Sermon Proper 25a 10-25-2020
October 25, 2020, 12:00 PM

Proper 25a 21st Sunday after Pentecost


Memories can get in our way.  Whenever I hear polls for the current presidential race I can't help remembering how wrong the polls in 2016 were.  Have you seen the video of the death of George Floyd?  I can never un-see it.  Its like my case of gerd.  My heartburn keeps coming back and when I think of that video bitterness keeps coming back.  It makes me recycle thoughts and memories of my childhood when I saw on our little black and white TV the news of the civil rights struggle in Mississippi, Alabama or Tennessee.  It brings back memories of all the injustices committed against those who marched, freedom riders on buses, those who sat in the counters at department stores in Memphis, those who were beat for  crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.  Martin Luther King said, “I am convinced that the universe is under the control of a loving purpose, and that in the struggle for righteousness man has cosmic companionship.”  But it is still so heart wrenching to have witnessed the lives of human beings so recklessly disregarded. We can forget that loving purpose, that cosmic companionship.  Memories can fight against our call to be compassionate, loving, nonviolent, and peaceful.  But here's what I think, it would be worse to forget.  We would lose our sense of rootedness, our very sense of identity, of who we are and where we have come from. Yet I can't blame you and I can't blame myself if there are things you would just like to forget. Memories can get in our way.

Now let's look at our first lesson from the book of Deuteronomy.  It is a rather touching scene.  After leading the people for forty years,  Moses is only allowed the tiniest glimpse of the promised land and then he dies. There is one small bit that our translation gets wrong. Our reading says that Moses was buried in a valley in the land of Moab.  But actuallly what the Hebrew says is that the Lord buried him. The Lord himself buries his old friend Moses.  A very sad story, but maybe there is a point here.  No one witnesses the burial. And no one knows just where he was buried. The people mourned for thirty days, but then they had to get back on the road that goes ever on.  The Hebrews can't forget Moses, the greatest prophet, but they can't return to his grave and build a monument there, because the Lord made sure that they would not know where that grave is.  They must carry on, they must reach the promised land.

Like the Hebrews we have remarkable men or women who changed our lives and made us who we are today.  We have a tendency to want to hold on to them, to freeze their memories, to hold on and grasp too tightly.  What stands still dies.  We can't hold on to one note, we must hear the whole song.  For as soon as we enshrine them or build a monument or carve epitaphs in stone they loose their power for good.  We can't freeze those moments and people and events because the future is always upon us and the road stretches out ever before us.  It is like Tolkien once said in the Lord of the rings:

The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then?  I cannot say.

Each of us started a road that goes ever on and on.  Of course, our road has taken us way of great men and women who have influenced us: Martin and Coretta King, Diane Nash, John Lewis, Andrew Young and many, many more.  But we honor these people best by making their road our road, their path our path.  Our challenges are not their challenges, but their good and gracious spirits guide us as does the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ.  When our beloved Martin was shot on April 4, 1968, many thought it was over.  That the struggle for civil rights had ended in disaster.  What they failed to grasp is how many people had breathed in the spirit of Martin, how many had made his road their own road and pursued it with eager feet.  They would not stop and we should not stop either.

In 1963 King and Abernathy led a march through the streets of Birmingham, Alabama.  They knew that this would get them arrested, but they didn't know that Bull Connor would unleash dogs and turn fire hoses on those who stood by to witness.  King and Abernathy were in fact arrested and put in solitary confinement.  Some thought that the movement in Birmingham had ended in disaster.  They did not know how many had breathed in the spirit of Martin.

Two days after the arrest, Easter Sunday, 5000 people gathered at the New Pilgrim Baptist Church to march together down to the Jail house and their to pray for King and Abernathy and all who had been arrested.  When they came about two blocks from the jail, Bull Connor was there waiting for them again with dogs and fire hoses. The marchers all knelt to pray and Andrew Young went up to try to reason with the Bull.  They argued for about 5 minutes, Then one of the local pastors stood up and yelled, “God is with this movement.  We're going to the Jail.  Off your knees.”  You know  Andrew Young  activist, politician, diplomat.  He writes:

Everybody in the front up and started walking right toward the barricades and massed police. Stunned at first, Conner yelled, "Stop 'em. Stop 'em." But the police didn't move a muscle. I've never seen anything like it. They just stood there watching as if they were transfixed. Even the police dogs that had been growling and straining at the leash when we first marched up became perfectly calm. The firemen just stood there holding hoses. We walked right on them, and Conner yelled, "Turn on the hoses, turn on the hoses!" But they didn't move. I saw one fireman, literally with tears in his eyes, just let the hose drop to his feet. Our people marched right between the red fire trucks singing, "I want Jesus to walk with me." Not rushing, just a very slow, serious march. We marched on to the park across from the jail, where we reconvened to sing to the people in jail. I'll never forget one old woman who got happy when she marched through the barricades. She shouted, "Great God Almighty done parted the Red Sea one mo' time!" Conner stood there cussing and fussing. His policemen refused to arrest us, his firemen had refused to hose us, and his dogs had refused to bite us. From that Easter Sunday on, the movement gathered strength.

 I pray today for all members of St Andrews past and present, that we will we will know the loving purpose of our divine companion, that we will breath the spirit of Martin Luther King and that we will be inspired to gather strength and and that we will continue on our road till we meet that larger way where many paths meet.  Amen


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