The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
This text from 1 Samuel 3, informed the sermon of Reverend Raphael Warnock on Sunday, January 14, 2018. The sermon was given over the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., birthday weekend at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. I was there with a group from Saint Paul Area Synod.
Dr. King listened to his Lord. In Atlanta, our group visited what had been the vital black community around Ebenezer Baptist, where King’s father was Senior Pastor. The family enjoyed esteem in vibrant, segregated black Atlanta and lived comfortably. Martin was a gifted, but not so dedicated, student. When he entered Morehouse, an historic black college, at age 15, he had no desire to follow in his father’s footsteps. But later he heard the Lord’s voice and a call to servanthood. Returning to Atlanta after seminary with a Ph.D., King served with his father as Associate Pastor at Ebenezer Baptist where he and his family could have lived comfortably and been well-respected. Instead, King chose to respond to his call as a Christian to fight for equality and social change for blacks in Georgia and beyond—to work for “the beloved community.” King traveled to India and later incorporated Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent resistance into the struggle for civil rights. King’s dedication to this calling often took him away from the comforts of home.
King heard the voice of his Lord and responded by acting for justice. His passionate voice and words still resonate with me even though his assassination 50 years ago silenced his voice. King raised the cry for freedom for all. I was coming of age in those days so I heard King’s voice in real time. The Atlanta of today still shows evidence of the ills of racism—as does across the US.
King sacrificed his comfortable position and the legacy of his family to respond to the voice of the Lord. Can I sacrifice the comfort and the legacy of my white privilege to support the advancement of the work King began over 60 years ago? What can I do in my life so “the lamp of God” (1 Samuel 3:3) will not be extinguished?
King’s efforts on behalf of voting rights and integration supported equity and equality for all people in the US. My white privilege can delude me into believing that everything is A-OK because voting is simple for me. This year I am choosing to encourage people to inform themselves and vote for candidates whose values will be foundational for equity and equality. The eloquent words of Dr. King and his relentless, non-violent efforts on behalf of civil rights for all, make us aware of disparity. His life was sacrificed in vain if the spirit of his ministry is not kept alive. In the US, we continue to struggle for voter rights. Constitutional rights are only as good as the network that ensures them. I will dedicate myself to increasing access to the polls this year—for all.
Dear God, I listen for your voice; let it guide me to the place where God wants all people to live in your beloved community. I need this now—not later. Empower me with the will, courage and strength to work for equal rights for all people. Let me confess the sin associated with my privilege and let the fruits of my efforts support equal opportunity and justice for all—no exceptions. Make me uncomfortable, Lord, so that I can be aware of my life of white privilege and forego the insulation of my world. Inspire me so that I have the strength to make it safe for all people to live without fear despite skin color, gender identity, country of origin, economic status, job or any other demographic which may be used to confer preference and power to one individual more than any other.
Lord, let me listen and give me courage to act.
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Saint Paul