Monday, January 18, 2016

The Bridegroom is With Them

January 15, 1929  - April 4, 1968
But Samuel said: “Does the LORD so delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obedience to the command of the LORD? Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission than the fat of rams. For a sin like divination is rebellion, and presumption is the crime of idolatry. Because you have rejected the command of the LORD, he, too, has rejected you as ruler.” 1 Samuel 15:22-23

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast.
People came to Jesus and objected, “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?”
Mark 2:18-19

One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest." They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience' sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. (Letter from a Birmingham Jail by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Rebel.  Rebel.  Today, we see Jesus and his disciples in conflict with BOTH the disciples of John AND the disciples of the Pharisees over following the old rules. While they want to stay in their comfort zone, Jesus pushes them to cross the border of the old rules and follow the Him.  Jesus exemplifies behavior that shows obedience to the command of the Lord is better than obedience to tradition – the same lesson we hear in today’s reading from the Hebrew Bible.

The bridge is the image of the bridegroom.  Just as Jesus provided the fine wine to the wedding guests at Cana, he asks all disciples to receive him as the bridegroom.  Not as the King.  Not as a soldier coming to deliver vindication.  But as a lover committed to us – His church – no matter what.  

On this 87th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., we celebrate a national hero who was not always such a hero.  Dr. King – assassinated at age 39 – now has a national holiday in the canon of our civil religion.  He has been gone from us longer than he was with us.  Yet in less than 40 years he accomplished more than most do in twice that time. 

However, in the 1960s, the government and law enforcement considered Dr. King a controversial extremist for justice.  (The Jesus in today’s Gospel was certainly not a national hero.)  Time and tradition has helped us appreciate the man and his sacrifice as he has morphed into an icon of mainstream America as much as he lived as an icon for the civil rights movement. 

Many people will listen today to the revered “I Have a Dream” speech – delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the centennial celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation.  However, Dr. King was not free.  I encourage you to also spend time with passages from the letter quoted above -- his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” written to some local clergymen who were critical of King and his tactics.  Those possibly well-meaning clergy were to King like the disciples of John and the Pharisees were to Jesus.    

In a tradition that goes back to Jesus, Thoreau and Gandhi, we re-learn that under any “humanly imperfect government” be it from Rome or Washington, it would seem “the true place for a just man is also a prison.”  Why?  Because “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  King added that if the cause requires it, the righteous, nonviolent protester enters the jailhouse “as a bridegroom enters the bride’s chamber.” He fights for right out of a sense of love, not vindication. Just like Jesus the bridegroom, the provider of fine wine – even if that wine flows from his own blood.

According to Peter Myers:
King expressed great respect for democratic government. In his powerful sermon “Loving Your Enemies,” he called democracy “the greatest form of government … that man has ever conceived.” When he said that the civil disobedient should enter the jailhouse as a bridegroom enters a bridal chamber, he meant that such disobedience is to be understood not as an affectation of self-righteous, defiant apartness but rather as a constructive, community-forming act—a vow of allegiance to a democracy of friends and fellow citizens.[i]

He was ever-mindful of the warning from St. Paul: “Be not conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2)

As an action today, reflect on how King, in the midst of the violence, church bombing, arrests, lynching, cross burning and more could remain a lover of his neighbor.  Dr. King always sought to encourage those who listened to him to discover the element of good in [one’s] enemy.  “Within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good.”

Find the good in all your neighbors.

[i] “Martin Luther King, Jr., and the American Dream” bPeter C. Myers.

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