MLK Bus Boyott

[Given January 26, 2014 by The Rev. Fr. Marcus Halley – St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church – Kansas City, MO]

“The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:18

Come, Holy Spirit, and kindle the fire that is in us.
Take our lips and speak through them.
Take our hearts and see through them.
Take our souls and set them on fire. Amen.

So last week, according to the John’s Gospel, Andrew started following Jesus because John the Baptist saw Jesus walking by and proclaimed “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  But this week, according to Matthew’s Gospel, John was in prison before Andrew ever met Jesus.  Awkward.

Yet, I believe that what both of these stories offer us at their heart is multi-faceted perspective on what it means to be invited to follow Christ.

So, if you’ll go with me this morning, I want to explore the subject “I’m Going Through.”

Christianity is, at its heart, a call to follow Christ.

It is a call to engage purposefully and to live intentionally in the light of Christ.

Yet it seems to me that popular Christianity has added so much more to it.  Believe this.  Wear that.  Do this.  Don’t do that.  Vote like this.  Give this amount of money.  Run in these circles.

We’ve added so much to what is Our Lord’s primary call to us.  Yet through all of this, Jesus is still walking along the seashores of our lives and, like Andrew and his brother Peter, and James and his brother John, he is beckoning us to simply follow him.

Exactly how we follow Christ is a call that that you and I, each of us, must wrestle with individually.  How I follow Christ in my life may be nuanced a little differently than how you follow Christ in yours.  We will spend our whole lives trying to make sense of what this call means to each and every one of us.  We will go left and we’ll go right.  We’ll make U-turns.  We’ll become lost, we’ll be found.  It is through trial and error that we will find our way.  It’s the ultimate great unknown.  The final frontier isn’t interstellar space, it is the interior space of our spirituality, our relationship to and with God.

Yet, even though there is this great sense of mystery, there is a real sense in which we can know what is ahead of us on this Christian journey.

If we truly follow Christ, and I mean truly follow Christ, that journey will lead us, ultimately to the cross.

Sorry, dear friends, I can’t sugarcoat that.  Being a Christian, living on the growing edge of justice and mercy, learning to love foolishly those who hate ruthlessly, and to give without thought of receiving, believing in life even while the specter death still haunts the shadows – Being a Christian, following Jesus is hard work.

Jesus knew this.  He knew that discipleship without a cost is not disciple at all.  Salvation may be free, but true Christian discipleship will cost us everything.  Look at the beginning of our Gospel.  In Matthew 4:12 the record records “Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.”

John the Baptist, the crazy, charismatic, revival preacher holding tent-meeting by the Jordan had preached a radical message of repentance and change.  People were responding.  People’s lives were being changed.  And people, especially in high places, were being threatened.  For that, John the Baptist was arrested.  Discipleship without cost is not discipleship at all.

Jesus’ withdrawal wasn’t permanent.  He soon picked right up where John had left off.  “Repent!  For the Kingdom of Heaven has come near!”  Change your hearts and your minds for a better day is coming.  Turn your hearts to God because God is doing a new thing.  Get ready!  Get ready!  Get ready!  Because what God is doing in the world is about to blow your mind!

It was that very message that got John arrested and ultimately beheaded.  Yet Jesus took the Holy Ghost authority to preach the Gospel full and free.

Surely it had to cross Jesus’ mind that he was going down the same path as John, that the way he was following would cause him hardship, but he was determined, come what may, that he was “Going Through.”

It was on this trajectory towards trouble that Jesus runs into his first disciples.

It was a normal day like any other.  Jesus was walking on the rocky shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Soft waves rolled in and out and a some distance into the sea, Peter and Andrew were casting their weary nets into blue waters.  Jesus saw them long before they ever saw him and he called out to them – follow.  Something stirred within them.  They must’ve been familiar with his message.  They must’ve known where this road might lead.  And even with all of that they still made up in their minds, come what may, that they were “Going Through.”

What am I trying to say?  I am saying that when you have made up in your mind to follow Christ, you’ve got to be willing to “Go Through.”  This Christian life, in the words of Langston Hughes, ain’t no “Crystal stair.”  A relationship with God is not a vaccination against the vicious vicissitudes of this life, in fact it may be more like a magnet.

Following God is not comfortable, it is not easy.  But we’ve got to make up in our minds, come what may, that we are “Going Through.”

On March 2, 1955, a 15-year-old young African-American woman named Claudette Colvin was arrested on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give up her seat to a White man.  Nine months later, another young African-American woman was arrested for the same “crime.”  Her name was Rosa Parks.

The African-American community of Montgomery, Alabama had reached its breaking point.  Tired of holding their heads in shame, tired of being mistreated, they resigned themselves to the idea that they’d rather “walk in dignity than ride in shame.”  The night of Rosa Parks’ arrest, the Women’s Political Council circulated a flyer that asked all African-Americans in Montgomery to “please stay off all buses Monday.”

The African-American community responded widely in support of the boycott and leaders anticipated that the boycott would continue past just one day.  The Montgomery Improvement Association brought in a young, upstart preacher from Georgia to organize the boycott.  His name was Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Through mass meetings, letters, and articles, the African-American community galvanized behind this movement and made up their minds, come what may, in the words of an old hymn:

I’m going through, I’m going through,
I’ll pay the price, whatever others do;
I’m going through, I’m going through,
I’ll take the way of the Lord’s despised few.
I started in Jesus, I’m going through.

And “through it” that would indeed go.  In response to the boycott the homes of Martin Luther King and Ralph David Abernathy were bombed as well as four African-American churches.  Boycotters were harassed by police, arrested, and often physically attacked.  The movement almost descended into violence and chaos, but standing outside of his bombed home, Dr. King said to a crowd the 300 angry African-Americans gathered:

If you have weapons, take them home; if you do not have them, please do not seek to get them. We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence.  We must meet hate with love. Remember, if I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because God is with the movement. Go home with this glowing faith and this radiant assurance.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was originally supposed to be one day and ended up lasting 381 days.  Through rain and storm, heat and cold, boycotters walked and with each footstep they began dismantling American apartheid.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was only the beginning for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  He would continue “Going Through” from the “prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire” to the “mighty mountains of New York” to “Stone Mountain of Georgia.”  He would continue “Going Through” because he knew that discipleship without cost is not discipleship at all.  He would continue his journey even to that hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee when an assassin’s bullet would end his life.  Yet, as he prophesied in that yard in 1955, the movement did not stop because God was with the movement.

Dear friends, God is up to something.  God is always up to something.  He is transforming our lives.  She is transforming our world.  He is transforming our families.  She is transforming our nation.  And if we are to follow God, we are called to be agents in that transformation.

But know this.  Even though transformation may not be easy, we have this “glowing faith” and this “radiant assurance”:  that if Christ asks me to follow him that means that Christ is always with me.  Let me say that to you another way, it does not matter where the road of life will lead you, when you walk with Christ you never walk alone.

I’ve seen the lightning flashing, and heard the thunder roll;
I’ve felt sin’s breakers dashing, trying to conquer my soul;
I’ve heard the voice of Jesus, telling me still to fight on;
He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.

Life is not over for you, you’re just “Going Through.”

This is not the end, dear friends, no matter what it looks like, you’re just “Going Through.”

We can continuing this race because we have a running partner, and his name is Jesus.

We can keep on walking this path because we have a companion on the journey, Isaiah called him Immanuel.

We can keep on keeping because, through it all, we are being kept by Jesus.

He’s a keeper, St. Andrews.

I’m so glad to know that Our Lord is a keeper.

And if the Lord is keeping you, then the world can’ do you any harm.