Jesus, having been baptized and thoroughly tempted by Satan, walked back to his hometown and went to church. As one does. For what I presume was a morning service Jesus stood up and read the scroll of Isaiah, his first sermon:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppresed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Looked up from his reading, staring into the eyes of the gathered, he said: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” and dropped his mic.
Like all prophets who proclaim good news for the poor, the prisoner, the blind, the oppressed and the downtrodden the congregation tried to kill him. And, in a way, they eventually would. When the powerful speak for the weak it is a death sentence.
Jesus had the audacity to quote Isaiah quoting Leviticus, the law of the Lord. Which states that every seven years was The Sabbath Year when the land could rest as the people were to rest on the seventh day. And on the seventh Sabbath Year, year 50, was Jubilee, The Year of the Lord’s Favor.
A nice symmetry. God makes all things and on the last day He rests. He tells his people to rest on the seventh day, the last day of their week. And every cycle of seven years the land rests on the final year. And on the seventh Sabbath Year there is Jubilee.
The Year of the Lord’s Favor: when the trumpet would sound on the Day of Atonement, when God and Man were reconciled, and freedom was proclaimed throughout the land to all its inhabitants. Good news to the poor, liberty to the captive and the oppressed, the blind receiving sight. When all things are made new.
But we hate Jubilee. Let’s just be honest. In Israel’s long history not once did they celebrate the Year of the Lord’s Favor as commanded. Isaiah, some 700 years before the birth of Christ, prophesied it and still no follow through. Then Jesus says that he is the Lord’s favor! And they try and push him off a cliff. Then they nail him to a tree.
You’re reading this in my future. Neato! It’s a sci-fi world and we’re all just cyborgs in it. In your past, my present, I’m writing on Monday, January 18th, 2016 – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – and I’m listening to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. I’m thinking about yesterday’s message about Jubilee and reading one of Dr. King’s sermons: Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.
Dr. King writes:
There can be no gainsaying of the fact that a great revolution is taking place in the world today. In a sense it is a triple revolution: that is, a technological revolution, with the impact of automation and cybernation; then there is a revolution in weaponry, with the emergence of atomic and nuclear weapons of warfare; then there is a human rights revolution, with the freedom explosion that is taking place all over the world. Yes, we do live in a period where changes are taking place. And there is still the voice crying through the vista of time saying, “Behold, I make all things new; former things are passed away.”
Those words were written in 1968, almost 50 years ago. It would seem that we’ve doubled-down on his triple revolution. Since Y2k we’ve seen the proliferation of technology – free wifi at your local coffeeshop and in your bedroom, everybody and their 10,000 digital friends, the iWhatever, one year for Christmas I got a robot dog. The world is all the more armed, remember North Korea may have just successfully tested their first hyrdrogen bomb and there’s a gun for every man, woman, and child in America. And the Human Rights Revolution seems to trudge along – better, but still so very far to go.
Dr. King continues,
Modern man through his scientific genius has been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. And our jet planes have compressed into minutes distances that once took weeks and even months. All of this tells us that our world is a neighborhood.
Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.
John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms: “No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” And he goes on toward the end to say, “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” We must see this, believe this, and live by it if we are to remain awake through a great revolution.
Secondly, we are challenged to eradicate the last vestiges of racial injustice from our nation. I must say this morning that racial injustice is still the black man’s burden and the white man’s shame.
It is an unhappy truth that racism is a way of life for the vast majority of white Americans, spoken and unspoken, acknowledged and denied, subtle and sometimes not so subtle—the disease of racism permeates and poisons a whole body politic. And I can see nothing more urgent than for America to work passionately and unrelentingly—to get rid of the disease of racism.
In Matthew 25.31-46, Jesus says that on the final day when he, the Son of Man, comes in his glory and sits on his glorious throne he will gather all the nations and will separate people from each other as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep to the right, the goats to the left. And to those on the right he will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. You fed me when I was hungry, gave me drink when I was thirsty, welcomed me when I was a stranger, clothed me when I was naked, visited me when I was sick and imprisoned. Whatever you did to the least of these you did to me.”
To those on the left, “Depart from me. Whatever you did not do for the least of these you did not do for me.”
Dr. King continues,
Something positive must be done. Everyone must share in the guilt as individuals and as institutions. The government must certainly share the guilt; individuals must share the guilt; even the church must share the guilt.
We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing “In Christ there is no East or West,” we stand in the most segregated hour of America.
The hour has come for everybody, for all institutions of the public sector and the private sector to work to get rid of racism. And now if we are to do it we must honestly admit certain things and get rid of certain myths that have constantly been disseminated all over our nation.
One is the myth of time. It is the notion that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. And there are those who often sincerely say to the Negro and his allies in the white community, “Why don’t you slow up? Stop pushing things so fast. Only time can solve the problem. And if you will just be nice and patient and continue to pray, in a hundred or two hundred years the problem will work itself out.”
There is an answer to that myth. It is that time is neutral. It can be used wither constructively or destructively. And I am sorry to say this morning that I am absolutely convinced that the forces of ill will in our nation, the extreme rightists of our nation—the people on the wrong side—have used time much more effectively than the forces of goodwill. And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”
Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. So we must help time and realize that the time is always ripe to do right.
One day we will have to stand before the God of history and we will talk in terms of things we’ve done. Yes, we will be able to say we built gargantuan bridges to span the seas, we built gigantic buildings to kiss the skies. Yes, we made our submarines to penetrate oceanic depths. We brought into being many other things with our scientific and technological power.
It seems that I can hear the God of history saying, “That was not enough! But I was hungry, and ye fed me not. I was naked, and ye clothed me not. I was devoid of a decent sanitary house to live in, and ye provided no shelter for me. And consequently, you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness. If ye do it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye do it unto me.” That’s the question facing America today.
There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right. I believe today that there is a need for all people of goodwill to come with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “We ain’t goin’ study war no more.” This is the challenge facing modern man.
We’re going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands. And so, however dark it is, however deep the angry feelings are, and however violent explosions are, I can still sing “We Shall Overcome.”
We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
When the trumpet sounds and the roll is called up yonder, that final Jubilee, the Son of Man in his glory being surrounded by the winged warriors of Heaven will sit on his throne and declare, Behold, I make all things new; former things are passed away.
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” The Son of Man will say to those on his right, wiping every tear from their weary and heavyburdened eyes. He will welcoming them home, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
God grant that we will be participants in this newness and this magnificent development. If we will but do it, we will bring about a new day of justice and brotherhood and peace. And that day the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy. God bless you.
Please take the time to read the entirety of Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution. If you will, let it offend you. Then do something. Have a conversation. Change your mind. Become conscience of your neighbor. Be an extremist for love.