The Dream Continues – Rev. Yena Hwang (with audio)
Click PLAY arrow to listen to the Offertory music True Light, written by Keith Hampton and sung by the Sanctuary Choir. (iPad/iPhone users click here).
Title: The Dream Continues
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 139: 1-6; 13-18
1O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, o Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it… 13For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them – they are more than the sand; I come to the end – I am still with you.
Depending upon how you feel about being completely known – Psalm 139 can bring either comfort or discomfort. “O Lord, you have searched me and known me…you are acquainted with all my way… even before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely” (vv. 1-4). I can’t remember who it was, but someone jokingly referred to this psalm as “the Stalker’s psalm,” referring to middle verses that were not included in this morning’s reading: “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there” (vv. 7-8). That comment almost ruined this psalm for me, like the time when someone revealed to me that the song “Every Breath You Take” from the rock band Police was a stalker song.
Every breath you take/ Every move you make
Every bond you break/ Every step you take/ I’ll be watching you.
Every single day/ Every word you say
Every game you play/ Every night you stay/ I’ll be watching you.
I used to like that song! Now, I cannot listen to it without cringing. Fortunately, I still find psalm 139 to be comforting and reassuring of God’s unconditional love. I find comfort in this psalm, because God who knows all my ways and even thoughts, completely – the good, the bad, and the ugly – still calls me to be God’s own beloved and accompanies me through my life’s journey. My prayer is that the Psalmist’s confession, “How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them – they are more than the sand; I come to the end – I am still with you,” will be my confession at the end of my life.
“I come to the end -I am still with you,” was the confession for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life we remember and celebrate this week. When his “end” came, which came too early at the age of 39, he was at peace with God. Even though he had traveled a rough road of fighting injustice of racism, he was at peace with God at the end. Dr. King was in Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968, on the eve of his assassination, when he spoke these prophetic words:
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve 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. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
When King made this speech he had witnessed some changes towards justice and equality for his people, but they still had long ways to go. Yet, he was able to state that he was still happy, not fearful or worried about anything, because he believed in God of Psalm 139. King trusted in the psalmist declaration of God who knows and accompanies him through toils and troubles of life.
King was no stranger to death threats and attempts on his life. He was a target of various violence for leading the civil rights movement in this deeply divided country. Being a man of God, he dealt with these threats and dangers with inner peace that came from God. King stated, “Throughout this struggle for racial justice I have constantly asked God to remove all bitterness from my heart and to give me the strength and courage to face any disaster that came my way. This constant prayer life and feeling of dependence on God have given me the feeling that I have divine companionship in the struggle. I know no other way to explain it. It is the fact that in the midst of external tension, God can give an inner peace.”
King felt the peace that came from being intimately linked to God – being hemmed in, behind, and before by God. Being formed by God, known by God, and loved by God – unfortunately, this does not mean that we are free from/inoculated from life’s pain and suffering. This does not mean we are shielded from a bad diagnosis, difficulties in relationships, and accidents and harms that come our way in various shapes and sizes. If only that was the case, the Rev. King would perhaps still be with us and we would be celebrating his 86th birthday this year. Being formed by God, known by God, and loved by God – this means that we have a “divine companionship” in our struggles and that our identity flows from being connected to this divine companion.
It is easy, in 2015, to think that the struggles to reach racial, gender, and other justice/equality issues are over. It is easy to think that “the Dream,” preached so eloquently by the Rev. Dr. King has been fully realized in this country. Sure, we have a Harvard educated African-American man, whose father was an immigrant, in the Oval Office, the highest office in the nation. We have 104 women serving in the Congress, between the House and Senate, this year. We are not where we were in the 1960’s. We have made great progress, thanks to people like the Rev. Dr. King, and other courageous activists and reformers. While, some of King’s dreams have come true. Many of of King’s dreams have yet to be fulfilled.
In King’s time, those lines of injustice was drawn between “black and white,” but now we go beyond the racial lines of “black and white.” Although we have made tremendous progress in tackling racism and sexism in this country, we have more ways to go to create a society where people will be judged solely “by the content of their character.”
Today, people are still being judged by their outer status, their physical and mental capabilities, their sexual orientation, their level of education, their religious affiliations, or any other external standard of measure.
Think about the recent current events in the U.S. We have had too many violent incidents related to racial profiling and religious intolerance. Our country is a diverse country and our diversity is our strength and treasure. In order for us to draw strength from our diversity – we need to continue to engage in meaningful and honest dialogues about our similarities, as well as our differences; our common human struggles, as well as our unique struggles. We need to continue the dream.
We can do our part in working towards further creating and maintaining a just and safe nation, starting right here, at FPC. We are already a warm and welcoming community that strives to welcome all peoples here. We share the grace and peace of Christ through our worship services as well as our mission projects and programs. We share our struggles with each other. We share our losses and grieve with one another. We reach out and support those dealing with addictions or illnesses in their family. We welcome new members and baptize babies, making promises to nurture their growing faith, as we just did earlier in this service. We will listen and try to understand issues related to sexuality in light of Biblical teachings and Christian tradition – just next week. We will share our burdens as parents, dealing with challenging issues that overwhelm us as parents – as we will do that tonight in Youth Parents Talk-back session. As pastor Henry preached last week, in sharing our vulnerabilities and our struggles, we become a more authentic community of faith. That is how we do our part in helping the dream become a reality in our small circles of communities.
Psalm 139 and the Gospel of Jesus Christ invite us to engage in this work with “an identity rooted not in the things we say about ourselves or the labels others assign us, but in the One who knows us more deeply and more lovingly than we could ever know ourselves.” Claiming our identity rooted in God, we also recognize all human identities to have value. We affirm and honor all human beings, because we believe God has knit us, intimately, fearfully and wonderfully – to bear Gods’ image. As the Rev. Allen McSween stated, “The value of our lives does not come from what we achieve or possess or what others may think of us. It comes from the God who knows and names us, from whose steadfast love nothing in all creation can ever separate us.”
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s prophetic words ring true even today, challenging us to work together towards realizing the dream of creating a just and equal nation. His dream continues in us and can be realized through us. As we share the sparks of hope and joy found in the truth of God’s creativity and love for all humanity manifested in us, the dream will spread and bear fruit. I leave you with these snippets from his speech.
“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”
I dream with you – of the day we will be FREE – completely FREE of all that weigh us down, all that separate us in negative ways, all that pains us, all that makes us devalue who we are, all that gets in the way of claiming our true identity as beloved children of God. We will be free in Christ Jesus. Amen.