1 Samuel 3:1-10, John 1:43-51
In 1963, when the march on Washington was organized and Martin Luther King, Jr. stood up to speak to the 250,000 people who had peacefully gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, MLK’s speech did not include the language of his dream. He had a fully written out speech, carefully crafted and approved by the leadership that was with him. He was giving that speech, was a good 10 or 15 minutes into it, when Mahalia Jackson— Gospel singer and friend of Martin Luther King, Jr. shouted out, “Tell them about your dream, Martin.” And Martin Luther King, Jr. began, “I still have a dream...” In that moment he stepped into his calling. He heard the voice of God through Mahalia Jackson to share the dream God had put on his heart, and he followed that call.
Martin Luther King Jr, is one person in a long line of people called by God to stand up for the oppressed; to point out places of hypocrisy and cruel leadership; to care for the widows and orphans and the poor.
Thousands of years before, God had called a boy named Samuel. We are told, as the story begins, that it is a time when God’s voice was rarely heard. So rare, in fact, that even though Samuel lives in the Temple; even though he grew up in the Temple; he doesn’t expect to hear from God. It takes God calling him three times; it takes him going to Eli in the middle of the night, waking him up three times, before either one of them gets an inkling as to what is really going on. As Eli gets more and more annoyed at being woken up, it finally dawns on him that maybe it’s God calling Samuel and so he says to Samuel, “the next time you hear someone calling you, say ‘Hear am I, a servant of the Lord.’” And finally on the next try, Samuel responds to God’s call.
That’s usually where we stop the story in worship; but read a little further, and you’ll find out what God is calling Samuel to do. God is calling Samuel to release the oppressed; to point out the places of hypocrisy in leadership; to care for the widows and orphans and the poor. How is God calling Samuel to do this? By speaking the truth to Eli. Eli, the priest; Samuel’s mentor and father figure, has sons of his own. And his sons have been stealing from the Temple offering plate. In those days it wasn’t money that people gave to the Temple, it was food— their finest crops. And even though Eli’s sons were allowed to eat some of the food, for some went to the priests and then the rest went to the orphans, the widows, and the poor; some wasn’t enough. They always took the best. They always took more than their share. And God called Samuel to speak the truth to Eli and to bring justice to a systematic injustice that was happening to hurt God’s people. God does not put up with injustice no matter whose side the injustice is happening on. Because you can’t be on God’s side if you are on the side of injustice. When God speaks, it is, time and time and time again, to free the oppressed; to lift up those who are being wronged; to bring health and wholeness to the entire community.
And that’s what we so often forget. That injustice doesn’t serve anyone. So often we shrink from our calling by God to do as Jesus did— to set the oppressed free; to release the captives; to heal those who are wounded; to feed the hungry— because we are afraid. We are afraid that somehow to help others; to convene with those who don’t have it all; to hang out with the poor, is to admit our own fears; our own failures; it reveals that our lives aren’t perfect either. We fall into the trap of blaming them for systems that are set up to fail them. But that is only fear speaking; that is not of God.
What God is constantly reminding us, as God’s people, is that no matter what side we are on, and from day to day we do switch sides, whether we are the oppressed or the oppressor; whether we are the wronged or the one who is doing wrong; whether we are Moses or we are Pharoah; whether we are the priests’ sons or the boy who is living as the priest’s son— no one ultimately benefits from injustice. We all suffer. Not in the same way, of course. The abused and the abuser suffer very differently and need different things in order to heal; but all suffer.
Which is why I was frustrated when my girls came home from school one year after learning about MLK in their classroom, and on the worksheet they had been learning from, it said Martin Luther King, Jr. was a civil rights leader who helped his people get their freedom. And I was livid. Because that’s only half the story. Yes, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a civil rights leader who helped his people get their freedom. But he is also a civil rights leader who held this nation accountable to our calling by God so that we can all be free no matter the color of our skin. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream was bigger than even freeing his own people. His dream, God’s dream, is about living into beloved community where we are all free.
It’s important to be clear about who our God is and what it is that God continues to call us to.
The prophet Isaiah said that God calls us to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free, to share our bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into our homes.
The prophet Micah said that we are to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God— remembering that we are not God.
The prophet Amos said “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”
The prophet Jeremiah said to do no wrong to the stranger in your land, the orphan, or the widow.
All of these prophets and more informed Jesus’ own ministry as he called his disciples— common people like Nathaniel— to join him in liberating the oppressed, giving sight to the blind, feeding the thousands— seeing the Kingdom of God and living into that Kingdom.
And thousands of years later the prophet Martin Luther King, Jr. echoed these same words— this same dream— of a community that cares for one another; of a time when war will cease and the stranger will be as welcome as the citizen; of a time when the beloved community will be experienced by all in all of its fullness.
In his last sermon King said “I just want to do God’s will. I have been up to the mountain and I have seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”
We have a long ways to go, but it is a calling to all of us who call ourselves Jesus followers— it is what we vow in every baptism— to fight against the powers of evil, even within ourselves; to stand up to systems of oppression even when we know Herod’s name; and to realize that until we are all welcomed, until we are all free, none of us is really free. Until we see all people as children of God, we can’t see the full beauty of the body of Christ in this world. Until all people can see Christ in us, a part of the body of Christ will be missing. It is our calling as a church to follow Jesus into places that are uncomfortable, to relate to people we know nothing about, to share the Gospel of God’s love into every nook and cranny of St. Cloud. God is calling us, church, and the world will miss out if we don’t follow Jesus when he calls. So let’s stand with King on that mountain, if only for a few moments this morning, and dare to dream a wild and crazy dream about a people who are united by love instead of hate; a people who work together for justice instead of our own agenda; a people who can hear Jesus calling our names and let’s say loudly and clearly and confidently, “Hear am I, a servant of the Lord.”