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Martin Luther King

St. John 2.1-11

In the Name of Jesus.

St. John, doing a whirling-dervish dance with numbers. On the third day, he begins the story of the wedding in Cana of Galilee. On the third day of a week-long wedding feast the wine is all gone, a death knell for the celebration. But a death knell turned to peals of joy as Jesus turns bath-water into finest wine. And on another third day of another feast gone, all hope having run out, death turned into finest resurrection.

The dance of numbers. Before his story of the wedding in Cana, St. John has counted out five days of activity. And the incident with the wine on the third day is then the eighth of the days since John’s story of Jesus all began. And in the tradition, the eighth day, a day of new birth; the long-awaited first day of the new creation – the seven days of the old creation having run out, a new heaven and earth begun. And at Cana in Galilee, at a wedding feast, this eighth day, this first day of the new creation is begun. And St. John will not again enumerate days until all has been accomplished and the whole cosmos is raised to new life, for the winemaker has come into the world not to condemn the world but so that the world be made whole. And on the third day, the everlasting day, the healing of the world is accomplished – and though still stuck in the time-warp of the old creation, all now dwell in the eighth day, the third day, the first day, the brightest of days, the day of the world made new. This is the day the Lord has made and we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Today, we here observe the Commemoration of Martin Luther King, Junior, Renewer of Society and Christian Martyr, transferred from January 15th, the day designated in our Lutheran Liturgical Calendar for Dr. King’s commemoration. Tomorrow, this nation will honor Dr. King, his life’s work, and his legacy. This past week, this nation heard the final State of the Union address of President Barack Hussein Obama, and there are many of us here who, though we may have hoped for the day, never thought that in our life-times we would ever see a black person as the President of these United States, never ever thought that our generation would see in the First Lady of the Land and the First Family the descendants of slaves dwelling in that White House once built by black slaves. It was a dream, part of the dream Dr. King held out to us – the dream of a third day and new wine, the dream of an eighth day, the first day of the new creation when we would be made whole, the vicious, ugly contagion of racism eradicated – not by violence but by peace and love, love even for the enemy, like that love for the world shown forth by the God of peace, who on the Holy Cross turned the other cheek, who on the third day revealed peace and love of the enemy to be the way of life that death could not and will not conquer.

It is tempting to see in President Obama’s tenure an end to racism. One could also argue, however, that the vitriolic opposition to President Obama’s policies and proposals are as much as anything the result of a not-so-covert racism. Oh yes, we do see more and more black professionals in business, medicine, and academia, and we find nothing especially remarkable about that. And we have as well a Latina who sits on the Supreme Court. And there are only a few of us left who can remember seeing a sign that said, “Whites only. No coloreds allowed,” and asking as I did, “What’s that gramma?” and hearing her answer, “It’s evil, child, sheer evil.” Yes, we might be tempted to say that the evil, the sin, the abomination of racism has come to an end. But that is a temptation that we must resist, firmly.

“I have a dream,” Dr. King proclaimed – his not a dream of days gone by, not even a dream of things yet to come – but a dream of what already is in God – a dream of the third day, the day of new wine, the day of resurrection, even here and now —

I remember how several years ago, Colorado Public Radio launched a series by Andrea Dukakis entitled Losing Ground. The series was based on the analysis of years of census data done by I-News, a non-profit investigative news organization. This analysis showed in stark detail that blacks and Latinos were falling further behind whites when it came to income, education, and home ownership. Furthermore this gap between whites and these minority groups is even greater than it was during the years of the Civil Rights Movement. With regard to Colorado there was a time not so long ago when the post-secondary education gap between whites and blacks was the narrowest among the 50 States; however, due to cutbacks in education funding and runaway tuition increases for higher education, Colorado is now near the bottom, our education gap being one of the largest in the nation. Sad to say Ms. Dukakis’ series of reports is as germane now as it was several years ago. All economic indicators point out well, starkly, and arguably that our work is far from finished.

What then to do? Along with countering claims that we live in a post-racial era – countering them with as much evidence as we can – we can and must also resist attempts to put band-aids on something that is deep, systemic, and institutionalized. Feel-good charity cannot and must not be a substitute for becoming informed citizens who work for structural change. No, I’m not happy when our property-tax statements show up in the mail with their increased levies to support Denver public education. But we the people of Denver, Mike and I among them, decided at the ballot box and overwhelmingly that it must be so, especially in this city’s school system where the majority of students are not only not white and but are demonstrably behind whites when it comes to educational outcomes. We must as a state examine ways to insure that people in lower-income brackets, predominantly by far, blacks and Latinos, have full and unfettered access to all levels of education, and to higher education that addresses the deficits left in place by poorly funded K-12 public schools. Sad to say, Colorado as a whole remains 43rd in the nation with regard to K-12 education spending and 49th in higher education spending. How can this be?? Some of you have heard me say that five centuries ago, Martin Luther himself took the radical stance that the state must spare no expense in the education of not only male children, but (gasp) female children as well. Education is not a band-aid, rather it is the most effective means of addressing systemic, institutionalized racism and classism; but as individuals, we can begin to affect structural change. We can do it by tutoring in any number of programs wherever we live in the greater Denver Metro area. We can do it by continuing to advocate for education spending both at the K-12 and higher education levels. We can do it by being informed citizens who lobby with our own state senators and representatives for increased education spending especially in this recently-convened state legislative session during which further cutbacks in education spending at all levels loom large. (How many of us here even know who our own state elected officials are much less have communicated with them about the various forms of institutional racism that have not yet begun to be dismantled? It’s time we all find out!)

And now too is the time we must at every opportunity speak out against the demonic discourse of those who espouse anti-Muslim, anti-Arab views, who would politically enshrine yet another form of racism and a new and insidious form of bigotry in this country. As baptized, communing Christians we cannot, we must not tolerate hatred against people of any race, of any national origin, or of any creed. It is simply not who we are!!

“I have a dream,” Dr. King proclaimed – his not a dream of days gone by, not even a dream of things yet to come – but a dream of what already is in God – a dream of the third day, the day of new wine, the day of resurrection, even here and now – a dream of the eighth day, the first day of the new and everlasting creation where human, sin-infused distinctions, human sin-infused actions, and human sin-infused systems no longer pit brothers and sisters against one another, a day when all God’s children join hands at the feast, all God’s children together at the table, a round table where there is no first nor last. In God that day already is. And it is for us, God’s equally beloved children to live in that day even now as it already is; that day we pray for whenever we say, “on earth as it is in heaven.”

And so we come to the table, to be strengthened to be who we are: God’s beloved and equal daughters and sons, no more to lift up hands against another, but drinking already of the new wine, partaking already of the bread of the new creation, that with our lips and with our lives, our very lives this day we say, “deep in our hearts, we do believe.” Yes, by the help of God Almighty, yes! Amen.