Saturday, January 29, 2005

An Inkling of Glory

Asbury First United Methodist Church

A Ground Hog Day Sermon

Text: II Thessalonians 2:13-17

For over a decade you have listened for, and so given birth to, the announcement of good news of grace and freedom.

Said Gospel has been spoken in a traditional sermon of 22 minutes.

Its interpretation has scoured the several continents of the whole Bible: the gospels, Paul, John, the Apocalypse, the Prophets, some stories of the Law, some proverbs and ways of wisdom.

Your preached gospel, born in the longsuffering of presence and listening, has scoured the Scripture. We name its good: freedom and grace. A Methodist freedom to resist a purpose driven life. A Wesleyan grace to resist the certainties of an atheistic scientism. Saving grace, healthy freedom, both of which allow you to be confident even when you cannot be certain. Who needs faith if you already know all? Who needs faith if you are already that certain? If you are, already that certain that is, who needs the life of faith? Or prayer? Or friends? Or community? Or others? Or memory? Or hope?

No, you affirm that older, thinner, more Biblical inkling of glory, that confidence that is faith. Not arrogance, confidence. Not blind faith, confidence. Not bullheadedness, confidence. Not certainty, confidence. The confidence born of obedience, “the obedience of faith” of which Paul writes in Romans (as tasty an oxymoron as one can chew).

It is confidence that will get you to ask for a date, uncertain of the response. Confidence takes you to the altar, even if you are an uncertain bride or groom, and who isn’t at least a little? Confidence pries loose an investment in the future, though the project has uncertainties. Confidence empowers and evokes a slight criticism, friend to friend, though you are unsure it will help. Confidence fuels a career change, though any change is an uncertain walk in the dark. Confidence puts you into a nearly sure lose contest, for the glory of the gift of the try.

150 years ago, two brothers named Chafee, from the shores of our own Great Lake, went west. They found a corner of the desert underneath the torso of the San Gabriel Mountains, and under the forehead of Mount Baldy. They named their town ‘Ontario’. While it was still dust, they named it green! While it was still moonscape, they named it for your beauty, you Ontarians, you. And they lived to see it so. They were two days older than dirt when they died, and they died seeing green.

My dear friend…

If you have to be certain you will never live. Choose life. Certainty doesn’t love you like confidence loves you. If it did it wouldn’t break your heart. Certainty doesn’t love you, like confidence loves you. If it did it wouldn’t tear you apart. There is a reason the church finally set aside the highly intelligent and very compelling propositions of the Knowers, the Gnostics.

No, it was confidence, over ten years, that in your listening attended to the New Birth, the New Being, and the New Creation. In faith, you lifted a vision and a mission. In faith, you brought tithing to fend off the abuse of money, fidelity to fend off the abuse of sex, worship to fend off the abuse of time. In faith, you regretted and mourned the personal unholiness of one President and administration, and the social unholiness of another. In faith, you remembered the historic Christian teaching about war and peace. In faith, you moved from a Christ opposing culture to a Christ transforming culture. In faith, you honestly addressed a changing, shrinking denomination. In faith, you gathered the many contentious distinctions of a church to see, to work, to grow, to change, and to build. You met this past decade with a steady confidence. The next decade you will meet with steady confidence as well. But we hold this against you. For all this fulsome excursion across the Scriptures, you have not once visited II Thessalonians. Until today. We leave no stone unturned. Or, as the waif said the chauffeur, on pelting his car at the corner, “we leave no turn unstoned”.

Written in the dark years of the later 1st century, and written by a devotee of Paul, not by Paul himself, II Thessalonians has little to offer us. What Nahum is to the Old Testament, the sung Psalter to the Methodist hymnal, late January to the calendar, Baltic and Mediterranean to the Monopoly board, and Ground Hog Day to the pantheon of holidays—this II Thessalonians is to the New Testament.

Our writer has left behind Paul’s apocalyptic eschatology of a New Creation, for an early run at the ‘left behind’ series. He has given up on Paul’s vision of the church as a community of faith working through love, to deal with the necessary disciplines of an emerging tradition. Let him who does not work, not eat. He has ditched the earlier symbiosis with Judaism to hurl angry threats at the Jews. He is more Hamas than Fatah. Contest has given way to condemnation, and freedom has given way to order. (There are times like these). Yet even here, in II Thessalonians, in earshot of Nahum, inflicted with the sung Psalter, housed on Baltic, early on the morning of the week of February 2—today that is—even here there is an inkling of glory.

How would you like to be Ground Hog Day? Not even Labor Day, or Memorial Day. 2/2 is not even in the Book of Common Prayer, the book’s title notwithstanding. Ground Hog Day is not ‘chi chi’ enough for the Anglicans. But you are mere Methodists, fleeing from the wrath to come, and Ground Hog Day, that is any ordinary day (and where did we ever get the idea that any day is ordinary?), is enough for you and me.

Every book has within it an inkling of glory. Even Nahum. Every section of the hymnal has an inkling of glory within it. Even the sung Psalter. Every property has an inkling of glory within it, even Baltic and Mediterranean. Every Scripture has an inkling of glory within it. Even II Thessalonians. Every day, every holiday, every single day has an inkling of glory within it. Even Ground Hog Day.

Here are a handful of moments in II Thessalonians that exude an inkling of glory.

One is the author’s use of the term “brethren” (2:13), a reminder to us, of all genders, that the small groups of faith and life, those study groups, committees, choirs, bible studies, adult classes, and all that have a dozen members or more or less, are the settings in which we may watch over one another in love. Simple conversation, if genuine, if intimate, if caring, if honest, if kind, is a real power, the power of religion, not just the form. I worry about adults who have no place to let down their hair, no’brethren’.

Another is the author’s recognition of defeat (2:14). One thinks of the poverty within which so many children are raised. One wonders about the psychological impact of early life apart from visual beauty. The harsh poverty of East Louisville comes to mind. Yet, as the emergence from that neighborhood of Cassius Clay, ‘the greatest’, bears witness, there is an inkling of glory in the commonest space. It is in the nature of real good news that such formidable opposition to glory does not have the last word.

A third is the use here of the term ‘tradition’ (2:15). Paul likely would not have himself such use of such a term, he for whom Christ is the end of the law, and for whom gospel ever trumps tradition. Yet, there do come times when we need to hold on to, hold fast to what others have taught us. We live as others have inspired us to do. So we care for Asian tsunami victims, develop youth leadership, place a premium on community life, offer to build open space for the future. We find times when we need to stand fast, stand firm, stand up, stand out, and hold onto the good things of the traditions we have received.

One last such inkling of glory is found in the reference to resurrection hope (2:16).

Here we are drawn again to the encouragements Paul himself gave in Romans 12: 9-13 (here recited). May we live these, on every ordinary day. May the Lord take our ordinary lives and build them into an extraordinary future…

Our vision is a longing for a spiritual village green, a loving open space for all the county of Monroe, and for all that is lastingly good in that county.

To that end our mission is to develop disciples, especially in those areas of our greatest passion and need—worship, education and care.

Here we celebrate our regional congregation whose current home is in the city of Rochester.

AFUMC is the only regional urban UMC in NY State that is still alive and vital. The forces that have affected others affect us too. Either we will continue to grow, at least at the rate of the last decade (25%+), or we will, rather quickly, disappear.

To grow and welcome a rich diversity of people, who will drive 20-30 minutes, at $3 a gallon, we will have to offer excellence at every point (a to a-).

Given our imposing edifice we must be 200% as warm and welcoming as the average village or suburban congregation; likewise, given our urban setting, we need to be perceived as being 200% as secure as the average village or suburban congregation. Otherwise what the East View mall has done to downtown, the suburban churches will do to us (Greece, Webster, Fairport, Rush).

The massive mission outlays of our current program assume and require a steadily growing congregation.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

First Light

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Matthew 4:12-23

At first light we see Jesus walking the shore of his beloved Galilee. He who is the First Light sets out at dawn, as the fishermen begin, casting and mending. This stylized memory from the mind of Matthew kindles our own memory and hope, too.

That first light of the day, daybreak, carries a power unlike any other hour’s hue. The excitement of beginning. The promise of another start. The crisp, cold opening of the year in January. Like the skier, mitts and poles at the ready, we adjust our goggles, and we lean, and…

Here is Jesus, midway from Christmas to Easter, from manger to cross, from nativity to passion. Along the shoreline he strides, one foot in sea and one on shore.

He meets two brothers at first light, and they meet him, God’s First Light, the light that shines in the darkness. Notice how Simon, called Peter, and Andrew, his brother, are sketched. There is little to nothing of history here, but what there is says so much! There is no parental shadow lying on their fishing nets. One hears no maternal imperative, no paternal dictate. These boys are on their own. They have left home already, maybe leaving the city to the south to find a meager middle-class existence with their own means of production. They are small business men, boat owners, fishermen. Neither the amhaaretz nor the gentry, they. Not poor, not rich. Working stiffs. Young, young men. Simon already has a nick-name. A sign of joviality, of conviviality, of gregarious playful fun. Peter, the Rock. Is this for his steady faithfulness or his failure to float? On this rock…Sinks like a Rock…You sense that these brothers play in the surf a little, kick up the sand a little, ogle the Palestinianas a little, take time to take life as it comes. Brown are their forearms, and burnished their brows. They love the lake and life, and have made already their entrance into adult life. For they have left home. One envies their youth and freedom. They have taken to the little inland sea, and with joy they meet each dawn, like this one, at first light, as they see Light.

You can feel the sand under their feet as they take a moment to play and laugh. You can feel the chill of the water as they swim, while breakfast cooks over the fire. You can feel their feeling of vitality and joy as they greet another day at first light.

I wonder whether we allow ourselves to drift a little too far from that first light feeling. Those nearly pure moments of almost rapturous illumination.

Your first child, tiny, red, crinkled, fists waving, crying and then asleep, literally in your hand. First light.

Your daughter, or son, taking the vows of confirmed faith, in the church’s chancel. Yes, there was some part child and another part adult in what was said. But they were here, in tie and dress. They were here, in public and in church. They murmured, and they murmured piously. And how did that feel Dad? First light.

Your day of matrimony. Down the aisle they come, or you come, father and daughter. Do you? Do you? I do. They do. And what was once a simpler world now has further complexity and creative power. A new creation. First light.

There must have been some moment, sometime, when you felt an intimacy with the universe, a closeness, a sense of purpose. That too is a kind of daybreak, dawn, first light.

Why we heard a bird like, first light voice right here, last Sunday. That little mite of a girl, slight and small against the gothic grandeur of this nave, stood to declare her faith—her sense of others’ need, her idea to help, her willingness to speak. We get too far away from dawn, if we are not careful. A simple trust, like

I am told (by Dr Rod Wilmoth) of a boy who goes to a winter vacation with his parents in Florida. They set him loose on the swimming pool. Before diving, he goes around the cement shoreline, a latter day Jesus on a latter day lake. He asks the adults a childlike question:

Are you a Christian?
Oh, no, I don’t go to church…

Are you a Christian…?
Well, I do go on Christmas and at Easter. I was there last month. But you know I don’t read the Bible or anything like that…

Are you a Christian?
You know, I used to be, but I kind of got away from it. So many other things…

Are you a Christian?
(An older man at last brings the reply he is looking for):
Why yes, I was baptized in my youth, and later made a moment of confirmation. I go to church every Sunday. I can’t stand to miss it. Yes, I tithe; I give away 10% of what I have each year, not all to the church, but mostly to the church, because that is the seed bed for future wonder, morality and generosity. I keep faith with my family and friends. I am a Christian. But why are you asking?

Well, sir, I want to go swimming, and have two quarters here in my shorts, and I wanted someone I could trust to hold them while I swim.

Our denomination once had a thriving ministry in China. When we were forced out of China in the 1940’s, something vital left our church. You can still feel the first light of mission in the halls and rooms at Scarritt in Nashville. Oriental ornaments, paintings, sculpture, gifts, symbols of connection and love. We grew up with the family of Tracy Jones, who himself had been raised as missionary child in China. Our first parsonage, in Ithaca, had once housed Pearl Buck, while she and her husband were back on furlough, from China. Have we begun with the Spirit to end with the flesh? Have we forgotten the love we had at first? Have we stayed close enough to that first light, and those first light experiences, to stay fresh?

Our malaise, our ennui, should we have such, our “acedia”—spiritual sloth or indifference, literally, our “not-caring”—so often is due to our turning away from the first light, dawn, daybreak, that elemental experience of love that energizes everything else.

Peter and Andrew, of course, are casting, casting nets. They have no furrowed brows, no endless worries, no pessimism, no angst. They probably have left unattended some holes in their nets, these two happy brothers. They are willing to accept that their casting will be imperfect, as all evangelism is imperfect. But that imperfection will not keep them from enjoying the labor of casting. To miss the first light is to miss the fun of faith!

Invite that neighbor, the one across the street whose porch light is always on. Here at dawn…those first stirrings, first longings, first intimations of something new and good….

Meanwhile, back on the beach, Jesus heads south, cove by cove, with Andrew and Peter frolicking in tow. They had already left home. They are ready to take a flier on some new trek, not fully sure how it will work out. It is a miracle that they are remembered, perhaps with a little hagiography, as having responded “immediately”. Still, every little scrap of memory of these two brothers tends in the same direction—full of vim, vigor, vitality and pepperino. Yes, they will follow!

Down the shoreline a little, there rests another boat. A different story, a different set of brothers altogether. James and John. Known as the sons of Zebedee. Simon has already earned his own name and nick-name. But these two are known by their father’s name. They haven’t left home. They have not yet acquired that second identity. Here they are, as usual at dawn, stuck in the back of the boat. All these years they have watched the Peter and Andrew show. All these years they have envied the fun and frolic down the beach. The late night parties. The bonfires. The singing. The swimming. And here they sit strapped to the old boat of old Zebedee. They are covered with the ancient equivalents of chap stick and coppertone. And they are trapped under the glaring gaze of Zebedee, whose thunderous voice has so filled their home that their own voices have never emerged. Every day, in the back of the boat. And what are they doing? Why you could have guessed it, even if the text had not made it plain. Are they casting? No. Are they fishing yet? No. Are they sailing? No. They are mending. Mending. Knit one, pearl two… There dad has got them into that conservation, protection, preservation mode. Mending. At first light! Of course nets need mending, but the nets and the mending are meant in a greater service! The fun is in the fishing! The joy is in the casting. And there they sit, sober Calvinists, mending. Deedle deedle dumpling, my son John…

Here we are mid-way between Christmas and Easter. This passage has a little passion (the Baptist) and a little nativity (Nazareth). The two stories of Jesus, of his birth and of his death, are meant to complement and interpret each other.

Here is a pronouncement of a broad peace, on earth. On earth. With Ghandi along the Ganges. Beside Tutu on the southern cape. Along the path of the Dalai Lama in farthest Tibet. In Tegucigalpa with Lynn Baker. This is no Calvinist quietism, which so suddenly has taken over non-Catholic American Christianity, from its seedbeds in the Orthodox Presbyterian and Anabaptist communions: cold, careful, efficient, first mile, changeless, fearsome, depressed grace. No, this is Christmas: warm, open, effective, second mile, free, growing, angry, and hopeful! Hope has two beautiful daughters: anger and courage.

The early church told two stories about Jesus. The first about his death. The second about his life. The first, about the cross, is the oldest and most fundamental. The second, about the manger, is the key to the meaning of the first, the eyeglasses which open full sight, the code to decipher the first. Jesus died on a cross for our sin according to the Scripture. That is the first story. But who was Jesus? What life did his death complete? How does his word heal our hurt? And how does all this accord with Scripture? One leads to the other.

This second, second level story begins at Christmas, and is told among us to interpret the first. Christmas is meant to make sure that the divine love is not left only to the cross, or only to heaven. Christmas is meant to open out a whole range of Jesus, as brother, teacher, healer, young man, all. Christmas is meant to provide the mid-course correction that might be needed if all we had was Holy Week. And the Christmas images are the worker bees in this theological hive. Easter may announce the power of peace, but Christmas names the place of peace. Jesus died the way he did because he lived the way he did. Jesus lived the way he did so that he could die the way he did. That is, it is not only the Passion of Christ, but the Peace of Christ, too, which Christians like you affirm. What lovely news for us! Such a passionate year we have had. The passion too of Christ. Theologically, cinematically, politically, militarily, ecclesiastically —we have exuded passion this year. Christmas came again to announce that there is more to Jesus than the passion. There is the matter of peace as well.

The real miracles of this account lie in the second invitation to the second set of brothers. It is a miracle that Jesus stopped and invited them, so somber are they. I wonder if he took in the timbre of Zebedee’s voice, and saw them quaking in the back of the boat. Perhaps his heart went out to James and John. So he stops, and he asks.

That is the great thing about an invitation. All you can do is ask. Do ask. Ye have not because ye ask not. And for the first time in their lives, James and John are invited to live. So many people live half asleep. They don’t live life, life lives them. Like these two knitting in the back of the boat. Half asleep. Then dawn comes, and day breaks, and that first light shines! And a voice like no other, so equanimous and so serene, casts its spell upon them. Watch. It is a first light moment. First one, then the other, stands and moves. Under the shadow of that paternal presence, under the sound of that maternal imperative of home. They rise. And they move toward First Light. They are about to grow up. Wonderful! And what do they leave behind? You would have known even if the Scripture had not laid it right out. They leave behind the boat…and their father. We best honor the adults in our lives when we become adults ourselves.

Will this world grow up? That is what the UN and the World Council and the UMC have been striving and hoping for. Will we find a way to live together, all six billion of us, and to drink from the same cup?

This text, strangely like John, claims for Jesus that Jesus is light. Not color, now. Light. Color is great, and good. But we all want finally to be able to drink from the same water fountain, we want our children in one school, we want to sit at one table, we want to drink from one goblet. It is light that we will need into the 21st century. We finally all drink from the same cup.

I am told (by the Rev. Don Harp) of a man who stopped in his new neighborhood to buy lemonade from a freckle faced 7 year old girl and a mahogany skinned 6 year old boy. He paid his dime and drank his beverage and stayed to talk. After a while the girl asked if there was anything else he wanted. No, he said, why?

Well sir, we are running a business here, and we have had a busy morning, and we hope for a busy afternoon, but that cup you are holding is the only one we have, so if you don’t mind we’d like it back.

First Light! We forget it—HIM—at our worldly peril. If we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship with one another. We have more in common, as this tragic tsunami reminds us, all around the globe, than we do in difference. Give us light, not darkness, Wesley not Calvin!

We all survive the birth canal, and so have a native survivors’ guilt. All six billion.

We all need daily two things, bread and a name. (One does not live by bread alone). All six billion.

We all grow to a point of separation, a leaving home, a second identity. All six billion.

We all love our families, love our children, love our homes, love our grandchildren. All six billion.

We all age, and after forty, its maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. All six billion.

We all shuffle off this mortal coil en route to that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns. All six billion.

At first light, at dawn, we may with happiness remember this. The protagonist of M. Robinson’s Gilead, an old pastor in the Iowa town of this name, spends many mornings, at dawn, praying alone in his church. He loves the morning hour. He likes the church better empty. He basks in the first light of day.

Would you like to have some fun this week? Look around for dawn breaking, and kick up some sand.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Six Words of Healing Truth from Birmingham

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Six Words of Healing Truth from Birmingham
(Excerpts from Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail)

Text: Isaiah 49: 1-4

It is not mainly an ethical imperative that directs us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick and visit the prisoner. Should we do these things? Yes we should. Is it our Christian duty to do them? Yes it is. Is this a moral imperative for us, to follow the teachings of Amos and Jesus? It is so. Then is this the gospel, the good news for today? It is not. Not an ethical imperative, but a divine gift awaits us in the Gospel of Jesus the Christ.

When you feed the hungry, then you will be christened. When you clothe the naked, you yourself will be given a confirming gift. When you welcome the stranger, it is your own joy in eucharist that emerges. When you heal the sick, you find your own anointing and absolution. And when you visit the prisoner, it is your own soul that is fed. We are directed ethically to the periphery of life (hunger, nakedness, loneliness, illness, abandonment) so that our ethical zeal can be used for a real, a high purpose, far beyond our stunted enjoyment of moral achievement. Amos and Jesus knew well that morals and ethics only take us to the foothills. There is a great high mountain before us. We find our way toward this height when, by surprise, in the midst of our prideful, necessary, and superficial duty…we are accosted by God.

So it is for those who will hear, some forty years later, six healing words from Martin Luther King, in the finest document remaining from the civil rights era, his Letter from Birmingham Jail. Those in prison, from Paul of Tarsus to Nelson Mandela, have wisdom to share. They have time to think, and so, now and then, something to say. The finest document from the civil rights era, now forty years past, is this letter. Its burden of truth, carried in soaring prose, is largely conveyed in six words: impatience, justice, time, love, disappointment, and hope. In the quiet of this winter weekend, let us carefully meditate together on the gospel as heard through these six words from Birmingham.

1. Let us meditate on impatience:

For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear… with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant 'Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

We have waited .for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God- given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark jab of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six- year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored";…when you are harried by day and haunted by night… living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you no forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and (we) are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

2. Let us meditate on justice:

One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all"

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distort the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I- it" relationship for an "I-thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and awful. Paul Tillich said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression 'of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

3. Let us meditate on time:

I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth."

Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of (those) willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to 6e solid rock of human dignity.

4. Let us meditate on love:

Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that an men are created equal ..." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we viii be. We be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime---the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jeans Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

5. Let us meditate on disappointment:

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Walleye gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?"

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? l am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great- grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

6. Let us meditate on hope:

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom, They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jai with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation-and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

Let us pray:

In a season of stagnation, dear Lord, make us impatient.

In a season of unfairness, dear Lord, help us yearn for justice.

In a season of delay, dear Lord, cause us to prize our time.

In a season of decay, dear Lord, inspire us by love.

In a season of disappointment, dear Lord, grant us courage to be.

In a season of desire, dear Lord, may we hope for what we do not see.