In Remembrance of Martin Luther King, sermon by Rev. Canon Patrick P. Augustine


Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 16, 2011, Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, WI
Isaiah 49: 1-7, Psalm 40: 1-12, I Corinthians 1: 1-9, John 1: 29-42
I will sing a New Song
This week we remember the life of Dr. Martin Luther King our modern day American prophet. He once wrote in his letter from the Birmingham jail, “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. Their urge for freedom will eventually come.”[1] God who remembers the pain and cries of the suffering people acts in and through the events of history to affect the liberation and emancipation of those that are oppressed. It is also a poignant reminder that much of God’s liberating action is accomplished via the agency of human hands and hearts. As Teresa of Avila has said, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours…Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.”
Last week I shared with you my letter to the Church of Sudan about the new fact in their life. They had suffered over twenty-five years of Africa’s longest civil war which has killed over 2 million and four million of Southern Sudanese are refugees uprooted from their homes living in Diaspora all over the world. I remember hearing a song from Mary Achol Deng during my visit to Southern Sudan in February 1996. Let me share with you part of this song:
Peace exists across all the earth
But the peace of Sudan is being clawed to shreds by birds
This is how such great numbers of our people die.
---I am weeping, lamenting over my people who
have perished, ah, how wonderful they were! ---
We are dying because of the laws our brothers
are trying to impose on us!
They have killed our pastors with the bullet.
Jesus Christ, hear me, bear me, me, me.
I am a feeble person, and I am being killed by
one who is powerful.
Oh, good people of Jesus!
In this song Mary expresses the wailing of millions such as Achol Yum Deng taken North in 1998 by the Armed Arab Militias men after their raid of villages in Southern Sudan. The Wall Street Journal, yesterday, told her story along with 397 slaves whose liberation was achieved by Christian Solidarity International and the American Anti-Slavery Group. In 1998 Achol and hundreds of young girls and boys were taken as slaves. Slaves slept with the animals and were given rotten scraps from the masters’ table. Girls were concubines and sex slaves. After twelve years of rape and beatings she returned home as a free person on the eve of the referendum.[2]
Such are the sufferings of Christians persecuted for their faith under Islamic blasphemy law in Pakistan. Same is the case of Christians of less than one percent living in Iran. “In the early hours of Christmas day the Iranian government arrested 25 Christians and sought to detain 16 others. 50 other Christians have also been detained but it is unclear as yet what the full details are surrounding their cases.”[3] Christians in Iraq and Egypt are facing the same threats of death and discrimination.
Many of these Christian communities are suffering for their faith and seeking for God’s intervention to bring peace and security to them. In their pleading we can hear the words of the Psalmist:
I waited patiently for the Lord;
He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
The Negros of America has sung their song of freedom. Oh, how many tears I have shed and how many visits I have made to my brothers and sisters in Sudan. Now the people of Southern Sudan after half a century of suffering and slavery have begun to sing:
He has put a new song in my mouth
A song of praise to our God.
Christian minorities in Pakistan and Iran are still praying waiting patiently for the Lord to give them a new song to sing. Please pray for the persecuted brothers and sisters.
Some of you may remember the spring of 1985, U2’s The Unforgettable Fire tour stopped in Hartford, Connecticut. The final encore that evening was “40,” a lyrical adaptation of today’s Psalm 40. As the band left the stage one by one, the enthusiastic crowd continued the song’s refrain: “I will sing, song a new song.” Even as the crowd poured out of the stadium, huge bands of fans carried the tune onto the city streets: “I will sing, sing a new song.” Many did not realize that they had been evangelized and radicalized as this refrain springs forth from the psalmist’s claim, “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God” (v.3).[4] The central claim of this psalm is well worth our singing and proclamation: God hears our cries and delivers us from times of troubles, so we will respond with a joyful noise, a song of praise. People of Israel remembered the traces of this tune echoing through the ages. God had delivered them from slavery and the heavy handedness of Pharaoh. Moses and the people of Israel crossed the red sea singing with great jubilation their new freedom:

I will sing to the Lord, for he is lofty and uplifted
the horse and its rider has he hurled into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my refuge;
the Lord has become Savior.
This is my God and I will praise him… (Exodus 15:1-2)
Psalm 40 expresses the experience of God delivering “from the desolate pit” and offers praise for God’s “mercy,” “steadfast love,” and “faithfulness.”
In the Gospel lesson John the Baptist has his epiphany as he saw Jesus approaching him: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1: 29). One may ask, “What is John trying to tell us.” Here he provides testimony as to who Jesus is and points to others to recognize his saving mission: Sic Deus delexit mundum – this is how God loved the world. God incarnate in Jesus Christ takes keen interest in the affairs of our lives. When he looks upon us he sees how people in North of Sudan treat people in “Southern Sudan. The Muslim majority oppresses and persecutes the Christian minority in Pakistan, Iran and Egypt. He sees racial discrimination and rich nations oppressing poor nations. God hears the cry of the poor. He sends His Son the Lamb of God to redeem humanity from sins of prejudice, greed and oppression of the weak. He stoops down and gives His own sacrifice that humanity may not perish but have eternal life. As Dr. King said, “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.” Sin cannot reign forever. Behold the Lamb of God! He brings salvation, opportunities for us to reconcile with God and with fellow human beings that we all can live in peace. Muslims, Christians, Jews and people of all faiths, races and colors. He “puts a new song in our mouth, a song of praise to our God.”
Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose
Blood set us free to be people of God.
This is the feast of victory of our God. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

[1] Martin Luther King, JR. Letter from the Birmingham jail, HarperSanFrancisco, 1994, p.20.

[2] The Wall Street Journal, January 14, 2011, Opinion by John Ebiner and Charles Jacobs

[3] The Cypress Times. 1-5-2011.

[4] David L Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors. Feasting on the Word,

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