In the Gospel reading from today's lectionary for the second Sunday after Epiphany, we hear the story of Jesus calling Philip and Nathaniel to come join him with just two simple words, "Follow me." And they and the other first disciples immediately left everything behind and began to follow Jesus.
They must have seen something so extraordinary in Jesus, in order for them to give up everything, and to follow in his steps. Now, though they were his first disciples, Jesus would soon amass a large group of followers with his inspiring teachings and with his words of unity and love.
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we are celebrating tomorrow, was also an inspiring teacher, and a Christian pastor who led a movement of unity and love. If he were still alive today. Dr. King would be 92 years old tomorrow. But his spirit lives on. The words of Martin and the words of Jesus, continue to inspire and challenge and move millions of people today, because they were speaking words of truth.
Now, truth is something that has become somewhat muddled in recent years. Certain political leaders and radio talk show hosts have also amassed large followings in recent years, but not by speaking words of truth. Instead, they've perpetuated falsehoods, and spread outlandish conspiracy theories, telling their followers to distrust facts and truths.
We've seen this before throughout the years with charismatic religious leaders who have led people into joining cults. Cult leaders, knowingly brainwash people with falsehoods, so much so that their followers break from reality, and can no longer see the truth. Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." Free from hatred, free from resentment, free from hostility, free from division.
Sadly, many people today who claim to be Christian, who claim to be followers of Jesus, are not following in his steps of unity, and love. If the words you're hearing at church, are that only certain groups of people are worthy of God's love, then you're not hearing the truth. And if you're taking part in a rally or a protest, and the people joining you are displaying signs of hate, and nooses, and assault weapons and symbols of Nazis, well, then, I guarantee you, you're on the wrong side of truth.
Jesus and Martin were speaking truth. They were leading movements of inclusive love and social justice for all people. But many did not want to hear their truth. Many were threatened by their words, so much so that both Jesus and Martin were arrested, silenced, and killed for speaking the truth in love.
The Beloved Kin-dom that Jesus and Martin were trying to build was one in which all people, regardless of race, gender, creed, or color, would be treated as one. It is a world, Dr. King famously envisioned, where people would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Jesus noticed something in the characters of Philip and Nathaniel. And today's Gospel message reminds us that all of us as Christians have been called by God, called to love. Now a "calling" is sometimes referred to as a vocation. It comes from the Latin root word vocis, which means voice. Our Christian calling is to use our voice, to speak our truth, to work for justice and equality, just as Jesus did. And just as Martin did.
The writers of the Living the Questions Series, a progressive Christian study program in which our church took part, said, "Martin Luther King may never have made it to the promised land, but the vision of that promise inspired him to do everything he could to get there. That vision, that promise, requires of us what it required if King, to be in solidarity with the poor, to counter the idolatry of wealth, to practice non-violence, and to seek justice and inclusivity in a culture dominated by suspicion and fear.
For Dr. King, building, the Beloved Community was not some lofty, utopian ideal, but rather a realistic, achievable goal in our lifetime. Dr. King said, "Our goal is to create a beloved community, for love builds up and unites -- hate tears down and destroys. The aftermath of the "fight fire with fire" method is bitterness and chaos. The aftermath of the love method is the creation of the Beloved Community. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that."
It is this love that will bring about miracles. I believe that too, my friends, all of us have witnessed miracles in our lifetimes. There are people alive today, who were around when women in this country couldn't vote. There are people watching this service today who were alive when black people in our country were forced to use separate water fountains and sit at the back of the bus. And how many of us said when marriage equality became the law of the land, that "I never thought I would see this in my lifetime."
So how did all of this happen? How did all of those laws get changed? Did people in our country just wake up one day and decide that they were wrong? Of course not. It took great struggle, centuries of struggle, for more and more people to awaken to the truth of our oneness.
We obviously still have a long way to go, a very long way to go. But change happens miracles happen, because truth tellers, people like Jesus, and Martin and us believe in the power of love, believe that love triumphs over hate, and that light overcomes the darkness.
Our Christian calling is to be that love and light, and to shine that love and light in the face of hatred and division. The power to effect change and to work miracles is not just given to special people. It's given to all of us. And as our friend the Christian writer John Pavlovich says, "There are far more people working for justice, equality and diversity than opposing them. Do not let hopelessness trend in your head."
So do not despair, my friends. During the season of Epiphany, let us keep our eyes focused on the star of wonder and allow ourselves to be guided by that perfect Christ light. And let us continue the work of Martin and Jesus as we strive together to heal our nation, to build the Beloved Community and to bring about the Kin-dom of Heaven. Right here on Earth.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
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