Oh God, let love lift us all. Amen
With the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington coming up this Wednesday, I read an article, and looked at a pictorial history of Washington, DC’s preparations for the March on Washington. There were pictures of DC firefighters being sworn in for the day as police officers to manage the crowds, National Guardsmen on the mall filling water bottles for the hot day, the leader of the Anti-Negro Anti-Jew American Nazi Party smoking a corncob pipe, wanting to conduct a counter-demonstration, but he wasn’t issued a permit, and the famous picture of Dr. Martin Luther King delivering the “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. While the picture was all too familiar, the caption was different. It said, “Officer Ken Collins is standing in uniform behind Dr. King at the right. He was assigned to escort Dr. King to the podium at the Lincoln Memorial.” I’d never noticed the young white police officer in the picture. A second photo followed showing an old man holding the famous picture of the speech. The caption quoted now retired Officer Collins saying he listened to the speech while standing nearby, and thought “Why can’t the whole world be like this? … Why can’t everyone be about nonviolence and love?” Indeed, thinking about the March on Washington, the first massive demonstration of its kind in Washington, DC, an event which challenged the social consciousness of our country, and changed the direction of the civil rights movement, I thought that the speech of that young preacher, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the masses who protested non-violently, could succinctly be described as a labor of love. Like Officer Collins thought that day, they were about non-violence and love. They lifted a nation out of the mire and sin of racial injustice, with a steadfast dedication to love – to love this nation upright, lifting us to a place where we might be a people of love and justice. As we sang just a few minutes ago, in 1963, love lifted me, you, and all of us to place of greater justice and equality in our land. I’m not saying that we have gotten to the Promised Land, as King often described in his famous speeches, but I can say out of the incredible love many, many people had for this great nation of ours, love that involved risking their own lives for the greater good, we were all lifted. Love lifted me inspired me to think more critically about our Gospel.
Today we have Jesus, a young preacher in the synagogue teaching, when he pauses and notices a woman who is severely disabled as a result of a debilitating ailment that has had her bound and bent for 18 years. He calls her over, inviting her to be set free, lays his hands on her, and heals her. Immediately she is able to straighten up and praise God. The synagogue officials remind Jesus that he is not allowed to cure on the Sabbath, and that’s a violation of their laws, but Jesus calls them hypocrites, and says, “Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manager, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” Then Jesus’ opponents are put to shame and the crowd rejoices marveling at this wonderful miracle Jesus has performed. Jesus’ love for this woman and for everyday justice literally lifts this woman, freeing her of bondage, despite the laws of his land, and the people rejoice. Jesus, who has now turned his face toward Jerusalem, knowing what awaits him there, stops to care for one in need of help and provides healing. By doing so he challenges the authorities of his day, but love wins the day.
I can’t help but to think about this story as a metaphor for the civil rights movement. We as a nation were bent over, and crippled by the sin of racial injustice and hate, and throngs of people, many young, many clergy, almost all church people came together to lift this nation out of the shame of racial discrimination out of love for our country and love for all of God’s people. I was
talking to a woman I’ve known since childhood last Thursday, planning her father’s funeral, and asking about her dad. I knew her mother well, she was a teacher in the elementary school I attended, and my mother also taught there with her. The woman talked about how her father walked to the 1963 March on Washington from their home in NE DC. She said, “In those days the church, the school and the home were connected. There was no disconnect. The whole community came together to effect civil rights.” In other words, what was happening in the church, was reflected in what was happening in school, and what was happening at home. In the African American community in 1963, church, school and home were all involved in the fight for civil rights – they were all singing from the same hymnbook, “We shall overcome.”
I find that challenging to us in 2013. Yes, we have an African American President, yes, the fight for civil rights has come very far over these past 50 years, but the Trayvon Martin verdict, immigrant profiling and discrimination, hate crimes, violence and any illegal or unjust actions against gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people make me question whether or not we have overcome. The rampant violence and almost genocidal murder I see on TV in Egypt and Syria makes me weep, and wonder how we can stand by and do nothing, as these men, women and children suffer. They too are our brothers and sisters. What is our responsibility and our response to such atrocities?
I think as Officer Collins thought 50 years ago this week, listening to that famous speech, everyone, all of us, but especially those of us who follow Jesus, must be about non-violence and love. We as the people of God have a moral and spiritual obligation to stop what we’re doing, as Jesus did that day in the synagogue, despite the laws of his land, and provide healing and wholeness wherever, and whenever it’s needed. Whether it’s participating in a large scale social justice demonstration, or helping one in need we encounter in our church, our school or our home, who’s bent over and crippled by disease, distress, addiction, or any kind of trouble, we must reach out in love. It is through love we can lift our people, our nation and our world.