Have a Dream

Video of sermon (here)

Call to worship (here)

Sermon text:

Quoting MLK: “From every mountainside, let freedom ring. When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Ah, the dream of freedom.  The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. had a lot of dreams. He spoke of one of them in his most famous speech given during the march on Washington so many years ago.  That dream was about racial equality.  He was, however, a man of many other dreams, some that came to him in his sleep but many more that came to him from his work with people.

The selection Kaya recited was about peace. It upset people when he started speaking against the war in Viet Nam. “Why can’t he just stick to civil rights?” they said.   King also spoke about economic inequality which got even more people upset.

Talking about the Poor People’s Campaign, he said,

“We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness.”

King would have loved the occupy movement and he would be appalled at the ever increasing income inequality that we have not only here in America, but in the world.

Martin Luther King had dreams.  He was an inspirational leader; there is no doubt about that.  He was also a minister and like all ministers, much of his inspiration came from his congregation.  He also happened to have a really big congregation, one that included just about everyone in this country.  He preached love not hate and reached out to his enemies as well as to his friends.

Sometimes his congregation pushed him to do things he was reluctant to do.

One  example was in Birmingham.   This is a story told by Kate Rhode.  Things were not going well there.  People were afraid of the sheriff who was named Bull Conner. He was scary. King was having a hard time recruiting people who were willing to protest.  One night, he asked, “Who will demonstrate with me tomorrow in a brave attempt to end segregation? Who will risk going to jail for the cause?”

No one answered his call and he tried again, “The struggle will be long,” he said.

“We must stand up for our rights as human beings. Who will demonstrate with me, and if necessary, be ready to go to jail for it?”

There was a pause, and then a whole group of people stood up. Someone gasped. All the people who stood up were children.

(Children and youth please stand if you are willing to work for justice)

The adults told them to sit down but they didn’t.

Martin Luther King thanked the children and told them he appreciated the offer but that he couldn’t ask them to go to jail. They still wouldn’t sit down. They wanted to help.

That night, Dr. King talked with a close group of friends about the events of the day. “What are we going to do?” he asked. “The only volunteers we got were children. We can’t have a protest with children!” Everyone nodded, except Jim Bevel. “Wait a minute,” said Jim. “If they want to do it, I say bring on the children.”

“But they are too young!” the others said. Then Jim asked, “Are they too young to go to segregated schools?”

“No.”

“Then they are not too young to want their freedom.”

That night, they decided that any child old enough to join a church was old enough to march.

The children heard about the decision and told their friends. When the time came for the march, a thousand children, teenagers, and college students gathered.

The sheriff arrested them and put them in jail. The next day even more kids showed up—some of their parents and relatives too, and even more the next day and the next day. Soon lots of adults joined in. Finally, a thousand children were locked up together in a “children’s jail.” And there was no more room for anyone else.

Sheriff Connor had done awful things to try and get protesters to turn back. He had turned big police dogs loose and allowed them to bite people. He had turned on fire hoses that were so strong the force of the water could strip the bark off of trees. He had ordered the firefighters to point the hoses at the children and push them down the street. People all over the country and all over the world saw the pictures of the dogs, the fire hoses, and the children, and they were furious.

The white people of Birmingham began to worry. All over the world people were saying bad things about their city. Even worse, everyone was afraid to go downtown to shop because of the dogs and hoses. So they decided they had to change things. A short time later, the black people and white people of Birmingham made a pact to desegregate the city and let everyone go to the same places.

Today when people tell this story, many talk about Martin Luther King, Jr. We should also remember the thousands of brave children and teenagers whose courage helped to defeat Bull Connor and end segregation in Birmingham and the rest of the United States.(The Children’s Crusade by Kate Rhode, in What if Nobody Forgave? and Other Stories, edited by Colleen McDonald (Boston: Skinner House, 2003).

Martin Luther King did not do it alone.

A minister never does anything alone.

Those of you, who are members of this congregation and also on our church email list, got a message from me last Thursday night.

In that message I said that I have decided that I will be leaving Utah and moving back to my home in California at the end of this coming June. It wasn’t an easy decision for me to make, but it is the right one for my family and for myself.  By the end of June, I will have served as your minister for seven years. They have clearly been some of the best years of my life, and it will be very hard in so many ways to leave you.

So why am I leaving?  There are a lot of reasons, some fairly obvious and others less so.  When you first called me, I promised you five years and it has been seven.  I will be 64 in February and it is time to slow down and think about retirement.

Also, as almost all of you know, Anne and I got married last July in California, even though we delayed our wedding until we could celebrate it on our anniversary.  That made a huge difference to me.

I had never expected to be able to legally marry the love of my life, but when the Supreme Court ruled against DOMA last June it suddenly became real.  We could be married by both God and by our country, at least in some states.  In fact that was how the minister who conducted our ceremony pronounced us married, “By God and by Country.”  It was really hard coming back to Utah and no longer having our relationship recognized.  We’d had a taste of freedom and equality.

You know what I mean; everyone here also got a taste for 18 days in late December and early January.

It was then I began thinking seriously about leaving at the end of June.  We also miss our kids and the good friends we have in California.  It won’t surprise you that I also miss the weather and the much better air quality.

All those reasons are important, but there is another one, that at least makes it easier for me to leave.  UUCO is doing great!  You have strong lay leadership that knows how to do church.  After the end of year appeal results, we are in at least decent shape financially.  You are an awesome church and I know you will continue to do wonderful and amazing things.

And you know what else?  I am no Martin Luther King.  You will easily find someone who will lead you just as well if not better.  Remember, that a congregation creates the ministry and mission of the church.  The minister is simply a guide who tries to keep everything on track.

Next Sunday, your board president, Doris Lang, will talk with you about what happens next.  Basically, you will hire an interim minister who will serve you for a year while you search for a more permanent settled minister.  It is a well-established process within our denomination and it will go very smoothly.

Some of you have asked me what I will be doing after I leave.  I won’t look for another settled ministry.  I will see if I can find an interim position for a year or two, or possibly something part-time.  If nothing else, I will write and do guest preaching, and there will no doubt be some type of social justice work that I will feel the need to do.

OK.  Now you know that I will be leaving at the end of June.  But it is still January, and we have quite a number of months, almost 6, a half of a year, until we have to actually say goodbye.  Let’s just keep doing what we have been doing.  I know I will treasure the rest of our time together.  I hope we use it both wisely and well.

I will end with another King quote:

“And I submit that nothing will be done until people of goodwill put their bodies and their souls in motion. And it will be the kind of soul force brought into being as a result of this confrontation that I believe will make the difference.”

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden knows about that kind of soul force.  You know about the power of love.  You know about dreams.  Keep dreaming and make those dreams real.

Amen and Namaste.

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  1. Leaving Utah | Sermons, Poetry, and Other Musings - January 19, 2014

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