tell Dr. King that his dream did not die with him.
Dr. King’s dream did not die on April 4, 1968, nor did Terrence’s spirit, sensitivity and message die with him on a sad morning in December. Out of their grief Terrence’s family organized a program called “Stop the Violence” to break the complacency of, and toleration for… a culture of violence. The boy who pulled the trigger was devastated. Terrence’s family reached out to him, offering healing understanding and welcoming him back to a life… a life that was forever changed both by his mindless act that ended a precious life, and the gift of generous forgiveness offered by a grief-stricken family who searched for meaning in the depths of their despair… They searched, and they found it.
Prophetic voices, both ancient and modern, continue the sacred work of seeking towake us and the world out of numbed complacency… On this very day, God’s message is seeking to grab our attention… that a world crippled by violence, prejudice and fear may look up and see that there is another way… the way of compassion and of caring… In the midst of our grief, anger and fear… God continues to call every last one of us to life.
The psalmist sings to God:
9 For with you is the well of life, *
and in your light we see light.
10 Continue your loving-kindness to those who know you, * and your favor to those who are true of heart.
Epiphany 2 – January 17, 2016 & MLK Isaiah 62:1-5
1 Corinthians 12:1-11