Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dreamers: A Reflection Honoring the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington


Delivered on August 28, 2013
at Westwood Hill Congregation Church, UCC in Los Angeles, CA
On the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

What does it mean to have a dream?

Why are dreams so important? 

As I was thinking about these questions and what we’re celebrating here today, I also asked myself why today really matters to us at all. Why celebrate this anniversary, when there are so many other things we could doing on this warm Wednesday afternoon?

We’re here, today, remembering not only the Dream of Martin Luther King Jr., but the dreams and hopes and disappointments and passions of those women, men, and children, who have been denied justice and fundamental rights... not only those thousands who participated in the March on Washington fifty years ago, but those of every time and place who have cried out to heaven, begging for justice from God because it was denied them by their fellow human beings: denied because of the color of their skin or the language they spoke, denied because of the faith they professed or the education they lacked, denied because of who they loved, or simply because they wanted something more, because they had dared to dream.  

The lyricist Christopher Adler once wrote that,

“Dreamers have mountains they will climb
There are dreamers who don't believe in time
Only dreamers have worlds where they can fly far away.

Certain dreamers have kingdoms they will build,
Filled with treasures and dragons to be killed
Only dreamers have wings with which to fly far away.

Some people dream of being rich,
While others dream of being tall.
And there are people who don’t dream at all.” 

The people who gathered on the National Mall fifty years ago had dreams—they dreamed of “jobs for all,” “a decent pay,” “voting rights,” “decent housing,” “effective civil rights,” “first class citizenship,” “an end to bias.” These people weren’t dreaming of mountains and dragons. I imagine that there were very few in the crowd who dreamed of being rich.

Their actions that day, the songs they sang, and the prayers on their lips, gave voice to the hopes that were within each of their hearts—that each one of them would simply be given what was owed to them because of who they were as human beings, as children of God. And that was the dream of Dr. King, who was not simply an activist—he was also a man of faith whose dream was as much a prayer as it was a manifesto or call to action. 

What we are doing today is far more than marking the 50th anniversary of the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” more than honoring a significant milestone in the history of the struggle for Civil Rights for African-Americans. Today, we pray for those whose cries for justice and equality remain unheard and unheeded and we recommit ourselves to the work of justice. Fifty years after that historic day, we can’t deny, thank God, that significant steps toward equality and justice for all have been taken: doors have been opened and walls have come tumbling down. But, so much remains to be accomplished. But, as Dr. King once reminded us, “We must accept finite disappointments, but never lose infinite hope.” 

And so, today, “Let Freedom Ring”!  

Recommit yourself to being a person of dialogue, rededicate yourself to work of promoting peace, aspire to make the words of Isaiah and Saint Paul, which we heard proclaimed a reality.  

Be a person of hope. 

Let yourself dream.



Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Christian Education

Have you ever given any thought to what happens after the proclamation of the Gospel at Mass? After the deacon or priest, elevating the Gospel Book, says, “The Gospel of the Lord,” the assembly responds, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” A ritual moment that is certainly simple enough. So simple, in fact, that most of us respond almost automatically, already sitting down to listen to the homily that will follow.
Christ the Teacher
from the Monastery of Saint Katherine on Mt. Sinai, 6th century

Gospel is the English translation of the Koine Greek εαγγέλιον. The Greek term was Latinized as evangelium in the Vulgate, and translated into Latin as bona annuntiatio -- Good News. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, in their Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), explain this Good News in this way:

Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels… whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven (see Acts 1:1). Indeed, after the Ascension of the Lord the Apostles handed on to their hearers what He had said and done... The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explaining some things in view of the situation of their churches and preserving the form of proclamation but always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus. (§19)

This “honest truth about Jesus,” who he was, what he taught, the wonders and signs he performed, are indeed Good News. And yet, as the Gospel proclaimed on the Twentieth and Twenty-First Sundays of Ordinary Time this year remind us, not everything Jesus taught was easy or what many would even necessarily call “good.” In fact, these passages from Luke’s Gospel (12:49-53 and 13:22-30) are not only challenging, they almost seem to be at odds with the rest of Jesus’ teachings… or, at least, those teachings we generally seem to prefer.

We can take a cue for how to read these Gospel texts from the Letter to the Hebrews (12:5-7), which reminds us of that we are called to “disciples”:
You have forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children:
“My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when reproved by him;
for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines;
he scourges every son he acknowledges.”
Endure your trials as “discipline”;
God treats you as sons.
For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline?
At the time,
all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who are trained by it.

The word the author uses for "discipline" can also be translated as “education.” Ultimately, all of this means that we are being “educated” for the Kingdom and part of our education is coming to understand that following Jesus will demand something of us: commitment to Christ requires that we take a stand, proclaiming truth and promoting justice, even when our message is unwelcome and unwanted. We are also told that simply “knowing” stories about Jesus or being able to parrot his words is not enough to save us. We are called to act and, although each one of us has been invited individually to join in building up God’s Kingdom here and now, we do not need to rely only on ourselves.

Whatever trials we endure, whatever our “education” involves,  “suffering reminds us that faith’s service to the common good is always one of hope — a hope which looks ever ahead in the knowledge that only from God, from the future which comes from the risen Jesus, can our society find solid and lasting foundations. In this sense faith is linked to hope, for even if our dwelling place here below is wasting away, we have an eternal dwelling place which God has already prepared in Christ, in his body (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:5). The dynamic of faith, hope and charity (cf. Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Corinthians 13:13) thus leads us to embrace the concerns of all men and women on our journey towards that city "whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10), for "hope does not disappoint" (Romans 5:5).”
—Pope Francis (Lumen Fidei, 57).
A Prayer for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time +
O God, who cause the minds of the faithful
to unite in a single purpose,
grant your people to love what you command
and to desire what you promise,
that, amid the uncertainties of this world,
our hearts may be fixed on that place
where true gladness is found.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal, third edition)