Chair Emeritus Alec Stephens Delivers MLK Homily

Homily for Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend—January 20, 2019
By Alec Stephens for St. Therese Catholic Church

St. Therese, I am honored to speak to you on this King Holiday weekend for the 3rd time starting in 2006.  I spoke to you again in 2014.  Looking back on those previous times, the 2006 address tied into the 50th Anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and a call to service; the 2014 address tied into the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Dr. King receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and the contributions of the women of the movement. 

The Gospel reading today is about the Wedding at Cana.  My short summary of the scripture is that whether Jesus believed it was his time to reveal himself by performing the first of his miracles, Mary did not back off, telling him that indeed his time had come. And Jesus did what Mary called on him to do.  You may recall that after Rosa Parks took her defiant step to not move further to the back of the bus, in meetings that followed, the organizers called upon the young reverend, Martin Luther King, Jr., to be the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  King did not believe he was the one, but like Jesus at the wedding at Cana, stepped up to task. To do what he was called on to do.  For them both, this first step forward was just the beginning of things to come.

I had a desire to speak this year as the racial divide and the disunity and attacks on “the other” have descended to a new low in our country.  While in previous years, I spoke to the accomplishments of the past that were still a part of our present, and of attacks on policies and laws that called us to continue to fight for equality and social justice.  But this is a new time.  Our very foundations are being eroded. 

I thought of how to address you in this period where the chief executive of our nation has demonstrated that only part of our nation needs to be addressed with respect, and how those who are the purveyors of bigotry and violence have seen this as a signal to advance the cause of white nationalism, and white supremacy.  In so doing, I would have taken the easy way out, I would have bought into the idea that when they go low, we meet them where they are and fight them as an enemy.  It has been easy to come up with names to call the man in the White House.  I will not do that, as I realize that I would only be joining in on the vitriol.  I would be advancing nothing. I would only be adding to an already caustic situation.  I am advised that the better course is to stay true to the course of our former First Lady Michelle Obama, “when they go low, we go high.”  It doesn’t mean we stop advancing.  It does mean we are ever mindful of how we advance to leave no one behind.  To bring everyone along.

Today, I want to focus on passages from the first 2 readings:

 From Isaiah, Chapter 62– For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch.

And from 1st Corinthians, Chapter 12– There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.

[Then is listed various gifts individually given through the Spirit as examples: the expression of wisdom; the expression of knowledge; faith; healing by the one Spirit; mighty deeds; prophecy; discernment of spirits; varieties of tongues; interpretation of tongues.]
But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.

As we gather here on January 20th, we have a major part of our government shut down, causing pain to not only 800,000+ federal workers, but to federal contractors and all those whose economic engine is tied to government operations being engaged.  We have people on the southern Border attempting to come to America for the same reason so many came before, demonized as drug dealers and terrorists and “bad dudes”, separating children from their families.  We have the on-going challenge of ensuring that Black Lives Matters and actualizing the premise that in fact, all lives do matter. We have Women marching for dignity and equality and respect as the #MeToo Movement and Time’s Up Movement demand respect and serious change.  We see the rise of racial and religious and homophobic bigotry and violence. We see the need for our church to do the right thing in all ways to root out clergy sexual abuse and end the protection of the powerful over the innocent victims.  We see the efforts to unravel progressive and meaningful change to have a society and country that lives up to the idea of liberty and justice for all.  FOR ALL.  Not limited to status, race religion, national origin, gender, orientation, age, color, disability or any other part of the human condition.

These things are daunting and challenge us all.  It may give us cause to give up, to pull back and just take care of our own, whatever that looks like, but there is a key to help us keep on keeping on.  It is in the core of 2 four letter words:  the first is love, and the second is hope. 

In 1988, Helena and I were attendees to the Democratic Convention to witness Jesse Jackson urge us all to “Keep Hope Alive”.  Twenty years later, a young black man ascended to the Presidency with a key message of Hope.  There is evidence of the triumph of hope around us if we choose to see.  In the face of efforts to suppress voters of color in so many places around the country, out of the 2018 elections, the U.S. House of Representatives and Washington State Legislature has the most diverse representation in history.  While they did not win, a black woman and a black man were their Party’s nominee for Governor in Georgia and Florida, respectively.  Women and People of Color are coming forward to run and people are doing what it takes to show up and vote in record numbers.  We have chosen to get more involved and make our voices heard. 

We cannot downplay what this does for our children.  We honor the young people who are speaking up against gun violence from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to children from Chicago and around the nation.  They are standing up, they are speaking out and they are demanding change.  And I don’t know about you, but I am proud to witness their clarity and their determination to lead us to a better future.   

There is challenge that is before us as we honor Dr. King and his works, and the commitment that underlies the work that continues for us all.  It is of course found in the 2nd great commandment that Jesus preached at the Sermon on the Mount:  To love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

And so, like King we cannot be quiet until vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch.  Or as he said, “Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

We must honor our diversity and include all of us at the table as we all have been given gifts from the spirit to make this a better country and a better world. 

 I share with you 2 of King’s quotes on love and on hope.  For me, they answer why when they go low, we go high.  First on the power of love:

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate… Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Then on the importance of hope:

“If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream.”

I close with these words from a political leader who was a Catholic, Sen. Ted Kennedy, who gives a proper response from those of us still here to carry on: “For all those whose cares have been our concern,

the work goes on,

the cause endures,

the hope still lives,

and the dream shall never die.”

 
 

B

St. Therese, I am honored to speak to you on this King Holiday weekend for the 3rd time starting in 2006.  I spoke to you again in 2014.  Looking back on those previous times, the 2006 address tied into the 50th Anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and a call to service; the 2014 address tied into the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Dr. King receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and the contributions of the women of the movement. 

The Gospel reading today is about the Wedding at Cana.  My short summary of the scripture is that whether Jesus believed it was his time to reveal himself by performing the first of his miracles, Mary did not back off, telling him that indeed his time had come. And Jesus did what Mary called on him to do.  You may recall that after Rosa Parks took her defiant step to not move further to the back of the bus, in meetings that followed, the organizers called upon the young reverend, Martin Luther King, Jr., to be the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  King did not believe he was the one, but like Jesus at the wedding at Cana, stepped up to task. To do what he was called on to do.  For them both, this first step forward was just the beginning of things to come.

I had a desire to speak this year as the racial divide and the disunity and attacks on “the other” have descended to a new low in our country.  While in previous years, I spoke to the accomplishments of the past that were still a part of our present, and of attacks on policies and laws that called us to continue to fight for equality and social justice.  But this is a new time.  Our very foundations are being eroded. 

I thought of how to address you in this period where the chief executive of our nation has demonstrated that only part of our nation needs to be addressed with respect, and how those who are the purveyors of bigotry and violence have seen this as a signal to advance the cause of white nationalism, and white supremacy.  In so doing, I would have taken the easy way out, I would have bought into the idea that when they go low, we meet them where they are and fight them as an enemy.  It has been easy to come up with names to call the man in the White House.  I will not do that, as I realize that I would only be joining in on the vitriol.  I would be advancing nothing. I would only be adding to an already caustic situation.  I am advised that the better course is to stay true to the course of our former First Lady Michelle Obama, “when they go low, we go high.”  It doesn’t mean we stop advancing.  It does mean we are ever mindful of how we advance to leave no one behind.  To bring everyone along.

Today, I want to focus on passages from the first 2 readings:

 From Isaiah, Chapter 62– For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch.

And from 1st Corinthians, Chapter 12– There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.

[Then is listed various gifts individually given through the Spirit as examples: the expression of wisdom; the expression of knowledge; faith; healing by the one Spirit; mighty deeds; prophecy; discernment of spirits; varieties of tongues; interpretation of tongues.]
But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.

As we gather here on January 20th, we have a major part of our government shut down, causing pain to not only 800,000+ federal workers, but to federal contractors and all those whose economic engine is tied to government operations being engaged.  We have people on the southern Border attempting to come to America for the same reason so many came before, demonized as drug dealers and terrorists and “bad dudes”, separating children from their families.  We have the on-going challenge of ensuring that Black Lives Matters and actualizing the premise that in fact, all lives do matter. We have Women marching for dignity and equality and respect as the #MeToo Movement and Time’s Up Movement demand respect and serious change.  We see the rise of racial and religious and homophobic bigotry and violence. We see the need for our church to do the right thing in all ways to root out clergy sexual abuse and end the protection of the powerful over the innocent victims.  We see the efforts to unravel progressive and meaningful change to have a society and country that lives up to the idea of liberty and justice for all.  FOR ALL.  Not limited to status, race religion, national origin, gender, orientation, age, color, disability or any other part of the human condition.

These things are daunting and challenge us all.  It may give us cause to give up, to pull back and just take care of our own, whatever that looks like, but there is a key to help us keep on keeping on.  It is in the core of 2 four letter words:  the first is love, and the second is hope. 

In 1988, Helena and I were attendees to the Democratic Convention to witness Jesse Jackson urge us all to “Keep Hope Alive”.  Twenty years later, a young black man ascended to the Presidency with a key message of Hope.  There is evidence of the triumph of hope around us if we choose to see.  In the face of efforts to suppress voters of color in so many places around the country, out of the 2018 elections, the U.S. House of Representatives and Washington State Legislature has the most diverse representation in history.  While they did not win, a black woman and a black man were their Party’s nominee for Governor in Georgia and Florida, respectively.  Women and People of Color are coming forward to run and people are doing what it takes to show up and vote in record numbers.  We have chosen to get more involved and make our voices heard. 

We cannot downplay what this does for our children.  We honor the young people who are speaking up against gun violence from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to children from Chicago and around the nation.  They are standing up, they are speaking out and they are demanding change.  And I don’t know about you, but I am proud to witness their clarity and their determination to lead us to a better future.   

There is challenge that is before us as we honor Dr. King and his works, and the commitment that underlies the work that continues for us all.  It is of course found in the 2nd great commandment that Jesus preached at the Sermon on the Mount:  To love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

And so, like King we cannot be quiet until vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch.  Or as he said, “Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

We must honor our diversity and include all of us at the table as we all have been given gifts from the spirit to make this a better country and a better world. 

 I share with you 2 of King’s quotes on love and on hope.  For me, they answer why when they go low, we go high.  First on the power of love:

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate… Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Then on the importance of hope:

“If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream.”

I close with these words from a political leader who was a Catholic, Sen. Ted Kennedy, who gives a proper response from those of us still here to carry on: “For all those whose cares have been our concern,

the work goes on,

the cause endures,

the hope still lives,

and the dream shall never die.”

 
 

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