Monday, August 13, 2007

Sermon: August 12

[The Scripture readings for Sunday can be found here.]

Just a week ago I was Gazing at the Green Mountains of Vermont
-enjoying a nice cold beverage
-leisurely, without a care in the world…
-kids playing in the pond, catching frogs
-it is what vacation is all about…

Some R&R, we all need it, even Jesus went away from his ministry to rejuvenate, to get some R&R with friends or up on a mountain…

But as I read this week’s Gospel, I was reminded that Jesus often couches his calls of discipleship in terms that will not gently bring us in, he calls us into action, right now. Jesus said, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet… You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” We must always be aware that our call to discipleship, to follow Jesus, is never meant to be brushed aside until we have time, forgotten about, wait until fall but engaged each and every day of our lives. For sometimes, the Holy Spirit moves us to engage our world right now.

In March 1965, Jonathan Myrick Daniels sat in the chapel at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, MA trying to decide whether or not to heed the call of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who asked clergy, students and others to join him in Selma, Alabama for a march to the state capital in support of his civil rights program. The Magnificat, the Song of Mary, is one of the canticles that is sung or said at the Evening Prayer service.

Jonathan Daniels wrote: “I had come to Evening Prayer as usual that evening, and as usual I was singing the Magnificat with the special love and reverence I have always felt for Mary's glad song… Then it came. "He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things." I knew then that I must go to Selma. The Virgin's song was to grow more and more dear in the weeks ahead.”

Jonathan Daniels and others would travel from Cambridge to Selma. They participated in the march. After returning to the seminary for final exams, Jonathan and some others continued working in Alabama for several months helping with the civil rights movement. They stayed with local families, registered African Americans to vote, protested and marched, and tried to visit local Episcopal Churches. Most saw them as outside agitators and Jonathan and the families with him were often rudely treated at church. Arrested on August 14 during a march in Fort Deposit, Alabama, the group was released on August 20, as he and three others approached a local grocery store, Jonathan was shot and killed by a deputy sheriff in Hayneville, Alabama. His last act was to thrust Ruby Sales, a young African American woman, out of the path of the gunfire that took his life and seriously wounded another civil rights worker.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, "One of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry and career for civil rights was performed by Jonathan Daniels." And Jonathan Daniels was led to the South by the Holy Spirit as he sang the Magnificat early in 1965. I first became acquainted with Jonathan Daniels in an article in a magazine I was reading in college. His life and his faithful witness have always struck me as what God calls all of us to do as disciples of Jesus.

Not that we all should be martyrs in the sense that we need to die to show our faith. But the word martyr, from the Greek means witness and in one sense we are all called to be martyrs. Jonathan understood this and put his life on the line to witness to his faith by helping with the civil rights movement. In the words of T.S. Eliot… “A Christian martyrdom is never an accident, for Saints are not made by accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of man's will to become a Saint, as a man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of men. A martyrdom is always the design of God, for His love of men [and women], to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to His ways. It is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God.” (T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral)

August 14 is the day we remember Jonathan Daniels’s witness in the Episcopal Church. Jonathan shares August 14 with another martyr of the 20th Century, Maximilian Kolbe, a RC priest imprisoned in WW II in Auschwitz. After a man escaped from the death camp, the SS condemned 10 men from the same barrack to be starved. Kolbe took the place of one of those men when he heard the man’s anguish cries about his family. Kolbe died on August 14, 1941.

The man, Franciszek Gajowniczek, and his wife, Helena, survived the war. In 1993, he said, “so long as he had breath in his lungs, he would consider it his duty to tell people about the heroic act of love by Maximilian Kolbe.” In the Chapel of Saints and Martyrs of Our Own Time at Canterbury Cathedral in England, Maximilian Kolbe name appears alongside Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jonathan Daniels. Jonathan and Maximilian were both instruments of God, who helped us see the horrors of oppression and evil that existed in our society. They each saved a life, Ruby & Franciszek, by their actions.

And that is what discipleship is all about, giving life to ourselves and our world by our faithful action. For we are called by Jesus to be ready, to be witnesses to our faith, for as the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” And our witness to our faith is to be people who share heroic acts of love, just like Jesus and Jonathan and Maximilian by living out our Christian faith in our everyday lives.

Let us end, by saying together the prayer for August 14 commemorating the witness of Jonathan Myrick Daniels:

O God of justice and compassion, who put down the proud and the mighty from their place, and lift up the poor and afflicted: We give you thanks for your faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one: who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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