Date: January 17, 2016
Title: “A Lifetime of Moments”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Micah 6:6-8
There were tornado warnings and torrential rains falling in Memphis, Tennessee the night of April 3, 1968. Because of the bad weather, only about 2,000 had shown up to hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. call for the city’s sanitation workers to strike. Just a week earlier nearly 14,000 had come to the same place to hear him speak. Nonetheless, when King took the podium, he spoke about timing… specifically, about God’s timing.
He began by sharing some of the close calls he had already endured and then he went on to say:
Like anybody I would like to live a long life – longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now; I just want to do God’s will… So I’m happy tonight! I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the coming of the Lord!
We all know what happened next. At 6:01 the following evening, Dr. King was assassinated right there in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 39 years old.
Today we remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a prophet, a social activist, a reformer, and a change agent. But we would be remiss if we did not also remember him as a child of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ – just like us. Dan Clenendin, in his essay, The Time Has Come, makes this observation:
Part of King’s many-faceted genius was his recognition that chronos – mere “clock time”, the passage of days and weeks and years – no matter how long or short, no matter how trivial or important… that kind of time is no match for kairos time – the unique and opportune moment of God’s visitation.
“God’s time” is why King could say that longevity – the length of life – is not the first priority for his life, or even for ours. Indeed, longevity alone is a sad substitute for a decisive choice at a critical moment, however short or long the time. We are all given a lifetime of moments, however short or long our time. We are constantly being given opportunities to make decisive choices, and in many of them we find ourselves facing defining moments.
Defining moments are the ones which lay bare our identity and establish our priorities. They are those moments when we have no choice but to show our true stripes, and they are often the moments when we most long for clear directions, focused sensibilities and unambiguous choices.
I may have shared with you before one of my favorite “Frank and Ernest” cartoons. It shows Frank, playing the role of Moses, coming down off the mountain while holding just one stone tablet. On the tablet are inscribed just two words: Behave yourself! And Frank looks back up into heaven to complain to God, I’m afraid you’ll need to go into a little more detail!”
The prophet Micah, thankfully, gives us the details for which we long. It may seem too simple for a complex world, or too easy for difficult lives. It may appear to be too straightforward for the theological twists and turns of modern-day faith. Still… we would do well to listen to Micah’s details today, when he tells us: Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God.
When Micah first laid out this instruction he was speaking to people who thought they had a corner on the God-market. Israel had become so complacent they had begun to rely upon ritual instead of relationship. They were convinced that “right worship” would equate to “righteousness”. Yet, from the beginning, the Biblical record is clear – God is more interested in relationship than ritual. And justice throughout the Hebrew Scriptures is seen as the highest expression of religious practice.
So Micah says Do justice. Interestingly, there are nine words associated with the word “justice” in the Bible. They are: widow, fatherless, orphans, poor, hungry, stranger, needy, weak, and oppressed. Nowhere in this list do you find the word “rich”. Nowhere is the word “strong” or the word “privileged” linked with the word “justice” in the Bible. A concern for justice is always a concern for those who are on the margins, for those who are in need.
Especially in our day, to do justice means to pay attention to the people on the margins, and to the systems which put them there. Martin Luther King put it this way:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly… and I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.
For Micah’s original audience, “doing justice” would have meant making sure that everyone was cared for, which would also have meant loving kindness. To love kindness is to go beyond polite interaction. It is to go the second mile and the third and the fourth, and as long or as far as it takes to love others as God loves us.
Kindness – we know it as compassion, sympathy, gentleness, benevolence, helpfulness. So what better example of loving kindness could we find than Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan? Or, for that matter, our own stories of defining moments when we choose to stop, to kneel down, and to offer our help, instead of walking by like the rest of the world, oblivious or intentionally blind to the suffering of others.
Finally, Micah instructs us to walk humbly with our God. Think about that for a moment. Consider what it is to walk, not run. Walking implies slowing down. It suggests a certain deliberation, a measured and focused action. Walk with your God… and walk humbly at that. Do not walk full of yourself, do not walk preoccupied with your own agenda, or distracted by your own desires and listening to your own internal chatter. Walk humbly, slowly, patiently listening to God.
I spent much of my day on Thursday listening to old recordings of Martin Luther King Jr. and reflecting upon his inordinate ability to do justice, and to love kindness, and even, to walk humbly with God. So I appreciated David Sellery’s comment when he wrote:
Martin’s greatest gift to us is not just a day off or another three-day holiday weekend of promotional sales to kick-start the economy. Neither is his greatest gift a seat on a bus or at a lunch counter for some of us; it’s not even his wake-up call to the rest of us, comfortable living in atrophied isolation. Martin’s greatest gift was to vividly lay bare the Body of Christ, and then to challenge us all to live in it.
Friends, we are the body of Christ, not just distant cousins of Christ with a polite nodding acquaintance of each other. Christ never commanded us to “tolerate” each other. No, Jesus put it quite simply. In all our defining moments we are to love one another. In every defining moment we are to let love inform our decisions, let love ground our actions, let love define our very selves.
Like Dr. King, like Ghandi, like Dorothy Day, like Sojourner Truth, like Jesus himself, we are given a lifetime of moments. Each of us is given a lifetime of defining moments. What difference will they make? [Here there was a video shown of fourth and fifth grade students telling us about their take on Dr. King’s message and their response.]
As one of the children reminded us, when the Selma march was over, Dr. King told the marchers, “Rest for a moment. But only a moment, for then we must keep going.” Indeed, we must all keep going, until we meet at the finish line. Until we meet out beyond our borders, where love is the greatest gift of any defining moment. Thanks be to God! Amen.