Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'”
And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.
But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Jesus is always doing magic. He is First Century Palestine’s own David Blaine. He time travels across the Sea of Galilee. He controls storms, talks to pigs. Gives sight to the blind and heals the sick. He blends in to crowds. Among all of his Vegas style magic Jesus is also a master of disguises.
Jesus also sets the prisoners free just as we are called to set the prisoners free. Last week we heard a little about prisons and prisoners. We know that we have the largest collection of prisoners in the world. Our prison industrial complex is big business and is populated disproportionately with people of color.
Not to long ago there was another prison, holding another person of color, in Birmingham, Alabama. This person was supporting with presence and assisting with organizing communities to stand up for equality and to shine a light on injustice. He was one of millions of people that dedicated their lives to moving the hands of time towards justice and its perverted use to deny a people their full and equal humanity.
That man sitting in a Birmingham prison cell wrote, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men [and women] willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.” Does this sound familiar?
He continues to describe the circumstances that delivered him to prison. The unjust laws and campaigns of hatred to keep “tradition” alive and well that binds a nation to its genocidal and bondage-laden past. To the oppressed “tradition” does not mean grandmas apple pie, picnics on Sunday, and a loving, inclusive Gospel-filled Jesus parading without a permit. To the oppressed “tradition” means, “Whites Only” and “Colored.” Signs that demand inequality as it smiles and offers separate but equal accommodations.
The man I speak of is the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. These are his words from “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Dr. King goes on to outline the method to his madness. “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: (1) collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, (2) negotiation, (3) self-purification, and (4) direct action.” Having exhausted the first three steps, the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement of Human Rights reached out to Dr. King to move towards direct action.
Dr. King continues, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” The road towards equality and justice is wrought with peril. Those in power will not simply awake from this nightmare and deliver to the oppressed recompense, equality, and openly listen to the harm the majority has done. “History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.”
There are just laws and unjust laws, as Dr. Kings explains, “An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is not binding on itself. This is difference made legal. On the other hand, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow, and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.” Injustice exists when the moral governance that regulates the people does not represent or speak all the peoples concerns. Justice must intervene on the people’s behalf.
If we are to engage this as Christians we must adhere to the four-fold principles of non-violence: (1) collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, (2) negotiation, (3) self-purification, and (4) direct action. As we engage this practice we are drawn closer to God and our faith made stronger. Just as you make your body stronger through healthy eating and exercise, you strengthen your faith with a steady diet of grace and the actions of your faith.
The church has been that place of public accountability of which injustice has fled. The church is silent. Should we therefore assume that since the church is silent that injustice no longer exists?
Is equality present in all our lives? Gone is the persecution of God’s fearfully and wonderfully made creatures due to their skin color. Departed from our hearts is the bias against others for whom they love. No longer an issue is the absence of privilege for some. Dr. King rebukes the complacent and weak action of “concerned” faith leaders by saying, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
Where do we stand as a church? Where is the voice of glory proclaiming the Gospel in the face of tyranny and oppression? Our silence speaks load and clear. Has our courage escaped us? Have we been overwhelmed by contempt and exhausted from inequities?
Dr. King offers a stirring indictment of the church, “There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than [humanity]. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.”…Things are different now. The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s often vocal sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I meet young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle”
Is this the sin of the church? We are no longer the thermostat of equality and that we have given rise to be disappointments of our youth. What was true of the church in 1963 is true 50 years later. Where has our fight gone?
We have become more cautious than courageous. The sanctity of our hollowed walls prohibit us of a clear view of the injustices that roam freely in this Land of Plenty. We got to get dangerous. We have to challenge our nerves and trust that God is going to carry us through. We must become advocates for those that have no voice. We must seek out the lepers of Israel. We must care for the widows and orphans suffering from this famine of the soul. We cannot let this work pass on to another. God has called us. God has anointed us to this work. You and I must roll up or sleeves and get to work. We have power to confront. We have foundations to shake. We have Good News to preach. We have Jesus to follow.
If we aren’t being pushed to the end by angry and frustrated mobs than we haven’t gone far enough. We must break free from our prison and speak the good word with courage, compassion, non-violence, and conviction. We shall realize liberation and freedom for all of God’s children. This has been assured in Christ Jesus. “We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.”