Go Where I Send Thee!
A sermon preached by The Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Second Sunday After Epiphany, January 17, 2016. This was the weekend of MLK Remembrance. Our new children’s choir had their debut singing, “Go Where I Send Thee!”
“Go where I send thee.” That’s the message, isn’t it? The invitation at the heart of scripture. Not just any scripture but all of scripture. To go where God sends us. To figure out what God is doing in the world and get with it.
God said, “Go where I send thee.” And Abram and Sarai went, to a land they had never seen nor even heard of, but to which God led them with the promise of descendants as plentiful as the stars in the night sky.
Sometimes God sends people out into the unknown like that, and other times God sends people back into the well-known.
God said, “Go where I send thee.” And Jacob went, first into exile with his Uncle Laban’s family, but ultimately back home to his own family – to be reconciled with the brother he betrayed, the father he deceived, and the mother with whom he conspired to do both. He was afraid, but God promised, “I will be with you.”
In this morning’s scripture, Jesus is reluctant. He’s at this wedding with his mother. And based on what sounds like a rather churlish reply to his mother’s hint that the wine had run out, he may well have wanted to be somewhere else. Who knows, was the young man getting married to somebody Jesus had eyes for? He’s human remember. Did he have his mind on a grander debut for himself as called-by-God than at some backwater wedding? Certainly this isn’t the spectacular debut he makes in Mark – healing a man with an unclean spirit — or Matthew or Luke – with a galactic birth story!
Jesus’ mother pushes him where he doesn’t want to go. Serving in John’s story as a proxy for God, she instigates the miracle.
Even Jesus, apparently didn’t always want to go where he was being sent.
And isn’t that the human condition? Out of fear, laziness, insecurity, uncertainty, bitterness, pride – we often run headlong away from where God is sending us. Whether it’s Jonah running from Ninevah or the Hebrew people moaning that they want to go back to Egypt rather than forward into the promised land, when things get hard, when times get tough, when we know that following God may not only cost something of us but also of those we love, we’d rather run and lay low than “go.”
This weekend we’re marking the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This past Friday I joined other clergy at an interfaith service and tomorrow Noelle and I will be at the Slater Center’s annual breakfast. Some of you were at the interfaith concert last Sunday afternoon and all of us will have tomorrow to reflect on the significance of Dr. King’s life.
But that job first fell to Professor Benjamin Mays, who gave the eulogy at Dr. King’s funeral just three days after his assassination in Memphis. Mays was President of Morehouse College where Dr. King., received his bachelor’s degree and was the man who introduced King to Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance. Mays and King had an agreement that whichever of them died first, the other would preach the funeral.
Many people, Mays said, believed Martin was ahead of his time. And that is still said today. But Mays insisted,
No! He was not ahead of his time. No man is ahead of his time. Every man is within his star, each in his time. Each man must respond to the call of God in his lifetime and not in somebody else’s time.
And Martin himself had to respond, in a difficult and uncertain time, to that call of God.
It was the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott. Rosa Parks had just been hauled to the police precinct for her audacity on the bus. And amid the electricity in the air, Dr. King emerged — the man of the hour, a confident new leader who would take on racism and injustice and violence, and surprisingly, in a spirit of confident, public nonviolence.
At least by the outward look of things. Privately, however, he started out as a reluctant prophet. By all means, he would help advance nonviolent change. But to be thrust in the spotlight of national leadership — that was another matter indeed.
On the other hand, an assumption mitigated the pressure. The boycott, assumed everyone — including King — would last but a few days. Symbolic victory achieved, and in short order things put back to normal. The days, however, lengthened out and passed over into weeks and months, and white Montgomery rightly discerned a bona fide economic threat. That’s when the death threats began. Chilling and cutting to the chase: “Call off the boycott or die.” Towards the end, as many as forty such phone calls came in every day. And on one occasion, when the police had hauled him into jail for speeding, in the clutches of the police at last, he imagined himself on the threshold of being lynched. Fear descended like a fog.
It reached an apex late Friday night, January 27, 1956. King slumped home, another long strategy session under his belt, and found Coretta asleep. He paced and knocked about, his nerves still on edge. And presently the phone rang, a sneering voice on the other end: “Leave Montgomery immediately if you have no wish to die.” King’s fear surged; he hung up the phone, walked to his kitchen, and with trembling hands, put on a pot of coffee and sank into a chair at his kitchen table.
Here was the prelude to King’s most profound spiritual experience. He describes it in his book “Stride Toward Freedom.”
“I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.”
“The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. ‘I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.'”
“At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: ‘Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”
Three days later a bomb blasted his house and his family escaped harm by a hairsbreadth. “Strangely enough,” King later wrote, “I accepted the word of the bombing calmly. My religious experience a few nights before had given me the strength to face it.”
News of the bombing drew a crowd. A mob formed within the hour, all clenched jaws and closed fists. And they pressed up against the shattered house and shouted for vengeance. King mounted the broken porch and raised his hands. “We must meet hate with love. Remember, if I am stopped, this movement will not stop because God is with this movement. Go home with this glorious faith and radiant assurance.” And thus the mob dissipated, their mood disarmed and their ears ringing with the message of gospel nonviolence.
Some eleven years later, King spoke before an audience of his epiphany in the kitchen. “It seemed at that moment, I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.’ I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.”
This morning I want to know: where’s your kitchen table? Where have you heard God calling you to “go,” to “stand up for justice and for truth,” and promising to be with you? If you say, oh no, not me, I’m not… stop it right there. If there’s one thing we learn both from God and from Martin Luther King, Jr. it is that each one of us is a person of dignity, endowed with gifts and the capacity for love greater than we can possibly imagine; that every one of us is of value to God and also to the good of humankind. So if you are saying right now, oh no, not me pastor, stop. Stop and listen. Let this ordinary sanctuary on a Sunday morning be a place to open yourself, to listen for God’s call.
During King’s funeral, Dr. Mays reflected, “Too bad, you say, that Martin Luther King Jr., died so young.” I feel that way too. But, as I have said many times before, it isn’t how long one lives, but how well. It’s what one accomplishes for [humankind] that matters.” [repeat]
This morning, are we ready to live well? Are we ready to live so that humankind is bettered by our having walked this earth? Are we ready to stand up, like Dr. King, for justice and for truth? Are we ready to stand with the strength of love and walk together, trusting our God who makes a way where there is no way? Children, God encourages, go where I send thee.
 For a brief commentary, see Allen Dwight Callahan, “The Gospel of John” in True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary edited by Brian Blount, et al. (Fortress, 2007).
 Benjamin Elijah Mays, “Eulogy for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (April 9, 1968).” In Preaching with Sacred Fire: An Anthology of African American Sermons, 1750 – Present, edited by Martha Simmons and Frank Thomas. (Norton, 2010). p. 562-569.
 The God at Dr. King’s Kitchen Table, John Dear, Jan. 16, 2007, http://www.fatherjohndear.org/NCR_Articles/Jan16_07.html