We Are Where We Are Because Of Where We Have Been

First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
January 14, 2018
Scripture: Matthew 5:13-16
Sermon: “We Are Where We Are Because Of Where We Have Been”

13You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your generosity and give glory to your Creator in heaven.

Tomorrow, Martin Luther King would have been 89. In the past few months, I’ve known two people who passed away after living on this earth 89 years. One was my Aunt Jimmy, who worked five days a week at Memorial Sloane Kettering in New York City treating cancer patients until the day she took her last breath. The other person was Lowen Kruse, and you know the energy he brought to justice. Imagine the 50 years of activism Martin Luther King, Jr would have engaged in had he not been assassinated.

In the closing comments of his final book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, Martin Luther King Jr. concludes: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now… This may well be {humanity’s} last chance to choose between chaos or community.”

Community is the essence of the church. And churches are called to be communities of transformation.

In my office hangs a picture commemorating the MLK holiday, and it reads: “Remember! Celebrate, Act! A Day On, Not Off” echoing the words of Martin Luther King, Jr would often say: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others’?”

The Scripture reading about the church being the salt of the earth reminds me of Martin Luther King’s question, “What are you doing for others?” Jesus calls anyone who says they follow him to be the light of the world. Where there are dark places, be the light especially there. Be the salt of the earth. Bring out the true flavor of what it means to be truly alive. Be life-givers to others. That is what Jesus tells the disciples to be. If a church is a community that follows Jesus, then what are we doing for others?

What am I doing for others?

It is a good question, I think, to really wrestle with. I ask myself, “What am I doing for those in Puerto Rico? What am I doing for those living in fear because of Immigration and Customs Enforcement? What am I doing when it comes to learning about the ramifications of the new Tax Reform Bill that affect people’s healthcare, jobs and housing?”

The budget cuts to federal housing programs are truly unjust. Section Eight funding in Omaha affects over 4,000 properties that are homes to nearly 15,000 people. The tax reform bill could mean life and death to many just in our local area.

Sometimes when we are surrounded by inequality but not adversely affected, we cannot see it, unless we too are affected. Ask a fish what water is and they are like, “Water, what’s water?”

Last year a movie helped many to see they are swimming in water. The movie, Get Out, is a documentary horror comedy about race in America. Often we hear the terms “racism” and “inequity” and “oppression” as abstract terms that distance us from the very horror they represent and define.

Paradoxically, what makes Get Out a great film is the ending. But director Jordan Peele actually changed the ending because of the Michael Browns and Philando Castiles and Alton Sterlings and Gregory Gunns and Freddie Grays and Kendra James and Trayvon Martins and Eric Garners….The ending in the movie does not go the way we think. The original ending is closer to reality, but the ending people saw in theaters renders a powerful reaction. The director realized that we are where we are because of where we have been and created a brilliant story to address the reality of racism.

Reality can be brutal. The Tax Reform Bill that will add 1.5 trillion to the deficit in the next ten years is brutal and will cause chaos to the lives of many, especially those who already poor and younger generations.

Where do you find comfort when chaos invades the geography of your soul? After the November election in 2016, and after learning about the implications of the Tax Reform Bill, I found comfort in listening to and reading the sermons of Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King preached that one man captured the spirit of Jesus Christ more than anyone in the modern world, and that was Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi was first a lawyer, who went to practice in South Africa (making 30k in the 1900s). One day he was taking a train to Pretoria, sitting in first-class. The conductor collecting tickets noticed he was an Indian, that he had a brown face, and told him to get out and move to third-class. Gandhi refused to move, and he was thrown off the train. Sitting by the train track on a cold night, he started thinking about the people of South Africa and his own people, who were being exploited by Britain. He asked himself what he was doing for others, and decided from that point on that he would never submit to injustice.

Part of the oppression Indians faced from Britain centered around salt—if you’ve ever had Indian food, you know salt is essential to their cooking. But in the 1800s a law was passed saying that Indians could not collect or sell salt—they had to get it from the British who took it from Indian land and then taxed the people at a very high rate . It was even an arrest-able offense if Indians tried to make their own salt, which they had done for generations. Even touching salt was against the law. So Gandhi helped the people to see they were swimming in injustice, and organized a march from Ahmadabad to a place called Dandi—about 240 miles. First, eighty people were marching. Then a thousand. And gradually the number grew to a million, then to millions and millions. The British did not have enough people to arrest the marchers and they kept walking and walking until they reached the little village of Dandi.
I want to read some of a sermon Martin Luther King preached on Palm Sunday in 1959 at his church in Montgomery, Alabama:

And there, Gandhi went on and reached down in the sea and brought up a little salt in his hand to demonstrate and dramatize the fact that they were breaking this law in protest against the injustices they had faced all over the years with these salt laws. And Gandhi said to his people, “If you are hit, don’t hit back; even if they shoot at you, don’t shoot back; if they curse you, don’t curse back, but just keep moving. Some of us might have to die before we get there; some of us might be thrown in jail before we get there, but let us just keep moving.” And they kept moving, and they walked and walked, and millions of them had gotten together when they finally reached that point. And the British Empire knew, then, that this little man had mobilized the people of India to the point that they could never defeat them. And they realized, at that very point, that this was the beginning of the end of the British Empire as far as India was concerned. He was able to mobilize and galvanize more people than, in his lifetime, than any other person in the history of this world. And just with a little love in his heart and understanding goodwill and a refusal to cooperate with an evil law, he was able to break the backbone of the British Empire. And this, I think, is one of the most significant things that has ever happened in the history of the world, and more than three hundred and ninety million people achieved their freedom. And they achieved it nonviolently when a man refused to follow the way of hate, and he refused to follow the way of violence, and only decided to follow the way of love and understanding goodwill and refused to cooperate with any system of evil. And the significant thing is that when you follow this way, when the battle is almost over, and a new friendship and reconciliation exists between the people who have been the oppressors and the oppressed. There is no greater friendship anywhere in the world today than between the Indian people and the British people.

King concludes his sermon saying,

…And the final thing that I would like to say to you this morning is that the world doesn’t like people like Gandhi. That’s strange, isn’t it? They don’t like people like Christ…They kill them…And this man, who had done all of that for India, this man who had given his life and who had mobilized and galvanized four hundred million people for independence so that in 1947 India received its independence, and he became the father of that nation. This same man because he decided that he would not rest until he saw the Muslims and the Hindus together; they had been fighting among themselves, they had been in riots among themselves, and he wanted to see this straight. And one of his own fellow Hindus felt that he was a little too favorable toward the Muslims, felt that he was giving in a little too much toward the Muslims. And one afternoon, when he was at Birla House, living there with one of the big industrialists for a few days in Delhi, he walked out to his evening prayer meeting. Every evening he had a prayer meeting where hundreds of people came, and he prayed with them. And on his way out there that afternoon, one of his fellow Hindus shot him. And here was a man of nonviolence, falling at the hand of a man of violence. Here was a man of love falling at the hands of a man of hate. This seems the way of history.

Jesus, Gandhi and King—three who were the salt of the earth bringing out the flavor of what it truly means to be alive. Our vernacular now-a-days doesn’t do justice to what it truly means to be a salty person because to be salty means to go against empires of oppression without the use of violence in order to change the flavor of people’s hearts.

You are the salt of the earth. What injustices are you prepared to shine a light on? If you don’t know where to start, take a free webinar on the new tax reform-I have a feeling you may be moved into action. Watch the film, Get Out. Or ask yourself, “What am I doing to help others?”

I started this sermon with a quote from King’s final prophetic book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, written a year before his death. He writes about his dreams for America’s future, including the need for better jobs, higher wages, decent housing, and quality education. We are where we are because of where we have been. May we not be where we are now in the future. Something has to change. And change starts one person at a time. May we all listen to Jesus and become salty people.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. (March 1959) Palm Sunday Sermon on Mohandas K. Gandhi. Retrieved from http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/primarydocuments/Vol5/22Mar1959_PalmSundaySermononMohandasK.Gandhi,DeliveredAtDext.p