It’s still God’s dream

On August 28, 1963, during the March on Washington for Civil Rights, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. During the speech, his wife Coretta Scott King said, “it seemed as if the Kingdom of God appeared. But it only lasted for a moment.”

It only lasted for a moment.

Fifty-seven years later, we need to ask why the moment did not last longer. Fifty-seven years later, we need to ask how far we have come on that long road to racial reconciliation and what King called “beloved community.” Fifty-seven years later, we need to ask why the dream remains only a dream.

Surely we have made progress. When you remember the time, or read accounts of it or watch newsreel footage of the marches and the vicious opposition to them – the beatings, the bombings, the lynchings, the cold-blooded murders, and the almost inconceivable torrent of hatred …

When you consider all of that, it is hard to believe that this is the same country, so primitive and so backward do some of the attitudes appear by contrast to the apparent openness of our society today.

And yet this is the same country where many Americans still cannot abide the notion that for eight years we had a black president. It’s time to take back our country, they said, and by that they meant that it was time to get that black man out of the White House. So they replaced him with a slick white demagogue with orange hair.

That Obama fellow, you know, was hardly a proper president, because his African-born father committed the unpardonable sin: He married a white woman from Kansas.

Martin Luther King Jr. called racism “the hound of hell that dogs the tracks of our civilization.” It was his dream that even this hound might be redeemed by God’s love. Nearly sixty years later, the dream remains unrealized because of the power of human sin. But King knew, and we know, that the Hound of Heaven won’t give up until the hound of hell learns to heel through the power of God’s grace.

King’s dream was not only that people of color would find social justice in America but that all people of all races would be reconciled and live in harmony in beloved community. What he dreamed of, simply, was the Kingdom of God made manifest on earth. That is our dream, too, because that is God’s dream planted in us.

King new that racism and segregation are wrong because they are destructive to all of God’s people. They are physically and morally destructive to the people of color who are victimized, and they are morally destructive to white people who unfairly benefit from their victimization. Even more, racism and segregation are wrong because they are counter to God’s will.

God’s will is what God wants, what God pursues, and what God wants us to pursue as well. What God wants, what God pursues, and what God wants us to pursue, is reconciliation – reconciliation with God and reconciliation with all other human beings.

What God wants, what God pursues, and what God wants us to pursue, is the creation of beloved community.

This is community where people can live together without fear. This is community where people are valued not for the color of their skin or who their parents were or how much money they have in the bank, but rather for the content of their character – and that is determined primarily by their relationship with God.

This is community that is attentive not to the interests of a few but to the interests of all; community that is dedicated to the flourishing of each and every one of its members; community that defines itself not by who it keeps out but by who it keeps in.

The goal of such community is true integration – not merely the members of various groups living side by side as separate but equal partners but rather living together, as one, in an inclusive society bound together by love.

The only way to create such community, King said, is to make love the center of our lives. The only way to achieve beloved community, King knew, is to make God the center of our lives.

God has to be the center of beloved community because it won’t work without God, and because it is, in fact, God’s community. It is nothing less than the Kingdom of God established on earth, as it already is in heaven. It is the New Jerusalem that comes down to earth from heaven. It is the goal of human existence. It is God’s dream for humanity.

We tend to agree with the dream, but we have reservations, don’t we? So many of us object, “I’m not racist.” And we may not be, as individuals, one to another.

But we live in a society that is racist to the core. We have inherited and internalized belief in white supremacy. Based on that belief, our social system kept black people in chains for hundreds of years, and in the century and a half since slavery was abolished, has devised new and more devious means to keep them in bondage.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we who are white benefit from that system. We can be satisfied merely to feel guilty about that, or we can work to fix the system. That’s a daunting challenge. We know what happens to people to try to fix the system. See what happened to Jesus. See what happened to Martin Luther King Jr. See what happens to so many others, every day.

Still, we know that a gospel that accepts this status quo is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A gospel that fails to confront racism is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A gospel that fails to confront the causes of poverty and inequality is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A gospel that fails to confront social and political systems that are designed to keep people in lifelong servitude is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“I have a dream,” Martin Luther King said. When you read the Bible with open eyes and without racist blinders, you know where that dream comes from. You know where King got that dream. He got it from God.

Because God has a dream.

  • God dreams that every child will be loved.
  • That no child will go hungry.
  • That no child will be abused.
  • That no child will be used in any way.
  • That all children will be allowed to grow strong and true.
  • That all children will learn to exercise their minds as well as their bodies and that all will be allowed to become valuable contributors to their communities.

God has a dream.

  • That every person who is capable of labor can seek and find dignified and rewarding work.
  • That every person is appreciated because of who he or she is as a child of God.
  • That no person is appreciated more, or less, than another because of family or racial or ethnic background, or any other artificial barrier we can erect against them.
  • That every person treats every other person as lovingly as he or she wants to be treated.

God has a dream.

  • That parents are honored by their children.
  • That no lives are cut short by murder.
  • That spouses are faithful to the one they’ve promised to love and cherish all the days of their lives.
  • That no one attempts to gain by theft, or fraud, or deceit.
  • That no one gossips about another.
  • That no one desires what belongs to another.

God has a dream.

  • That people give God glory, and God alone.
  • That people find their true identity in God and are fulfilled in God and happy and complete in God.
  • That people honor God by living the way God created them to live.

God has a dream.

  • That God will dwell among us, at home with us, in intimate communion.
  • That God will wipe every tear from our eyes.
  • That death and destruction will be no more.
  • That mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
  • That we will so live by God’s light that we won’t even need the light of the sun or the moon to guide our steps at night.

God has a dream.

  • That we will respond lovingly to God’s love.
  • That we will love God so much that we will let God transform us into the very likeness in which we were created – the image and likeness of God.
  • That we will learn to love others so much that we will live with them, cheek by jowl, in beloved community.
  • That we will so yearn for this community to become real in our lives that we will pray for it and work for it and keep on praying for it and working for it until it becomes a reality.

God has a dream.

  • That every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill made low.
  • The uneven ground shall be made level and the rough places a plain.
  • We will build a highway in the desert for our God.
  • Justice will roll down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
  • Messengers of good news will proclaim, “God reigns!”
  • The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together!

God has a dream.

The road toward that dream is long and often hard. It’s easy to become discouraged and lose hope. But because we know the dreamer, we know that one day the dream will come true.

And so we remember the words of an old song from the black church tradition.

I don’t feel no ways tired.

I’ve come too far from where I started from.

Nobody told me that the road would be easy.

I don’t believe God brought me this far to leave me.

I’ve been sick. I’ve been in trouble.

I’ve been friendless. I’ve been lonely.

But I don’t believe God brought me this far to leave me.

God has a dream, and God won’t give up until that dream is made real for us all. Work for it, wait for it, believe in it!

Amen!

This message was delivered Jan. 26, 2020, at Edgerton United Methodist Church, from the texts Isaiah 52.7, Isaiah 40.3-5 and Amos 5.24.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s