Sermon from January 19, 2020, Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday

God Has a Dream
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
January 19, 2019
Second Sunday after Epiphany,
Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday
Isaiah 49; Luke 4:14-21

We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly shift from being a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered…. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities…. A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to [humanity] as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all [people]. This has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of [humanity].

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from “A Time to Break Silence”

God has a dream for the earth.  We have seen it in the lives of the wisest and most virtuous women and men.  We have heard it in their teachings.

Jesus’ last prayer was “that they may all be one.”  God’s dream is that humanity will see its true oneness with God, with one another and with all creation and live into that truth, establishing a global society of unconditional love, justice and peace.  That is God’s dream.

We can trace that dream through Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah, through the Buddha, Lao Tzu and Confucius.  We can find God’s dream of oneness in Hindu, Sufi Muslim and Native American traditions.

We see God’s dream lived out before our eyes in the simplest act of loving a neighbor as our self.  We see it whenever the Golden Rule overrules selfishness, whenever we are moved by compassion or empathy—that is God’s dream coming true.  This morning we are feeling our oneness with our beloved Gretchen Hannon, as we have many times over the years. We are one in our common loss and common calling to carry on our journey together.

We can see that God’s dream is coming true on a local level all the time, and yet its opposite is simultaneously at work wounding lives and destroying the world.  We truly are in a culture war, and the fate of the earth will be decided by whether or not we make God’s dream of oneness our dominant culture in this generation.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave God’s dream eloquent expression.  He called it the beloved community.  It was God’s dream being proclaimed when packed churches or police wagons or jailcells rang with the freedom songs we are singing today.  It was God’s dream that they marched for and risked their lives for and that King was voicing in his “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28th, 1963.

That great day was not the end of his dreaming.  His dream evolved as his spirit evolved.  This is very important, and not widely understood.  This is the source of the ability to dream God’s dream that we see in King and Gandhi, in Dorothy Day and Mother Theresa and in all the great spiritual leaders of history.  They arrived at this vision of oneness of all people and all creation by evolving to the most advanced developmental stage of the human heart and mind through what King called “an inner spiritual transformation.”

Humans naturally pass through several stages of consciousness as they grow and mature.  Some get stuck part way, but those who continue to evolve arrive at a stage called integral or nondual or universalizing where we see our true oneness.  This stage is God’s dream for every human and society on earth.  It is God’s dream for each of us.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. evolved over the four years between his “I Have a Dream” speech and the speech he gave in New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 entitled “A Time to Break Silence.”  He came to see that racism was only one symptom of a way of seeing and being in the world, and racism would not be solved until the underlying state of consciousness was changed that gave rise to all forms of narrow selfishness, violence and greed, including materialism and militarism as well as racism.

King concluded that we needed a revolution of values, a change of consciousness that would give rise to “an all-embracing and unconditional love for all [people].” He said, “This has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of [humanity].”  That was over fifty years ago.

King’s vision of God’s dream surely would have evolved to include all God’s creatures and creation if he had lived.  He would have listed the destruction of the earth’s ecosystems and species alongside materialism and militarism.  Racism would have expanded to include sexism and homophobia and the other hydra-heads that all spring from the same source, and that all will be transformed only by the change of consciousness, the revolution of values that King called us to undergo.

A little over a year ago Gus Speth spoke to us about the children’s climate court case that he has served as an expert witness.  Twenty-one young people are suing the United States government to try to stop it from destroying their future world.  A ruling has just been handed down.  It acknowledges the rightness of their claims, but two of the three judges voted to throw the case out on technical grounds.

The director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University was quoted in the New York Times saying now “all three branches of the federal government are sitting on their hands as the planet burns.”

The Dalai Lama recently echoed Dr. King with a “A Call for Revolution,” inviting us “to pursue a process of inner transformation that acknowledges the interconnectivity of life.” The Dalai Lama sees that only through the perception of universal oneness and practice of unconditional compassion can violence and greed be replaced by peace, justice and the care of the creation.  Only through love will humanity survive.

Thich Nhat Hanh and Bill McKibben have said that we need not only King’s ends but also his means.  We need to see ourselves as part of a nonviolent movement of love, dedicating our resources and entire lives to it, because we are fighting for our survival, and nothing less will accomplish the revolution of values we need.

There are three ingredients that every child or culture needs in order to move to a new developmental stage of consciousness.  Each of us can find our place in the movement in one or more of these three dimensions.

The first is that the old ways must be challenged and resisted.  Some of us will feel called to put our bodies on the line and raise our voices to protest the wrongs being done.  Nonviolent civil disobedience needs to be seen as a sacrament, or at the very least, as the Rev. Jim Antal says, a normal part of church life.  At times we will need everyone to join the resistance.

The second ingredient offers support for the new, more mature way of being.  It includes models that show what the new way of life looks like.  Some of us will feel called to increase our community’s practical oneness and love of neighbor and care of creation, or to build working models of a sustainable, resilient local economy.  Again, we all can participate at times in this joyful economy of grace.

The third dimension is to give expression to the new consciousness through words, music and all forms of art, through teaching and story-telling, opening people’s minds to see epiphanies of God’s dream already manifest in our lives and around the world.  Some of us will feel more called to this than others, but everyone can share their evolving vision or a poem or film or other work of art that captures it with a family member, neighbor or friend.

We each can find our place in this one movement that opposes racism, materialism, militarism and all the other -isms that threaten our future, this one movement supporting all social justice and environmental causes, this one movement of oneness and love.

We each have a place in this movement for the simple reason that we were created to fulfill the dream of the living Spirit of the universe that created us.  We need to come to see our every act of compassion and love, resistance and creativity as being an intentional contribution to this nonviolent movement to transform the world.  We need to thank those around us for doing their part, and encourage them by letting our part be known.

Will we succeed in changing the consciousness of humanity in time?  If we join together and commit everything we have to serve this cause, miracles can happen, because this is God’s dream and intended goal.  Life has been evolving for three billion years and humanity for two hundred thousand years toward this next great leap of evolution.  The greatest force in the universe is moving in us, the force that evolved the human thumb and inner ear and gave birth to human consciousness, the force that is in the will of every cell and organism and creature to survive and evolve.  It knows we are endangered, it knows the developmental step we must take, it has led humanity to the needed path, and we can see around the world more and more people moving along that path toward this new consciousness of oneness.  Social scientists and researchers are documenting this movement as it grows.

But will we succeed in evolving in time?

We cannot know, but we do know this: serving God’s dream gives our lives their greatest meaning and purpose, and how can we not give our all when our children need us and are begging us to do this so they can survive?  How can we not give our all when we could help make the dream of all ages come true in our time?

I invite you to turn to your innermost heart where spiritual transformations take place, and make clear your willingness to serve God’s dream and to live out your own life dream, however the Spirit may lead you in the days ahead.  Let us pray in silence…

…And now, what is the Spirit asking you to do?

Photo: The choir singing a freedom song on Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday 2020.

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