"Martin and Me"
MARTIN AND ME
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’ (Matthew 5:1-9, NRSV)
If not for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I would in all likelihood not be standing before you this morning. You see, Dr. King earned his doctorate from Boston University School of Theology. For that reason, I wanted to go to BU to study social ethics just like Dr. King. While a student there, I was privileged to take a class with Dr. Walter Muelder, who had been the Dean of the School of Theology in Dr. King’s day. My advisor at BU had been a classmate of Dr. King’s in the 1950’s. In BU’s library there is a reading room dedicated to Dr. King with pictures and rare manuscripts. In the heart of BU’s campus right in front of the chapel, there is a sculpture named “Free At Last.” It is an iron piece composed of small doves in the shape of a single large dove.
So how did Dr. King help bring me to Manhasset? I’m glad you asked! It was in the Boston University School of Theology Placement Office that I came across a letter and job description from The Congregational Church of Manhasset Associate Minister Search Committee with contact information for co-chair, Regina Paul. And the rest as they say is history.
One memory from my first visit to the King Reading Room was a picture of Dr. King with blood on his shirt surrounding a steel letter opener. The caption explained that on September 20, 1958, Dr. King attended a book signing in Harlem where a deranged African American woman, Izola Curry, stabbed King in the chest with a letter opener. He was rushed to Harlem Hospital but it took hours to get the right specialist who could successfully remove the letter opener. Harlem Hospital was one of only a handful of hospitals in the country to have an integrated staff at every level. The top thoracic surgeon credited with saving King’s life, Dr. Aubre Maynard, was an African immigrant from Guyana.
In his autobiography Dr. King wrote, “Careful surgery was required to remove the blade. [I]…was told that the razor tip of the instrument had been touching my aorta and that my whole chest had to be opened to extract it. [Dr. Maynard, said] ‘If you had sneezed during all those hours of waiting your aorta would have punctured and you would have [died].’”
“While he was still in the hospital, King issued a press release in which he reaffirmed his belief in ‘the redemptive power of nonviolence’ and issued a hopeful statement about his attacker: ‘I felt no ill will toward Mrs. Izola Curry and know that thoughtful people will do all in their power to see that she gets the help she apparently needs if she is to become a free and constructive member of society.’”
Ten years later, on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was less fortunate. Standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Dr. King was struck down by a bullet from the rifle of white supremacist, James Earl Ray. Being from Memphis, I’ve visited that spot through the years. I have stood and stared at the balcony trying to understand how evil and violence could kill the prophet of love and non-violence.
I will never understand violence. I have stood outside the Dakota on Manhattan’s Upper West Side where John Lennon was shot and killed, and I still don’t understand it. I have stood on the curb of Dealey Plaza in Dallas where President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed, and I still don’t understand it. I have stood at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. where Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed, and I still don’t understand it. I have stood at the foot of the cross in the chapel on Good Friday and I still don’t understand it.
I remember Rev. Tom Lamont saying in sermons that we will never fully comprehend “man’s inhumanity to man.” He was right of course. While violence committed in self-defense is rational, humans inflicting inhuman violence upon one another is irrational and we will never understand it.
“Nonviolence or nonexistence” was a phrase used by Dr. King in his final speech in Memphis the night before he died. These words are more than a nifty catchphrase. At once they are both a foreboding prophecy and a hopeful promise. On the one hand, “nonviolence or nonexistence” speaks a word of warning to our beleaguered human family. If we continue inflicting violence on one another we are doomed.
Violence takes many forms—from nuclear weapons that can destroy our world many times over to suicide vests worn by terrorists. Dr. King said, “Nonviolence or nonexistence.” Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
Our word of hope this morning can be found in the hymn we sang just a few minutes ago, “We Shall Overcome,” with words rooted in old Spirituals sung by African slaves in American fields. The words remind us that “We shall overcome…We’ll walk hand in hand…We shall all be free…We shall live in peace…[and] The Lord will see us through.” These words of hope were sung during the darkest days of the Civil Rights Movement. 37-year-old Medgar Evers was shot and killed in Jackson, Mississippi and two different all-white juries let the white killer go free. Finally, in 1994, Byron De La Beckwith was finally convicted and imprisoned, the response was, “We shall overcome.” When Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins were killed by a bomb as they sat in their Sunday School class in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, the response was, “We shall overcome.” When three civil rights workers in their early 20’s, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, were murdered by the KKK in Neshoba County, Mississippi, the response was, “We shall overcome.” When “Bull” Connor unleashed fire hoses and attack dogs in Birmingham, when racist police used tear gas, whips, and clubs against the non-violent marchers at the Pettus Bridge in Selma, the response was, “We shall overcome.” When Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee the response was, “We shall overcome.”
And so today, when we know for a fact that there will be more senseless shooting sprees in schools and houses of worship, our response must be, “We shall overcome.” We shall overcome the fear that drives us, the hate that inflames us, and the violence that plagues us if not in this life, then most surely in the life to come. “Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome someday.” And that will put smiles on the faces of Abraham, Martin, and John. AMEN.
[Play recording of Abraham, Martin, and John]
ABRAHAM, MARTIN, AND JOHN
By Richard Holler
Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham, Can you tell me where he's gone? He freed a lotta people, but it seems the good die young But I just looked around and he's gone.
Has anybody here seen my old friend John,
Can you tell me where he's gone? He freed a lotta people, but it seems the good die young But I just looked around and he's gone.
Has anybody here seen my old friend Martin, Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lotta people, but it seems the good die young But I just looked around and he's gone.
Didn't you love the things they stood for? Didn't they try to find some good for you and me? And we'll be free, Someday soon it's gonna be one day.
Has anybody here seen my old friend Bobby, Can you tell me where he's gone? I thought I saw him walkin' up over the hill With Abraham, Martin and John.
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday
January 20, 2019
The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)
O God of all nations and peoples, we are grateful for the dreams of freedom, justice, and peace forever spun by your Spirit and proclaimed by prophets in every age. We are grateful that in our time you call every woman and man to lift up and live by that dream, to embody it in our world risking the revolution of love.
We especially praise you this [day] for the lives of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., and for countless others through the ages whose names are known and unknown, and for those who yet lift up the dream and confirm it as yours, who quicken the conscience of this country and the human family around the globe, whose courage and commitment, vision and enthusiasm and joy brace our spirits and fire our wills.
So we thank you and remember and move boldly on in the faith that, however dark the night, however fearful the tyrannies of oppression, we can yet be confident and buoyant in you and your promise that one day justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. So let peace abide in our hearts and between brothers and sisters of every race, every nation, every faith, every orientation, every generation, each and every one of us united as one human family.
Keep us faithful to that promise, your dream and ours. Through Jesus we pray. Amen.
The prayer was adapted from My Heart In My Mouth by Rev. Ted Loder.