MLK Sermon Fellowship Presbyterian Church
it is a rare opportunity to be able to address such an amazing audience and i want to say that being with your Reverend – Rev. Gregory Bently at the Temple this past Friday evening was a wonderful honor.
We are imperfect beings created only in the image of God, a mere shadow of Divine perfection. As beings we can only live our individual experiences and see things through the lens of our own life. We all have stumbling blocks which exists and are a part of ourselves which we may not even be aware of. There are parts of ourselves which we do not like, appreciate or even want to acknowledge. This prevents us from seeing who we are and from loving all aspects of our-self. When a Hindu says “Namaste” what they are really saying is: “The divine self in me loves the divine self in you.” Yet our own blindness prevent us from really seeing the divine in the “other” person in front of us.
I am speaking specifically and painfully to the concept of privilege. The concept of privilege is a concept which is both challenging and informative because it allows us to discover the many fascists about ourselves that we are both comfortable and uncomfortable with.
I should therefore share with you more about who I am. I am, a feminist, Jewish, mother and wife. I am also the granddaughter of holocaust survivors… I am white, I am middle class and I am well educated. I am a northerner living in the South and loving it.
A few years ago I had the privilege of traveling to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis TN. My experience there forever changed me. I went there as an unscheduled stop on my trip to Memphis. When I stood on the balcony of the Loraine Motel where Dr. King was murdered I felt as if I was witnessing something that was so profound and sad at the same time. Dr. King was murdered for standing up and saying we are all create in the image of God, we all have inalienable rights and need to be treated with respect.
Better, in his own words from the Letter he wrote from the Birmingham Jail:
“I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider …” (Letter from a Birmingham jail)
I had a congregant who was African American, she wanted to convert to Judaism. In the time that I knew her over the course of two years she:
had issues finding employment
was stopped multiple times for Traffic violations
went to jail because she did not have the extra money to pay for the traffic ticket and had to place her 4 year old son in the care of a stranger while she spent 3 days in jail to “pay the city” for the fine.
experienced sexism and was nearly assaulted
Her story is probably a familiar one. Yet to me, i was shocked. I went from hearing statistics to seeing them living out in front of me inside of a person who was simply struggling to live, put food on her table and see the world for what if could be – a place of justice and equality.
I questioned what were the circumstances which systematically prevented my congregant from succeeding? What were the Pharaohs blocking the redemption of a people enslaved?
I perpetuate that system because I benefit from that system. I have been pulled over twice in my life. I had the money to pay my ticket and not think about it. I had the ability to access a mortgage and buy a house in a great neighborhood. I was not questioned when i show up with my children in a restaurant that we might need some extra assistance. There is no one judging me for a screaming child.
The truth, my truth, is that we are all victims and oppressors in our own way – all the time.
We are all insiders, outsiders, members of the community and other at the same time.
Let me ask you a question, please raise your hands if you have ever:
been pulled over for a traffic violation?
had difficulty accessing health care or finding a doctor willing to work with you?
struggled as a result of your race/gender/ethnicity?
been physically assaulted or otherwise exposed to violence?
Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote:
Rabbi Heschel spoke at a speech on Race and said: “By negligence and silence we have all become accessory before the God of mercy to the injustice committed against the Negroes by men of our nation. Our derelictions are many. We have failed to demand, to insist, to challenge,[and] to chastise…. An honest estimation of the moral state of our society will disclose: Some are guilty, but all are responsible.” (From AJ Heschel speech at Conference on Religion and Race, January 1963)
we are all responsible for the current situation. and we are all obligated to fix it.
the problem with Israel is that Israel is accused in the Palestinian conflict of being the sole cause for the problems that the Palestinians face and experience. There have been so many UN resolutions against Israel and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement has grown and become successful in incorrectly labeling Israel and apartheid state. Yes, Israel has engaged in actions which i find troubling against the Palestinians. But they are not an apartheid state – far from it. Accusations of such limit dialogue and discussion and prevent relationships from being formed which can move forward a process so staled as to prevent peace from ever being reached.
Both sides have contributed to this problem. So have all of the other nations in the Middle East by using the Palestinians as pawns in a political game. Some are guilty, but all are responsible.
I too have a dream, though this dream has it origins over 2,000 years ago:
When we stop to see the other, when we start to say i will be a part of the solution, when we start to engage with one another and see the Divine piece that rests in each other then we can start to make that dream of community a reality.
We are obligated to grapple with these problems, we are obligated to see the problems inside of us first and engage in Tikun Etzmi (the repair of ourselves) before we engage in Tikun Olam (the repair of the world) so that we are able to see what needs to be repaired.
The solution exists in educating our youth…bringing them to Memphis, Selma, Birmingham and Atlanta to see and walk in the footsteps of past generations so that history won’t be repeated. We must go to Dachau, Auschwitz and Treblinka, Rwanda, Darfur and Bosnia so the results of genocide and live the words: Never Again. We need to develop and enhance in ourselves a level of compassion and empathy where we see one another, see the divine the rests there and are grateful to be in each other’s presence.
By engaging in the challenging work of repairing ourselves we set the the example to those around us and those who will come after us. It is for this reason that my daughter goes to a AAA magnet school where diversity is valued. It is for this reason I reach out to the Huntsville Islamic Center to end Islamophobia. It is why i have worked hard to work through my own personal prejudices and preconceived notions – I admit that I am nothing more or less than a work in progress.
Let us join together, Let us join together in reforming the justice system, closing the income gap, bringing equality to those in search of a good education by ensuring everyone has access to the same resources. Let us work together: white, black, Jew, Muslim, Christian, Israelis and Palestinians; let us come together.
Dr. King knew that our survival demands action: “It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.”
I pray that we are able to stop seeing “the other” and start seeing fellowship, friendship, peace and harmony. that the dream that Dr. King had is one which we will all feel that we must work for together.