Sunday, January 17, 2016

Confession & Thanksgiving as We Celebrate MLK



Earlier today I was blessed with the opportunity to give the opening invocation of the Schenectady County Human Right's Commission's annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration at Mount Olivet Missionary Baptist Church. What follows my manuscript for that invocation.

Good afternoon everyone,

When Ms. Morris called me up a few days before Christmas and asked me to open today’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. with a word of prayer, I felt incredibly honored, but honestly a bit distraught as well. You see, us Lutherans aren’t necessarily known for our rousing, inspiring praying… we certainly pray, quite a bit actually, but we tend to just like politely reading something out of a book and then going off to the fellowship hall to enjoy a nice potluck. And furthermore, I mean not everyone here’s Christian I imagine, so I thought offering prayerful words in such a situation might not be entirely inclusive. Eventually, and frankly not till pretty early this morning, I realized it was far better to offer up something from my tradition that we all in a sense could take part in no matter one’s faith: confession and thanksgiving. You see, from a Lutheran and indeed many Christian perspectives, confession isn’t about feeling all guilty, bummed out or down on one’s self like it’s often portrayed… not at all! Indeed, when we confess things, we’re simply naming the things that ail us, we’re simply naming what’s really going on, and in doing so, we are thereby freed to see and celebrate the many incredible things we should be thankful for. So, with that said, instead of opening with a word of prayer, I’d ask that we open with a word of confession and thanksgiving.

First of all, as Dr. Jacqui Williams stated this past Thursday at the Pre-Celebration Community Forum, let us confess that if the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were here today, he would cry, fall to his knees, and pray, “What did I do wrong?” That’s because, while it’s certainly not Dr. King’s fault, we must also confess that Jim Crow is indeed alive and well not just in the South but throughout America in the form of a criminal justice system run amok, a system which now imprisons a higher percentage of the black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. Let us confess, that as the political strategist Lee Atwater admitted to decades ago, fear of the criminal, fear of the drug addict, fear of the welfare recipient was created and stoked in the minds of America’s white population simply to garner votes. And more importantly, let all my fellow white folks in the room today confess that far too many of us fell for such tactics, and continue to fall for these harmful manipulations. Let us confess that not only has Reagan’s so called “War on Drugs” been a miserable failure, but also that due to racial profiling, certainly not rates of drug use, the “War on Drugs” has often become a war on communities of color. Let us confess that when we say we’re in a post-racial society, or that we live in an age of colorblindness, all we’re really saying is that we’re simply blind to what’s really going. Let us confess that when we respond to the refrain “black lives matter” with “all lives matter,” we simply do not understand the issue at hand.

To all those who are Christians in the room, both black and white, let us confess that far too many of our houses of worship have become houses of complacency, houses of polite superficialities and houses of creature comforts rather than places where we learn what the gospel is really about… faith, hope and liberating love. Let us confess far too many of us lift Dr. King up as a universally beloved saint, rather than the controversial, radical, justice-seeker he was. Finally, let us confess that we all have failed to care for one another, and as Michelle Alexander states in her book The New Jim Crow, “It is this failure to care, really care across color lines, that lies at the core of this system of control and the very racial caste system that has existed in the United States or anywhere else in the world.

However, having confessed such things, let us also turn forward this day and give joyful thanksgiving as we the celebrate the immense possibilities of a bright future. Let us lift up words of thanksgiving that in the tradition of Isaiah, Micah, Elijah and indeed of Jesus Christ, any true faith must seek justice and therefore any true faith must be in a sense political. Let us give thanks that our houses of worship are well poised to provide safe and comfortable spaces for our community to have incredibly uncomfortable but necessary conversations. Let us give thanks for the rich, beautiful diversity of creation in all its forms… for diversity of race and culture and creed and for humanity’s full spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations. Let us give thanks for a new generation of civil rights activists who refuse to be silenced, those who have aptly been called the #blacklivesmatter generation. Let us give thanks for the lives of those beloved martyrs of gun violence and police violence, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and all the others whose lives have once again brought issues of race and justice to the forefront of our national conversation. Most importantly, let us give thanks for the real Dr. King, a man who was a “troublemaker,” a man who was a “radical,” a man who necessarily made people feel uncomfortable, but as Cornell West puts its, also a man who taught us to be love-struck with each other rather than colorblind toward each other. Thanks be to God for these things, and thank you for joining us in today’s celebration.

Dustin serves as pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church, a Spirit-filled church following Jesus Christ in Rotterdam, New York. An evangelist, urban gardener, mountain climber, community organizer, saint and sinner, he spends most of his professional time wrestling with God and proclaiming liberation in Christ. Otherwise, Dustin likes hiking, playing frisbee, hanging out with his fiancée Jessie, his amazing pup Willy Bear and pretending to know how to sing.

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