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Episcopal Presiding Bishop on Dr. Martin Luther King Day: “His message pointed toward the universal liberation of all people”

Monday, January 18, 2010
"Martin Luther King"s ministry was focused on liberating the people of these United States, but his message pointed toward the universal liberation of all people, all God"s children, here and around the globe," Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in honor of the observation for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on January 17 at St. Andrew and Holy Communion Episcopal Church, South Orange, NJ (Diocese of Newark).

Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori also recognized the devastation in Haiti. "Martin the prophet would remind us that there are still slaves around us – those who live in thralldom to grinding poverty, like the 80% of Haitians who live on less than $2 a day…Martin the prophet would remind us that there is no justice when some live in that kind of poverty. And Martin the prophet would remind us that the people of Haiti are our brothers and sisters."

The following is the Presiding Bishop"s sermon:

St. Andrew and Holy Communion, South Orange, NJ

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 17, 2010

A few minutes ago we gave thanks for the many saints who have come before us, for our ancestors and our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ, for all who have toiled to build the world we have dreamed of, the dream the prophets continue to hold before us, of that world we have not yet seen in its fullness.

Moses led his people out of Egypt in search of that dream, of a land of milk and honey, where slavery would be left behind, and no one"s labor would be stolen by the powerful, where God"s children might live in peace and abundance. It"s the same dream that the prophet Martin Luther King held before us – a world where no one goes hungry, where each one has a decent shelter at night, where all have an equal claim on justice. It is the eternal dream of God"s spirit within us, and the vision that Jesus urges on his followers. This dream is not just a dream for the end time. This dream comes among us like a thief in the night, it sneaks up on us when we"re not paying attention, and this dream lives within us.

We"ve confronted that dream this week as we"ve seen the terror of Haiti, a land shaken by the impersonal forces of an ever-changing globe. It"s also a terror in which human forces play an enormous role. The dream of God is evident in the care of one Haitian for another, and in the care of the world"s urgent response.

We know that most of the buildings of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti in and around Port-au-Prince have been destroyed. Two of our young adult missionaries who"ve been teaching theology there are on their way home. I have not been able to reach the bishop yet, but one of those young adults reports that Bishop Zaché Duracin has organized a camp of several thousand persons, caring for those with nowhere else to go. This includes the bishop, whose own home has been destroyed. They have water and some food, and a purpose – to care for each other and for the suffering around them. The dream of God is becoming real on that soccer field, in small and hidden ways.

At the same time our hearts are breaking as we see the bodies and hear the stories about not knowing where family members are. Those with experience in disasters, whether you lived through the aftermath of 9/11 or Katrina, or the professionals, who do this compassionate work for a living, know that the recovery and rebuilding will take a very long time. The damage in Haiti is far worse than it was when an equivalent earthquake hit San Francisco 20 years ago, when only 62 people died – it"s worse because the infrastructure in Haiti is so poor, and the buildings there so fragile. It is a result of poverty.

And that poverty is what the prophet Martin would challenge us about. Haiti has its roots in a history of slavery. Spaniards first imported Africans as slaves to the island on which Haiti sits in 1517. The island went back and forth between Spanish and French control over the next two centuries, with the French eventually colonizing the western part. In 1804, a slave revolt led to the first independent nation in Latin America, the second independent nation in this hemisphere after the United States, the first post-colonial black-led nation anywhere, and the first nation established as the result of a successful slave rebellion. If that isn"t an Exodus story, I don"t know what is. The Haitians were delivered from Pharaoh, led by their own team of Moseses. Yet they have never tasted much milk and honey.

Martin the prophet would remind us that there are still slaves around us – those who live in thralldom to grinding poverty, like the 80% of Haitians who live on less than $2 a day. That"s the kind of poverty that the first of the Millennium Development Goals is meant to relieve. Martin the prophet would remind us that there is no justice when some live in that kind of poverty. And Martin the prophet would remind us that the people of Haiti are our brothers and sisters. Did you hear his words?

How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes evidences of millions of people going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes God"s children sleeping on the sidewalks at night? Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are tied together in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.

Martin Luther King"s ministry was focused on liberating the people of these United States, but his message pointed toward the universal liberation of all people, all God"s children, here and around the globe. The work he began here helped to liberate the people of South Africa. The ways in which Americans and faithful people around the world began to hear that universal message have made us conscious that oppression, and discrimination, and injustice anywhere are indeed our problem. We are most certainly "caught in an inescapable network of mutuality."

This congregation is abundantly aware of that reality – it shows in your care for, and your ministry with, so many who suffer in want of food, and clothing, and shelter, and education. Your particular focus on children reminds us all that Jesus came among us as one of them, and maybe we can remember that we"re all God"s children, and that Jesus is still present among us in the most vulnerable.

What do you do when you encounter someone who is particularly vulnerable? You"ve probably heard and seen the stories about trying to get still-living people out of ruined buildings in Haiti. One man was sedated before they dragged him through a very tight spot. Others have had water piped to them through tiny hoses. Some of them had to have limbs amputated in order to deliver them from potential tombs. Rescuers do what is most needed to sustain life.

I"m struck by the image of a tiny child, newly born, newly delivered, perhaps the most vulnerable life most of us ever meet. What do we do with a child like that? Wrap it up and keep the child warm. Martin invited us as church to become a thermostat, rather than a thermometer, to be an instrument that changes the temperature of the society around us. Well, my friends, it"s time to turn the heat up. Babies are dying out there. God"s children, our brothers and sisters, are dying of neglect – our neglect to work for justice both here and around the globe. Haiti is also a child of God, teetering on the cusp of life. She needs water, food, solidarity in prayer, work for justice, redevelopment, she needs milk and honey.

Haiti is a bellwether for all the world"s children, for all God"s children, caught in that network of mutuality. None of us will arrive in that land of milk and honey of which we have dreamed for eons, none of us will enter that land until and unless we cross the river together. Only hand in hand with our neighbors, poor, hungry, thirsty, only when we keep on building that network of mutuality. Take my hand, precious Lord, and put it in the hand of my sister and my brother. Take my hand, take all our hands, and together – together - we shall come into the promised land.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori

Presiding Bishop

The Episcopal Church

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