Sermon for the Commemoration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Second Sunday after Epiphany (Lectionary 2)
Sunday, January 17, 2021
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
When I was a boy in Iowa I listened to Frosty Mitchell on WMT Radio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Frosty Mitchell was the play-by-play voice for Iowa Hawkeye football games on the Iowa Hawkeye Radio Network. Believe it or not, when I was growing up, there were three radio networks covering Iowa Football. One was not only a fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes, one was also a fan of one of three play-by-play announcers who called the games on the different networks.
In addition to Frosty Mitchell, was Jim Zobel of WHO Radio in Des Moines. He was famous for his line: “Hawkeye fans, it’s time to hug and kiss your radio” whenever the Hawkeyes needed a big play. The voice of the third radio network was that gravelly voiced Bob Brooks. I rarely listened to him, but he, too, had a loyal and devoted following. I listened to Frosty Mitchell.
Who do you listen to?
Listening plays a keep role in our scriptures this morning.
Young Samuel, in our First Reading [Samuel 3:1-20], thought he heard the old prophet Eli. Three times he thought he heard Eli calling him, until finally Eli realized it was the Lord calling Samuel. The old prophet told the young man, the next time you hear the voice, say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Samuel did that the next time he heard the voice, and thus began Samuel’s prophetic ministry.
In the Gospel reading [John 1:43-51], Philip listened to the invitation of Jesus to follow him. Hearing the call of Jesus, Philip went and told Nathanael he had found the one the law and prophets foretold. Listening to Philip, Nathanael thought it sounded foolish and responded: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” But, when Nathanael himself listened to the voice of Jesus, he was convinced and exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Listening played a key role in God’s call of Samuel, and God’s call of Philip and Nathanael which leads me to ask, again, who do you listen to?
Our Second Reading this morning [1 Corinthians 6:12-20], at first read, doesn’t seem to be about listening. It seems to be about fornication and prostitution. As one commentator observed, Paul used gritty language to drive home a more important theological point. The point was about who we join ourselves to – about who we listen to.
In context, Paul was responding to the problem in the Corinthian church that the new Christians were listening to, and dividing themselves up among, various Christian leaders. Back in the First Chapter of Corinthians, Paul identified this problem when he wrote: “it has been reported to me that there are quarrels among you …. What I mean is that each of you says “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Apollos” or “I belong to Cephas” or “I belong to Christ.”
The Corinthian’s unity in Christ was being pulled apart because they were professing allegiance, and listening to, various earthly leaders. In the 6th Chapter of Corinthians, Paul compares these distractions to being joined to a prostitute. For Paul, it was clear, Christians join themselves to Christ and listen to Christ.
It matters who we listen to.
When Samuel listened to the voice of the Lord, his prophetic ministry began. When Philip and Nathanael heard the voice of Jesus they were instantly converted into believers and their lives as disciples began. And Paul points out unity and peace is found in listening to the voice of Jesus and being joined to the body of Christ.
As we continue to process the insurrection at the US Capitol Building leading to the bipartisan impeachment of the United States … and on this day, January 17th, that the FBI has warned about the possibility of armed attacks on all 50 state capitol buildings and again on the US Capitol … on this weekend we celebrate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, … and in this week we prepare for more violence as a new American president is inaugurated …
My take, on all this violence, is that people listened to the wrong person.
MLK once said “that the riot is the language of the unheard.” And while it is true that the insurrection was caused because people thought they were not heard, who believed their votes were not counted in an election stolen from them, and who rallied around the slogan “Stop the Steal,” there is an important caveat to MLK’s phrase, however, that needs to be acknowledged. The truth is, sometimes riots, and insurrections, are caused because people listen to the wrong person.
Riots and insurrections happen because of what people have heard.
The crowds that stormed the capitol, listened to one man, who in his pain and brokenness, spoke lie, after lie, after lie. One man who employed a strategy that had proved effective before, that if a life is spoken enough, then that lie will gradually evolve into an accepted truth. And others, seeking power, or preserving a way of life they felt was disappearing around them, there are many articles linking the insurrection to a defense of White Supremacy, repeated this lie again and again leading to what one person called, the Great Delusion Insurrection – people deluded into believing an alternative reality was the truth. All of this happened, because of who people listened to.
In believing in the legitimacy of the 2020 elections, one does not need to listen to one man who is the winner of the election. In believing that the President-elect legitimately won a free and fair election, is to listen to many people. To listen to a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats across the country, at all levels of government and across all three branches of government, in every state, who have said repeatedly, in the absence of any evidence to prove otherwise, that the election was safe, secure, and legitimate, and accurately represented the voice and will of 81 million Americans representing a decisive majority of 51.3% of all voters, that former Vice-President Joe Biden be inaugurated as the next President of the United States this Wednesday.
The point is this: each of us today, must make a choice about who we will listen to.
We can listen, and join ourselves, to broken sinners leading down paths of violence, destruction, and death.
Or, in faith, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we can listen to the voice of Jesus calling us down new paths of discipleship, new paths of healing, restoration, and resurrection today.
But here’s the interesting thing … to listen for the voice of Jesus, is to listen for God’s voice speaking in community. We hear Christ’s voice calling us today, when we listening to not one voice, but instead listen to voices – plural – that represent the diversity that is the body of Christ.And I believe we actually hear that voice, through conversation with a diverse set of the members of the body of Christ.
Listening to just one person, or one viewpoint, or one perspective, no matter how pleasing, and comforting, and affirming, is probably not hearing to the full richness of the voice of God. What we saw at the Capitol, and as we have seen throughout all of history – the carnage, destruction, and chaos that comes through blind allegiance to singular figures, or a singular force, or a singular party.
Listening to a diversity of voices and viewpoints, is to recognize more clearly the voice of Christ speaking truth across races, and generations, and peoples. To listen to the voice of Christ is to listen to Christ speaking in the multiple voices of the church … to voices of people of color – not just on this MLK weekend, but throughout the whole year in every decision we make as a community committed to racial justice … to theologians speaking for the poor and the oppressed as a community committed to generosity and abundance … to theologians of other cultures and ethnicities witnessing to God’s work in their lives.
In a mystery of faith, we hear the singular voice of Christ, when we hear that voice speaking amidst the voices of the people of God. We hear Christ calling when we, like Samuel encouraged by Eli, say “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” as we listen in new ways to our neighbors, to strangers, to those different than us. We hear the voice of Christ more clearly, when we answer Nathanael’s question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth (or from that person, or those people, or that fool?” with the answer: “Yes – perhaps the very voice of Christ!”
Think of the true greatness this country could achieve if the 81 million Americans who voted for the President-elect, and the 74 million Americans who voted for the President, listened to one another in new ways? And think of the implications for life on planet earth, if those 155 million American voters, listened in new ways to the 7.5 billion other humans on planet earth?
Friends, we hear the voice of Jesus today, in relationship, in conversations of mutual understanding and respect with those who are different than us.
The Good News today, is that God’s living and active voice, Jesus Christ, continues to speak! Christ speaks today calling us to new places of life and healing, inviting us down new journeys of faith and opportunity. The voice that called Samuel, the voice that called Philip and Nathanael, is the VERY SAME voice speaking to us today, calling us today to life and peace.
In faith, let us reject and renounce those voices that pull us from Christ.
In faith, let us listen to Christ and join our bodies to the body of Christ – the body of peace, restraint, forgiveness, mercy, healing, and resurrection.
Joined to Christ in faith, let us witness to God’s love for all peoples.
Who will you listen to?