A Thriving Spiritual Community

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Annisquam
Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Annisquam
Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

A Thriving Spiritual Community

photo of AVC sanctuary
Sermon: “Found” – A Sermon for MLK Sunday

“Found” – A Sermon for MLK Sunday

January 14, 2024

come-share-in-god's-joy

Does anyone remember what I preached about last week?

I asked: “What are you seeking in the year ahead?” Then I suggested “Whatever you seek, you will eventually find. Why not seek God? If you seek God, you will find God.” 

This Sunday, the lectionary offers a story from the first chapter in the Gospel of John on the same theme, but with a twist. Listen, again, to how it opens: 

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”…

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

Lest we think that we have to go around hunting for God, searching high and low, down every path to try to find a God who is hidden from us, John reveals a God who wants to find us! A God who actively searches for and finds us! 

As we are seeking God; God is seeking us. 

In theological terms this is what the incarnation is about – God coming to us in human form so that we can be found by and find, the God for whom our hearts search. 

So, the questions for us this morning are these: How do we allow ourselves, like Philip, to be found by God? And how do we, like Philip, help our God find others – especially those who question if God can be found among certain people or in certain places,  like Nathanael?

Let’s take the first part – Allowing ourselves to be found by God. 

One of my favorite poets, Denise Levertov, offers this (and I ask your pardon, because I have shared excerpts from this poem before):

Lord, not you, it is I who am absent…

I have long since uttered your name

but now I elude your presence.

I stop to think about you, and my mind

at once like a minnow darts away,

Darts into the shadows, into gleams that fret

unceasing over the river’s purling and passing.

Not for one second

will my self hold still, but wanders

anywhere,

everywhere it can turn. 

Not you, (Lord), it is I who am absent.

You are the stream, the fish, the light,

the pulsing shadow,

you the unchanging presence, in whom all

moves and changes.

How can I focus my flickering, perceive

at the fountain’s heart

the sapphire I know is there? 

“Lord, not you, it is I who am absent.” To be found by God, we must stop. Pause. Be open. Wait. Patiently. Expectantly. Trusting that the One for whom we long is looking for us, too. 

Honesty helps.  Vulnerability, too.

When Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was 27 years old – in his second year as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama – he helped lead the city bus boycott. This brought a barrage of death threats at his home by mail and phone. Some days, there were as many as 30 to 40 calls, often in the evening, trying to force him to return to Atlanta.

One call, around midnight on January 27, 1956 became pivotal for him. While his wife, Coretta, and their infant daughter slept nearby, the caller, a man, said, “N—–, we’re tired of your mess. And if you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow up your house and blow your brains out.” 

Deeply shaken, Dr. King felt ready to give up.   He went to their small kitchen, made a pot of coffee, and tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. He recalled that “In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God.”  He buried his face in his hands, bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud: 

“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.”  (Do you hear the honesty and vulnerability?)

King writes, “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.” 

Looking back on that episode, he would say that it was the first time God felt profoundly real and personal to him. Dr. King would continue his mission for another 12 years.

Turning to God, Martin was found by God. He was honest – about his convictions, his feelings, his thoughts, and his limitations. He did not hide his truth from God. 

Did this mean that his problem – the intimidating racism he faced – was fixed by this prayer? No. No!! Sixty seven years later, black people continue to struggle because of intimidating racism in this country.  What King was given was God’s profound presence in the midst of the struggle. 

This is an important point – one that Lindsay Crouse helped me more clearly see in a conversation the Creation Care Team had on Friday.  If we are going to try and make a difference when the problems we are facing feel overwhelming – like the climate crisis or the wars in the Middle East or Ukraine; or  our own or a  family member’s mental health or cognitive deterioration  – we need to have a faith that can keep us going, a faith that can help us cope. 

Faith does not guarantee that we will achieve our goals; but it can give us the strength and courage and inspiration we need to keep going towards them, especially when it is tough.

To be found by God, to be in relationship with God, we need to allow ourselves, like Martin Luther King Jr.,  to be honest about our convictions, our feelings,   our thoughts, our limitations. It’s not about putting on our Sunday best, or trying to do the right things to win God’s approval. No. We are found when we open our hearts; when we enter into an honest, authentic relationship with our God – the God who waits for us to be real, to speak our truth.

Here’s the second part of John’s message for us today. Notice that once Philip is found, Jesus’ invitation is immediate, “Come and follow me.”  Another way of understanding what Jesus is saying to us is this:  “You belong with me. Join me – be part of my community and my mission – do what I am doing.” 

Notice, too, how Philip responds after being found by Jesus.  He finds the skeptical Nathanael and says what Jesus would – “Come and see.” 

Philip doesn’t say – Nathanael if you want to know who Jesus is, read this theological treatise or believe this doctrine about the incarnation. No, if you want to know Jesus, get involved in his community of love and generous service.  

Can you think of someone – who seems lost (adrift, off-course) – who would benefit from being part of, feeling a sense of belonging, with this (or another) spiritual community? Can you think of someone who seems lost – who would benefit by using their gifts and talents in the service of God and others? Invite them to join us here. 

In one of the most beautiful passages in scripture the prophet Jeremiah hears God saying this to us: 

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, 

plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 

Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 

When you search for me, you will find me; 

if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord.”

May you, like Martin Luther King Jr., know the peace that comes from allowing yourself to be found by God, and the purpose that comes from helping God find and welcome the lost into a community of loving service. Amen. 

 

Works referenced:

 

“What Martin Luther King Jr. learned at his midnight kitchen table experience” by 

James C. Harrington, Caller TImes (Corpus Christi Texas news), Jan. 14, 2022

 

“Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.” by Stephen B. Oates.

 

“What’s so special about a fig tree?” by Diane Roth, Christian Century, Jan. 2015.