The Change John and Martin Believed In

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family.  While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.  Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.  Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

By now you know it. Barak is the candidate who promises Change we can believe in. John Edwards promises a campaign to change America. I hear Mitt Romney will change some things. Even Hillary is going to change things. "Change you can count on."

Change. I don’t know when I’ve heard that word used so often. When I hear the word change I remember a quote that comes to me frequently: change is a given and growth is a choice.

Is there anything more constant than our desire for change? This week we celebrate the life of MLKing, Jr. who was a leader of change in the civil rights generation. And who would argue that change was needed? His eloquent gift of speech-"I have a dream…" and his passion for justice were a powerful combination that brought change to a society in need of change.

Change. It does seem to be a given, doesn’t it.

In some ways the gospel reading is a reading about another time that cried for change. We read the story of a people looking for change that they believed would come through a messiah. These people were occupied by the Romans who kept the peace through their deployed forces throughout the holy land. Jews weren’t too happy about losing control of their nation to the Romans. They dreamed of a day when the army would be gone and a messiah would be crowned as King. Not any messiah-but God’s messiah. A messiah that might bring in a kingdom of peace and justice for God’s people. But for that to happen there would have to be change. Real change. Change you can believe in. Change you can count on.

Enter John. John is the one who had been calling for change-seeing it as coming around the corner. John had gathered disciples like Andrew – teaching them that the time is coming when God would do something to change things in their corrupt and evil times. At Christ’s baptism, John hears the Holy Spirit reveal that Jesus is the one God had chosen to bring change. He is the messiah.

Now John has a new role to play. Not to teach about the coming messiah but to point people to the one who had come to bring us the change we can believe in. In fact he didn’t want us to believe in change but to believe in the one who would bring the change.

So in our story he quickly directs his disciples to Jesus-telling them that the time has come for them to leave him and follow Jesus. To learn who he is and to follow him. In our story we see one of those disciples, Andrew, lead his brother Simon to a meeting with Jesus where Simon would be given a new name Peter. Even his name would change. For Jesus would see that the change that was to come was through followers and students of his way-and that they would provide the leadership to bring the change God sought to bring to the world.

And so the story began and for two thousand years we have joined John in witnessing to Jesus and the change he promises to bring to a persons life and to the world. We who are in the church have gathered to say we are disciples of this Jesus who will use us to bring the world a change they can believe in… by offering the world an alternative vision of the way God wants us to live with one another.

Martin Luther King Jr. was one of those disciples. On Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, I think it is a good thing to remember that before he was a civil rights leader… he was a preacher. He was a Christian. A disciple of Christ.

I think we forget that what informed the vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. and gave him the passion that drove him… was a deeply rooted faith in Jesus Christ. His life and mission was informed by this faith.

How many of you know, for instance, that he was not only the son of a preacher and a preacher… but that he held a PhD in Systematic Theology. How many of you know that he studied the theological giants of his day to inform his life and ministry. He studied Reinhold Niebuhr who has much to teach us about moral people and immoral society-about love and justice. He studied Walter Rauschenbush who taught him about the social gospel-a gospel that said Jesus is concerned with the whole person, not only his soul but his body. Even as he studied nonviolence with Mahatma Ghandi, he wove his faith into applying it. He believed "Christ furnished the spirit and motivation and Gandhi furnished the method."

Let’s not forget that Martin Luther King, Jr. and the vision he sought and the change he brought was well grounded in his faith in Jesus Christ. His ministry to our nation was an extension of his discipleship- an understanding of his call- to bring change that brought us closer to God’s vision for the world.

Let’s not also forget that faith in Christ is what gave him the ability to endure the many obstacles (threats, persecution) he would encounter as he proclaimed the change he believed Christ desired for our society.

One might remember pictures of him standing up to the police even when they turned violence on the marching crowds… or remember the times he was sent to jail… when he sought to change the system that was stacked against him.. and wonder… how did he keep going. How could someone who wanted to change the society so keep going against a society and status quo designed to resist change.

I’ll tell you how. Behind the man we remember was a profound faith in the power of God to bring change. I don’t think he ever believed that he was the one who would bring change… only that God might use him and others as agents of the change God would bring to the world. It wasn’t about his ability… it was about God’s ability to conquer evil.

He said this very powerfully in a sermon that I wish was as well remembered as the I have a dream speech.

In this sermon called "God is Able" he said:
At the center of the Christian faith is the conviction that there is a God of power who is able to do exceedingly abundant things in nature and in history. This conviction is stressed over and over again in the Old and New Testaments. The God whom we worship is not a weak and incompetent God. God is able to beat back gigantic waves of opposition and to bring low prodigious mountains of evil. This ringing testimony of the Christian faith is that God is able.

There are those who seek to convince us that only humanity is able. Their attempts to substitute a human centered universe for a God centered universe is not new. It had its modern beginnings in the Renaissance and subsequently in the Age of Reason, when some people gradually came to feel that God was an unnecessary item on the agenda of life. In these periods others questioned whether God was any longer relevant. The laboratory began to replace the church and the scientist became a substitute for the prophet. Not a few joined Swinburne in singing a new anthem: "Glory to Man in the Highest! For man is the master of all things."

The devotees of this topless religion of humanity point to the spectacular advances of modern science as the justification of their faith. Science and technology have enlarged our human bodies. The telescope and television have enlarged our eyes. The telephone, radio and microphone have strengthened our voice and ears. The automobile and aeroplane have lengthed our legs. The wonder drugs have prolonged our lives. Have not these amazing achievements assured us that only humanity is able?

But alas! Something has shaken the faith of those who have made the scientific laboratory "the new cathedral of our hopes." The instruments which yesterday were worshipped– today threaten to plunge all of us into the abyss of environmental catastrophe. Humanity threatens to destroy the world in which we all live. Unless we are guided by God’s creative spirit, our new found scientific power will become a devastating Frankenstein monster that will bring destruction to us all.

At times other forces cause us to question the ableness of God.

The stark and colossal reality of evil in the world-what Keats calls "the giant agony of the world;" ruthless floods and tornadoes that wipe away people as though they were weeds in an open field; ills like insanity plaguing some individuals from birth, the madness of war-why do these things occur if God is able to prevent them?
This problem, namely, the problem of evil has always plagued the human mind. Of course much of the evil we experience is caused by our own folly, ignorance and by the misuse of our God given freedom. Beyond this I can only say that there is and always will be an (obscure) mystery surrounding God…"

Here Dr. King goes on to share how God is able to sustain the universe… and how God is able to subdue the powers of evil.. that Christianity contends that evil contains the seeds of its own destruction.

He said:
"History is the story of evil forces that advance with seemingly irresistible power only to be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. There is a law in the moral world- a silent, invisible, imperative, akin to the laws of the physical world-which reminds us that life will work only in a certain way. The Hitlers and the Mousolinis have their day, and for a certain period they may wield great power, but soon they are cut down like the grass and wither as the green herb…"

This was King’s confident faith that by the providence of God evil and unjust systems such as slavery… colonialism… communism… will have their days. Over time the wind of change begins to blow over history to defeat the power of evil.

If you want a change you can believe in, believe in the change wrought by God’s spirit. Believe in the power of God to be at work. Believe in the ability of God to give us the power ready to bring change as we face the problems and disappointments of our time…

(again quoting King) "Only God is able. It is faith in God that we must rediscover. With this faith we can transform bleak and desolate valleys into sunlit baths of joy and bring new light into the dark caverns of pessimism. Is someone here moving toward the twilight of life and fearful of that which we call death? Why be afraid? God is able. Is someone here on the brink of despair because of the death of a loved one, the breaking of a marriage, or the waywardness of a child? Why despair? God is able to give you power to endure that which cannot be changed. Is someone here anxious because of bad health? Why be anxious? Come what may, God is able…"

King closed his sermon with these words:
"Let this affirmation be our ringing cry. It will give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low hovering clouds and our nights become even darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a great benign Power in the universe whose name is God, and God is able to make a way out of no way, and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. This is our hope for becoming better people. This is our mandate for seeking to make a better world." 1

Oh, where did King learn to have such faith… faith in the power of God to bring change and transformation to our life and world. You know where. The same place John found it. Our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who God used to change the world… the one we’re still invited to trust and follow in our lives today. The one who calls us and sends us out in his name to proclaim to the world the change God believes in. Amen.

1) Sermon found on the internet at http://www.godweb.org/godisable.htm

 


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