You Have What the World Needs
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
June 28, 2020 Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Philippians 2:1-8; John 1:1-14
[You can watch a video recording of this sermon at the end of this text and you can see the entire On Line Service by clicking here. This is the third in a series of three teachings on this topic in the June 28th service.]
Jonathan Daniels came from a Bradford, Vermont family and grew up in southern New Hampshire in the 1950s. He was valedictorian at Virginia Military Institute, went on to Harvard for graduate work in English Literature and then switched to Episcopal Divinity School. He answered the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for white clergy to come to Selma, Alabama, and once there he decided to stay and take a leave from seminary.
Daniels was twenty-six. He was working with seventeen-year-old Ruby Sales in a group of black and white Civil Rights activists in a tiny town in Alabama. They were arrested, moved to jail in another town and treated extremely harshly by the police. They were released finally without any transportation.
They were waiting for rides, hungry and thirsty, and four of them went to the only store that would serve blacks as well as whites. Standing in the doorway was a large white man with a shotgun and pistol, an unpaid deputy sheriff. He refused to let them in and then turned his shotgun at Ruby Sales. Jonathan Daniels jumped in and pushed her down and took the full blast of the shotgun at close range. He died instantly.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “One of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry was performed by Jonathan Daniels.”
That is Christ. It is Christ-light shining through a human, it is Christ-love, the source and force that created the earth and all life. It is the Spirit of all nature that we saw in the man Jesus shining through the man Jonathan Daniels. It is as beautiful and meaningful as human life can be. It is the force that has the power to save this world as it saved Ruby Sales.
The Christ in us will throw itself in front of black lives in America so that they are freed and restored to full human dignity and equality. Christ in us will throw itself in front of this earth until humanity stops destroying it.
We see Christ in the compassion and courage of frontline pandemic workers, we see Christ in the love and dedication of the teachers who have been working so hard for their students, we see Christ in a single mother working three jobs to keep her children from going hungry and homeless, we see it in musicians, artists and actors finding ways to serve this time.
We also see Christ looking out through the eyes of a refugee child separated from her family in a chain-link cage. We see Christ sleeping in a doorway on a city street. Christ is hungry, Christ is in prison, Christ is sick. The Christ in Jesus told us this.
A leading social scientist, Walter Truett Anderson, believes that every advanced species in the universe must reach a transition where it recognizes that it is responsible for the future of all life on its particular planet. To own that responsibility we need to change our narrative about who we are—we have to see that we are the universe acting through us. When we brush our teeth, the universe is brushing one of its billions of sets of teeth through us. That Spirit of the universe wants life on earth to flourish. It wants to work through us to help make that happen.
(Quoted by Richard Rohr in his daily meditation, from Walter Truett Anderson, The Next Enlightenment: Integrating East and West in a New Vision of Human Evolution (St. Martin’s Press: 2003), 219–220.)
This view of ourselves aligns with the mystical vision that begins the Gospel of John. It says, “In the beginning was the Word [another name for Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him is life, and the life is the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it…. And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” (John 1:1-4, 14)
Christ is always becoming flesh. It is easy to see Christ in people who are full of that light and love, but “without him not one thing came into being.” The Spirit of life is also in those who stand against the Christ we see in people like Jonathan Daniels and Ruby Sales. Christ is in the deputy who is so full of murderous fear and hate that he said a year later that he would shoot Daniels again if he had the chance.
Gandhi and King based their nonviolent movements on the truth that there was latent goodness in those who were working against them, and that everyone has the potential to turn from greedy, oppressive, destructive ways.
One of the most beautiful stories about this is Graham Greene’s great novel, The Power and the Glory. The main character is known as the whisky priest. He has secretly broken his vow of celibacy and fathered a child with a young parishioner. He serves in an impoverished Central American country that has been taken over by a brutal government that has outlawed religion. Many priests are standing up courageously to defend the rights of the poor and they are being publicly executed. The whisky priest abandons his people and runs for his life.
Yet in the end that weak, cowardly man makes one small choice with the compassionate heart of Christ, and another person sees what he does and is inspired to risk his life to do the same.
We do not have to be perfect to have Christ shine through us, we do not have to be always right or always brave. All God needs is for us to open to the Spirit and try to follow the way of love and light that it lays before us in this moment.
The will of the universe that we call God created us and inspired our evolution over millions of years. All species now alive are depending on human consciousness evolving another step. The one hope for their survival and ours is that we choose to nurture the heart and mind of Christ within us and change the dominant human culture to be ruled by oneness, compassion and love.
Our task is to let our small share of Christ-light shine. Jonathan Daniels did that, and Ruby Sales was inspired by the love and light she saw in him. She followed his path to Episcopal Divinity School and became a public theologian and human rights activist who is still speaking and inspiring thousands of people today.
The world needs the love and light we have to offer. Let us pray in silence, opening our hearts to the Spirit, wordlessly saying yes with our entire being to Christ living in us and working through us…