Unification News for February 2002
The Spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. Is the Spirit of America
by Archbishop G. Augustus Stallings Jr.
Good evening, my sisters and my brothers. I call you my sisters and brothers not because it is convenient or because I am just a minister. I donít call you my brothers and my sisters because it is the right thing to say or the nice thing to say.
I call you brothers and sisters affectionately, because in the depth of my being I not only believe that we are brothers and sisters one to another, but that somehow we all share the same blood. We are all from the same root, from the same source. I call you my brothers and sisters because that is not only how I see you, but that is how I desire for you to see me! That your joys are my joys and my sorrows are your sorrows, that we are inextricably connected with one another.
That is what was the heart of Martin Luther King Jr. That was the core message of all that he sought to preach and teach. That was the driving force within him: to bring all of us to the conscious realization and to the spiritual awareness that we are all inextricably connected and linked to one another. But somehow, until we come to realize that, we will never rise to the level where our God desires us to be. Somehow, weíve got to go beyond the color of our skin and dwell in that place where the content of our character will be able to distinguish us from the rest of us.
I am often perplexed how we talk that talk but find it so hard to walk that walk. We who are ordained ministers, who know how to pose every word of our speech and exegete every passage of the Bible, have had a difficulty in convincing people in the pews and some people in the pulpit what it means to be one family under God. But that is what we are; we are just one gigantic family, and all the members of that family and of that body must be treated equally.
But somehow in our churches, we can love each other on Sunday morning and hate each other on Monday morning. I have never been able to quite figure it out why we say that we all serve the same one true God but cannot find God in each other. There is something wrong with our theology, with our religion, there is something wrong in which we articulate our vernacular expression of God. I donít know where we have gone wrong, but somehow we have to start going right!
I am moved by the theme tonight, "The Spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. Is the Spirit of America." Having watched that historic march in Washington, anyone can tell you that Martin saw it very clearly when he said: "I have a dream," because it is a dream that is deeply rooted, not just simply rooted, but deeply rooted in the American dream.
He says I am not bringing you a new theology, a new history, I am not trying to take you somewhere where you never been, but I am trying to get you to enflesh the very ideals upon which this nation was built!
I am a theologian, and I love to search out the etymology of words. I guess you can call me an etymologist. Because when I look at the title, "The Spirit ...," there is only one understanding for spirit. I think so many times we use words lightly. We do not understand the power that words convey. But when we look at the word "spirit," I think of "ruah," which is Hebrew for "breath" or spirit. I think of "numah" which is Greek for spirit. I think of the Breath of God, I think of the highest ideals, I think of that which is limitless, boundless, that which cannot be confined, contained, that which cannot be boxed in, compressed, which cannot be caved in, which cannot be dissected by human reasoning. Ultimately, when I think of spirit I think of God and the things of God and the love of the things of God.
We also know that the spirit, even though there are evil spirits in the world, originates from God. God is Will, God is unique, God is unchanging, God is power, God is absolute and eternal. So when you talk about spirit you are talking about God.
This nation was built on the foundation of God. I donít care what we see now, but it was built on the foundation with God as its prime mover. One nation under GOD! There is no nation unless it is under God, there is not a nation unless God reigns supreme. Therefore, when we talk about the spirit of America, we are talking about taking America back to the throne of grace, taking America back to the seat of mercy and purifying her. America needs to be purified; America needs to go back to God, to be cleansed and to be made whole. That is the spirit of America. This is Americaís high ideal. In the Declaration of Independence, we read: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men -- and women, I might add -- are created equal; and that they are endowed by the creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
I donít remember seeing a footnote that defined who "all men" are. Even though we know when the founders sought to carry it out, not all men were seen as equal. Some were treated as three-fifths of a man or three-fifths of a woman. But the spirit of America is not seen in what she has done but in what she is called to be. We have yet to see the true spirit of America manifested, because she has yet to become what God has called her to be. But she has it in her creeds, she has it in her spirit. She has it in the Statue of Liberty at Ellis Island, where it is written: "Give me your tired, your poor,/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/ The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./ Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,/ I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Oh, America has the ideals, and she has the direction and the spirit, but she is still hung up on her laws. As great and mighty as she is, America still has to find her true self. She is yet to achieve and epitomize the fullness that is contained in the spirit of America.
I tell you we can go all the way back to the Garden of Eden, to Adam and Eve, and see the devastating effects of the Fall, which seeks to prevent us from allowing the spirit to come forth. Therefore, we need reformers to give birth to the spirit, we need redeemers in order to ransom America, we need restorers, and we need repairers of the breach of that lost realm who will bring America back to her true identity and allow her to live it.
When I think of Martin Luther King Jr., I think of Martin Luther, the great 16th century reformer and what he had to go through in his attempts to reform the Roman Catholic Church. He knew persecution. When everybody had written him off and thought he was a heretic, and thought, "How dare he challenge the age-old Institution, in which we they were accustomed to do things a certain way; how dare he stand up and fight a mighty Church!" When everyone thought he would be defeated, that God had deserted him, and when everyone figured that he and his followers would never manage to survive, he came up with the song: "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."
Then, some 400 years later, Martin Luther King Jr., another reformer, brought another song with three stanzas, the first of which said, "I have a dream"; the second saying, "With this faith"; and the third "Let Freedom Ring." Martin Luther King said that there is hope for America as long as there are reformers, redeemers, and restorers and as long as there are men and women to march through hell for a heavenly cause. That means that all of us black, white, red, brown, and yellow people are the beneficiaries of the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. He is in every one of us.
We thank Martin Luther King Jr., we ought to praise the man, because all of us are here together as brothers and sisters right now, instead of fighting each other, hating each other, talking about each other, or looking at each other with jaundiced eyes. We owe it to him!
And yet, as Rev. Kevin McCarthy says, the "check" is still on the table. America has yet to cash that same check. We want to call America to task. We are not going to just sit back and live off the accomplishments of Dr. King, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass. Weíve got to stand up and get into the spirit, not just into the words, the talk, or just into the desire. We have to walk in the Spirit by the Spirit, and we have to keep on walking until things are right! Until we know in our heart of hearts that things are right, we need to keep going. Yet until we can go beyond the surface value and see God in each other, that dream still passes on toward fulfillment.
Each one of us must leave this room tonight living and walking in the spirit of Martin, each of us tonight must be willing to pay the price and pay the sacrifice. We need to stop being the kind of group that is tearing each other apart. We need to tear each other away from those who tell racial jokes about another race or demean another race. Weíve got to step aside from those who donít realize that we are all brothers and sisters. Time hasnít changed. We have got a new spirit, but not the Spirit of God.
We say we love the God above, we say we praise God, we magnify God, we want to be like God. But the place to find God is looking at each other, not looking vertically. Looking horizontally, thatís where we find God.
God is not in some ivory tower, living in the city with 12 gates nor sitting on a throne. He is walking among men and women, he is in men and women. He is living in you and in me. Thatís where we find God. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is within you!
You are looking for it here or there, at the Cross, in the tabernacle, in the Bible, in the rosary, in the holy water, in the Stations of the Cross. Yet He is in you! God is living in the true hearts of men. He has been there all the time. He hasnít left us, we have left Him!
Martinís life will never be in vain! Other Martins will rise up. Thatís what I call the triple-"M" company: Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr., and Me! The three-"M" company. We need to rise up and reform this earth. When we are talking about reform, we are talking about reshaping it and putting it back to where our God has originally intended it to be before the Fall. Jesus said in John 14:12: "If you have faith in me, not only will you do the same works, but greater works, because I am going to the Father."
Weíve got to do a greater work with this faith. With this faith in God, we can change America. With this faith, we can walk out of this room not just having been to another commemoration event of MLK Jr., another tribute. We have picked up the mantle, weíve picked up the gauntlet, and we are leaving this place as another MLK Jr. Me, myself, and I am going to make a difference.
It is time for us to get off our behinds that weíd like to sit on. It is time for the spirit of Martin to become incarnate in us and take flesh. Just as the word became flesh, Martin must take flesh in each one of us. Somehow, we have to have it deep within us and share among us the heart of MLK Jr., so that we might be even willing to give our lives for the sake of the brothers and sisters.
We leave this place tonight having come to the realization that we have been privileged to witness and touch the life of a man who made a difference. Let us take within us the Spirit of God. The spirit of Martin was God in him! God living in him. And the spirit of America is the foundation of God in people upon which God wants to build His dream.
When we take within us the Spirit of God, the spirit of Martin, we shall behold a new Heaven and a new earth, for the former earth will have passed away. I am waiting for that former earth, for our false ways, to pass away. I am waiting for us to have a whole new spiritual way of thinking so we can change America from the inside, not just do a superficial job of window dressing. We have to change the heart of America by changing the heart of each one of us. Let us start welcoming and embracing each other as brothers and sisters! Long live the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.! May the spirit dwell in you and in me!
Thank you, Martin Luther King!
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