The Second Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C)

“The Vindication and Salvation of Zion”

Sermon from parishioner Jessica Moynihan

When reading today’s passage from Isaiah, I could not help but think of how this passage reminded me so much about Dr. King and the black community’s fight for Civil Rights. Right from the first verse, it stood out how much King’s personality and accomplishments shone through the words – “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.” Martin Luther King, Jr. gave many speeches and sermons during his time as an activist for the Civil Rights Movement. These speeches and sermons were used to encourage the black community to stand up for themselves using the nonviolent methods King taught them. They also helped to convince politicians and those in power to change the racist, segregation laws this country used to have, particularly in the South. And not only did his words touch the hearts of millions then, but they still move people today, generations later. Therefore, King really was not kept silent. And he did not rest until his dying day. King literally gave his life for the movement. He knew his days were numbered with every speech he gave, every time he led a march or a rally, and each time he stood in front of a Church congregation giving a sermon. He knew the anger he was stirring in the hearts of racist whites throughout the South. Yet, he continued on, never giving up because he was a leader with a brave voice willing to say what so many others were scared of saying for fear of losing their own lives.

These qualities and actions are just like the words spoken in today’s passage from Isaiah where we see an oath is being sworn. Some people believe that these are Isaiah’s words, vowing to be intercessor for Jerusalem. Others hold that God is speaking through the prophet vowing God’s unceasing speaking and acting on behalf of God’s beloved city. Either way, it is a vow to continue preaching and proclaiming until God does what he promised to do, restore Jerusalem. This also can be seen as a prediction of the future of Jesus Christ: How He is determined to speak and act for His people, so that they might be saved. God could be speaking through Isaiah saying that Jesus will never give up. He will pray for us, He will act for us, He will fight for us. Something else that stood out to me was the thought that we, as God’s subjects, fail to understand how being an object of God’s love changes our identity and purpose. It changes everything about our lives. We have no idea how treasured and loved we are by God. God is telling us, through Isaiah, how He will save us all.

Verses 2-5 of today’s passage are speaking to how Jerusalem will be saved from all of its hardship by God. God promises that Jerusalem will no longer be forsaken, but instead be a crown of glory and God will rejoice over the land and its people. This all relates very closely to the struggles the black community has endured throughout the history of the United States, and the visions that Martin Luther King, Jr. had for our great nation. When slavery was legal, black people were violently removed from their homelands, murdered, tortured, and forced into slavery. They were crammed into ships that would bring them to the Americas where they were starved, whipped, and conditions were filthy. Many died due to dehydration, dysentery and scurvy. And then in the US, these people were viewed as property and sold into slavery where the beatings, rapes and murders continued and grueling labor was added in.

For hundreds of years, slavery endured, tearing families apart, and ruining and ending the lives of so many people. And then, finally, God’s hope came for the enslaved. They were finally granted freedom after an extremely bloody and life-claiming Civil War. In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted by Abraham Lincoln driving a stake into the heart of enslavers country-wide. Slavery was such an essential cog in the wheel of the Southern economy, therefore, plantation owners had to restructure their production. The Emancipation Proclamation was not enough though. In 1865, soon after the slaves were given their freedom, Jim Crow Laws, that legalized racial segregation, began being enacted. The whites used these laws to make sure that people of color were kept powerless. These laws endured for years, affecting black people’s rights in public, as employees, as voters, and as human beings. Furthermore, the black people of this country were still experiencing violent crimes being committed against them, and often being accused and convicted of crimes they did not even commit.

And then finally, another one of God’s blessings came during the 1950s and 1960s. Our country witnessed the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement rise up. The Lord’s words moved through people like Rosa Parks, John Lewis and Martin Luther King, Jr. These leaders, along with others, helped unify the black community and find the strength to stand up, speak up and join hands in order to gain equality for every race, religion and gender this country possessed. MLK was such a powerful leader because as a Reverend, he channeled inspiration from both Gandhi and the words of our Lord in order to encourage his people to be strong and stand up for themselves by using nonviolent tactics. He also helped to persuade those who held power in this country: politicians, business owners, wealthy men and women; to listen and to take action to change the laws of this country and the way businesses were run.

And Dr. King had a specific vision for the United States, one of unity and true freedom. One that was so similar to the glory that the people of Jerusalem would receive from God’s savior. The following are words of Martin Luther King’s from his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech given during the March on Washington in 1963 that entail a portion of that vision he had for America:

“…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 on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”

King’s time dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement saw many accomplishments. In 1956, King’s faithful voice shone through during a sermon that he gave during the final days of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In this sermon, he ensured the people around him to keep their hopes up and to have faith in these words: “Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter… If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness… With this attitude you will be able to keep your struggle on high Christian standards.” And just one week after King delivered that sermon, emboldening his people to keep going, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Alabama’s bus segregation laws.

He, with others, went on to create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which he was president of until his assassination in 1968. The organization had a large part in the Civil Rights Movement. Together, with the organization, Dr. King was able to lead the Birmingham Campaign. Birmingham was one of the most racially divided cities in the US at the time. The movement helped to get the municipal government to change its discriminatory laws, but also remove Eugene Connor from his job as Commissioner of Public Safety after he led the police department to use high-pressure water jets and police attack dogs on children.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was such an influential person that in 1963, he was the first African American to be named Time Person of the Year. And the following year, in 1964, he also became the youngest person to receive a Nobel Peace Prize at that time.

Dr. King accomplished many things in his lifetime. I would encourage you, in order to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, to read more on King’s accomplishments during the Civil Rights Movement and to listen to his sermons online. He was a brave and faithful man, who was inspired by our Lord to make changes for the good people of this country. Even though his life was cut short by a gunman with a vengeance, he was not kept silent. His words still touch the hearts of and inspire many people, generations later. As you see in the news, the United States still has problems with racism, but our God rejoices over ALL of the people of this land.

I pray that today’s words from Isaiah and what I have told you today about Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights Movement, and black history of the United States, will inspire you to be a beacon of light in the community. Well how do we do that, Jessica? You choose to be an ally, not sometimes, but all times. You choose to always stand up for what you know is right, whether it be in defense of someone of another race and their rights, another gender, or another religion. We all must trust in the words of the Lord, just like King did and have faith that He will one day lead us to the path where no man, woman or child will be treated unfairly. Buy from black-owned businesses; donate to charities like the Equal Justice Initiative or the Center for Constitutional Rights that continue to fight for Civil Rights; do a little research and educate yourself on how racism is still alive in this country and how to help change that; participate in diversifying media so that black voices are heard throughout our communities; try to meet more black people and diversify your social network; and right within our church – you can not only sign up for the Anti-Racism Alliance newsletter, but you can join the alliance today, at 10:30am for a discussion over Zoom.

Let us Pray.

Heavenly Father, we pray for the courage, insight, humility and self-awareness to continue to grow as allies for racial justice. Enable us to see the reality of racism and free us to challenge and uproot it from our society, our world and ourselves. May our hearts and minds be open to celebrate similarities and differences among our sisters and brothers. May all people live together in peace.