We’ve Come Too Far to Look Back Rev Dr Durrell Watkins January 19th, 2014 I don’t remember who sang it, when it came out, if it was ever popular beyond the region of my upbringing, but in the bible belt mid-south of my youth there was a camp meeting sort of song that seemed to […]
We’ve Come Too Far to Look Back
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
January 19th, 2014
I don’t remember who sang it, when it came out, if it was ever popular beyond the region of my upbringing, but in the bible belt mid-south of my youth there was a camp meeting sort of song that seemed to be ubiquitous. I haven’t thought of it in years and years, but as I was reading this week’s texts, the song kept coming to mind…
I’ve come too far to look back
My feet have walked through the valley
I’ve climbed mountains crossed rivers, desert places I’ve known
But I’m nearing the home shore, the redeemed are rejoicing
Heavens Angels are singing, I’ve come too far to look back.
Now, I’m sure the composer and original performers of the song would be surprised if not aghast to learn that the chorus could inspire a progressive message in a different kind of church, but my mind works as it does and, in the end, all things work together for good…
Our first reading was from the now famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
There had been marches and sit-ins in Birmingham, AL protesting racial segregation in 1963.
In an attempt to stifle the African American community from calling for fair and equal treatment, a judge prohibited all parading, picketing, and boycotting. In response, the Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr and other civil rights leaders decided to ignore the judicial order. Soon, Dr King was arrested, treated roughly, and jailed.
From his jail cell, Dr King wrote an open letter that would in time become a sort of manifesto for the civil rights movement. To critics who accused Dr King of being an outsider and an agitator, Dr King wrote, “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…”
And, as you heard earlier, he said, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul…”
Of course, Dr King would be vilified, arrested, stalked by the FBI, and ultimately slain for not only working for equality for all people, but doing so non-violently. He didn’t say mean things about those who were unkind to him, he didn’t call for anyone to be hurt, denigrated, or in any way diminished. He didn’t demonize his detractors, even those whose practices he vehemently opposed. And even when he was harmed, his only retaliation was to stand in integrity.
Dr King was committed to non-violent Christian social activism to challenge and heal racism and he was also a peace activist working to end the US involvement in the Vietnam war and he took on the cause of Memphis sanitation workers earning insufficient wages for their hard work. It was in Memphis while advocating for the sanitation workers that Dr King was assassinated in 1968.
You see, Dr King had gone too far to look back. He couldn’t stop caring about social justice. He couldn’t care just about the people of Atlanta or Mobile or Birmingham or Memphis. He couldn’t just care about people in the US. He cared about Vietnam, about soldiers dying needlessly, about the poor, about workers being exploited.
One of his aides and one of the primary architects of the March on Washington was out gay man Bayard Rustin. Dr King worked closely with someone he knew to be gay when being identified as gay was a criminal offense in most places. Dr King’s widow Coretta said that had Dr King lived he’d have eventually taken up the cause for LBGT rights.
Because you see, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere; and, any law that degrades human personality is unjust. So, when we are talking about health care or fair wages or environmental stewardship or marriage equality…we are saying we’ve taken up the cause of Christ, which is the cause of justice and fairness and peace and healing, and we’ve come too far to look back.
Influenced by Gandhi and Tolstoy, and of course, Jesus, Dr King pressed forward to bring hope and healing to a hurting and divided society. He tried to love the oppressor even while saying oppression was unacceptable, and he tried to lift up the oppressed while challenging them to never resort to the violent tactics of the oppressor.
Even when it was difficult, even when it cost him dearly, Dr King continued to affirm the sacred value of all people, with special focus on those who were currently marginalized by unjust systems of power and privilege. There was no stopping…at some point, one simply has gone too far to look back. As Jesus is imagined saying, “No one who starts plowing and then looks back is fit for the kin-dom of God” (Luke 9.62).
In the second reading today we heard that the realm of God, the presence of God is within us and all around us. That isn’t a surprising message from a book named for Thomas, whose name means Twin. The suggestion is that in the kin-dom of God we are all spiritual twins of Jesus, we all have innate Christ qualities, we are all children of God. And once we know that, we can’t go back to thinking of ourselves as broken, sinful worms lost from God…once we know that the divine light and love and life that God is resides in us and expresses through and as us, there’s just no going back. The gospel of Thomas didn’t make it into our bibles, but it was read by many early Christian communities and may be as old as the gospel of Mark.
The third reading was from the fourth gospel, called John’s gospel though the actual author is unknown. John’s gospel is written at least 60 years after Jesus’ execution. But even though Jesus was no longer physically with them, the movement that embraced him as their primary symbol kept moving forward, kept offering hope and healing, kept affirming the sacred value of all people, especially those who had been marginalized by systems of oppression. They’d been committed to the cause of six decades already…they’d gone too far to look back.
In John’s reading John the Baptizer perceives a spiritual anointing on Jesus’ life and he says that Jesus shares that anointing with others, that he immerses people in an awareness of God’s presence, or in the language of the text, that he baptizes with the holy spirit, that is, the whole spirit, essence, energy, power, presence of God.
Once we know that there’s not a spot where God is not, there’s no going back to feeling lost, lonely, desperate, unworthy, or afraid.
All three readings share a theme, don’t they?
Dr King shows with his very life that all people have dignity and deserve to be seen as children of God.
The gospel of Thomas suggests that we are Jesus’ spiritual twins, his brothers and sisters, and like him, we can each know ourselves to be a child of God. In fact, God’s presence, or home, or realm is within us the text says.
And the gospel of John lets us know that following Jesus helps us become aware that we are immersed in God, washed with divine love, forever part of the one Power and Presence that we call God. We can follow Jesus while respecting other paths to spiritual wholeness, but for those of us who have chosen Jesus as our model and wayshower, he is the one reminding us that we are forever immersed in God; we can never be separated from divine Love.
There’s no looking back. There’s no looking back to an age where God was male and heaven was a country club in the sky, exclusive and restricted.
There’s no looking back to a time when women were kept from political, commercial, or ecclesiastical leadership.
There’s no looking back to a time when gays and lesbians had to live in secret as if they needed to be ashamed of who they were.
There’s no looking back to the days when marriage was assumed to be exclusively a heterosexual privilege.
There’s no looking back to where people could be excluded, exploited, or publicly eroticized for their race or ethnicity.
We’ve come too far to look back.
The past was neither all good nor all bad, but it is all over.
We can remember the good fondly and learn from the mistakes, but there is no going back.
This church has spent the last six years making a point of becoming more welcoming to more kinds of people.
By insisting that omnipresence, social justice, and the sacred value of all people are core concepts of the gospel message, we have brought healing and empowerment to many lives.
Our leadership is gender balanced, our language is inclusive, our message is optimistic, our outreach is intentional, and we challenge every person to be fully engaged and committed, to do her or his share, to give all they can, to do all the good they can, to serve with time, talent, and treasure to build up a loving, joyous community that is transforming lives.
We’ve come too far to look back.
And, there’s more to do.
We’ve taken a church that was in financial crisis and turned it around, and now we want to build on our newfound financial health so that we can do more than ever before!
We want to reach more people. We want to offer more programming. We want to engage more volunteers.
We want to have more fun…yes, fun is a spiritual gift and we relish it.
We want to share good news in even more ways.
We want to pray more, learn more, grow more, and bless more people than ever before.
As a church and as individuals on the spiritual path, we have simply come too far to look back.
Sunshine Cathedral is a different kind of church, where the past is past and the future has infinite possibilities!
And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014
I’ve come too far to look back.
I’m moving forward into a life of joy and blessings.
The past is past and the future has infinite possibilities.
And so it is!