On December 4, 1955, a one-day boycott of the city lines in Montgomery was planned. A group of leaders began calling around to find local pastors who were willing to participate in the negotiations with city officials that they hoped would happen the following day. One of the calls made was to a pastor named Martin Luther King Jr.. King was asked to participate but he made it known that he was too busy with his dissertation, too busy preparing for his church’s annual planning conference, and too busy preparing the church’s budget, but he offered them space to meet at his church. Well, this group of leaders did not give up that easily. And so, by the Monday of the boycott, this group of leaders had worked him so hard that he accepted the nomination to be the president of the Montgomery Improvement Association.
During there first meeting, King spoke and his address provoked a thunderous response from the congregation. But all of the praise he received on that night quickly began to fade. As president, King’s initial demands were very tame and the MIA was not happy with what they called his strategy of moderation. Even the NAACP voiced concern that the MIA were settling for something far short of integration. Charles Marsh in his book, The Beloved Community writes that “King refused to go any farther. To the Baptist preacher with the downtown parish, segregation seemed too entrenched a tradition to call into question.” (24)
As I read Marsh’s book, I was surprised to know that in the early days of the bus boycott, King kept a loaded gun in his home. King explained that at this time“he thought the only way we could solve our problem was an armed revolt.” (26) So, King’s understanding of his call did not come in the first moment, instead it was gradual and he was learning as he went.
But there was a defining moment. On Thursday, January 26, King was pulled over by 2 police officers and put in jail for driving 30 miles in a 25 mile an hour zone. Marsh writes, “King spent the evening listening to stories of thieves and drunks and drifters and in exchange he gave the men a vivid account of his afternoon.” The men turned to King and asked if he would help set them free and he smiled and said “I’ve got to get myself out.” That evening, he returned home and the telephone rang. He picked up the phone and a man said, “Listen, we’ve taken all we want from you; before next week you’ll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.” (31) This was not an isolated incident for in the days surrounding King’s arrest, he had received 30-40 threatening calls like this one. But on this night, he felt fear growing inside of him. The fear threatened to overtake him and he was looking for a way out of the spotlight. And so while sitting at the dining room table with a cup of coffee, about to give up, he heard a still small voice that said, “You can’t call on Daddy now, you can’t call on Mama. You’ve got to call on that something in that person that your daddy used to tell you about, that power that can make a way out of no way.” (32) and so he prayed. During his prayer, he heard Jesus saying “continue to fight on and I will never leave you. I will never leave you alone.” And quickly, his fears disappeared.
For most of us, hearing the voice of love does not happen in the first prayer we pray but it takes time and practice. But where we all begin is with a first step and where we all continue is in taking the next step. We are in a sermon series titled Following Jesus and in this study my hope is that we gain clarity on what is our next right and loving step in following Jesus…
In our text for today, we read that Jesus returns to Galilee filled with the power of the spirit. This is important because Luke wants us to remember that Jesus is not operating on his own, but is empowered through the Spirit. Just a few chapters ago in Luke, we read about the Spirit descending like a dove on Jesus proclaiming that he is God’s beloved son. Then, the spirit led Jesus in the wilderness as he was discerning what type of ministry he felt God was calling him to. Now, our passage begins by telling us that Jesus is teaching in Galilee through the power of the Spirit. And then Jesus says directly to his friends and family at the temple, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” Later, in acts, Luke will write about how the spirit gave birth to the church and that at a time
when the church had no building, no staff, no budget, the ONE thing that it had going for it was the power of the spirit. For Luke, the spirit is present in the life of Jesus and in those who follow him.
The power of the spirit is what helped Jesus transition from being Joseph’s son, the son of Mary and a carpenter, to proclaiming that this passage from Isaiah is now fulfilled in their hearing. But let’s stop here and think about what the people who were hearing him speak went through. At the beginning of our text, it reads that the people were praising Jesus. They seemed to be impressed, excited, and inspired by his teaching. But by verse 28, it says that the people were filled with rage. Why did they go from praise to rage so quickly? It’s because what they wanted, what they had in mind for a Messiah is not what Jesus said he was going to do. Instead of becoming curious about Jesus’ statements, they kicked him out of town and tried to throw him off a cliff. But Jesus passed through them untouched. I think this last statement means more than he was not pushed off the cliff. I think it means that their words did not affect him. He was centered in God’s call because he was not alone. He was communing with the spirit of love who gave him the wisdom and courage to face whatever was in front of him.
Through communing with the spirit, Jesus gained clarity about his mission. Our passage today is the summary statement of his mission. He says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” In this statement Jesus gets really clear about his mission. His mission is to build upon and expand the idea of Jubilee that was a very familiar concept at that time. Every 50 years was a year of Jubilee in which a huge party was thrown and the land and the people were granted rest and given a second chance. The land did not have to keep producing with no end. The people would not experience debt slavery for the rest of their lives. So what Jesus is saying is that he is ushering in the Kingdom and in his Kingdom the year of Jubilee is present in this very moment.
Finding your voice and getting clear about your ministry is not just for people like MLK or for Jesus. It is for regular people like you and I.
I began my ministry here thinking that we were headed in one direction and then we had a major disruption that propelled us in another direction. Many of you in this church and many others in the community have reached out to care for me recognizing that I have spent my first year here inviting you to find your voice and share where you see Jesus calling us to go. So they asked me, “What about you? Where do you feel called?” So, I got really quiet and spent time listening. At first, I connected to the word Reconciliation. This word resonates with our denomination in where we feel called to go. But then as I listened a little more, I realized that a better word for me is Loving Kindness. I envision spending time leading people to extend loving kindness to themselves. I see myself focusing on loving your neighbor and truly getting to know the people you live next to so that you are creating a loving and caring community bearing each other’s burdens and celebrating the joys of life together. Then, we would move to extending care and concern for strangers. This could be people of different races, religious traditions, or immigration status. We would go beyond that to extending loving kindness to the challenging people in our life. And we all have those! This work is deeply rooted in the Christian Tradition and is a faithful way to follow Jesus while also being inspired by a beautiful Buddhist Meditation.
Yet, we would not do this work alone.
But how do we connect to the spirit who give us the wisdom and courage to face whatever is in front of us? The beauty of it is that you already are…our job is to practice bringing our awareness to this connection. Richard Rohr writes “Don’t try to push the river or make the river happen; it is already happening, and you cannot stop it. All you can do is recognize it, enjoy it, and ever more fully allow it to carry you.” One way to rest our awareness on the flow of the spirit inside and between us all is to get quiet, pray and listen. In this way, you are communing with the spirit
As we come to the communion table, the idea of communing with the spirit really speaks to me. At the communion table, we remember that this is a table that is set wide and long. It’s a place for sharing and intimate conversation. It’s a place where we acknowledge that in this moment we commune with people across the world who are gathering around the table at this time. We commune with people who came before us and those who come after us. We are communing with the spirit that flows between us all. We are taking in the vibe, feeling the energy of the collective consciousness that is focused in one direction…on following Jesus. And so as we come to commune at the table, the first thing we do is pray. Henri Nouwen said it best, “Through prayer we listen to the voice of love and find there the wisdom and courage to face whatever is in front of us.”