Rev. Dr. Ronald E. Braxton, Senior Pastor
Metropolitan AME Church, Washington, DC
Sunday, January 16, 2011, 9 a.m.
Martin Luther King Weekend
Special Guests: President Barack Obama and The First Family of the United States
Scripture Lesson: Isaiah 49: 1-7, “A Light for the Nations” (The Message Bible Translation): 1-3 Listen, far-flung islands, pay attention, faraway people: God put me to work from the day I was born. The moment I entered the world he named me. He gave me speech that would cut and penetrate. He kept his hand on me to protect me. He made me his straight arrow and hid me in his quiver. He said to me, “You’re my dear servant, Israel, through whom I’ll shine.” 4But I said, “I’ve worked for nothing. I’ve nothing to show for a life of hard work. Nevertheless, I’ll let God have the last word. I’ll let him pronounce his verdict.” 5-6 “And now,” God says, this God who took me in hand from the moment of birth to be his servant, To bring Jacob back home to him, to set a reunion for Israel—What an honor for me in God’s eyes! That God should be my strength! He says, “But that’s not a big enough job for my servant—just to recover the tribes of Jacob, merely to round up the strays of Israel. I’m setting you up as a light for the nations so that my salvation becomes global!” 7 God, Redeemer of Israel, The Holy of Israel, says to the despised one, kicked around by the nations, slave labor to the ruling class: “Kings will see, get to their feet—the princes, too—and then fall on their faces in homage because of God, who has faithfully kept his word, The Holy of Israel, who has chosen you.”
From the greatest figures in human history to the most insignificant, God has singled out individuals to reach all men and women of every nation. In the words of Mary Thompson in 1870: “To tell all the world that God is Light; that he who made all nations is not willing one soul should perish, lost in shades of night. Proclaim to every people, tongue, and nation that God, in whom they live and move, is Love…Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace, tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.” I’d like to speak from the theme: “When God Singles You Out”.
Throughout biblical history, there are stories of people who were singled out by God. Noah was singled out, though he was scorned and ridiculed for building an ark on dry land. Abraham and Sarah were singled out in their old age to go out to an uncertain future and start a new life. Queen Esther was singled out to speak a word to the King to save God’s people. And what an awesome challenge it must have been for Mary and Joseph, the parental nurturers of Jesus, to be singled out.
In their work Augustine and His World, Knowles and Penkett point out that Augustine, the African born patriarch of Christianity, struggled between lifestyle and belief early in his life. Ultimately, it became clear that God had singled him out. He writes of that defining moment in his life: “The nub of the problem was to reject my own will and to desire yours…Already my mind was free of the ‘the biting cares’ of place-seeking, of desire for gain, of wallowing in self-indulgence, of scratching the itch of lust. And now I was talking with you, Lord, my God, my radiance, my wealth, and my salvation.” (From The Confessions).
We also have Rosa Parks; an ordinary person who had no idea that God would single her out to be a champion of human rights and social justice.
And then we have Martin Luther King, Jr., with a bright future at Boston University’s School of Theology. He could have easily had a future as a college president, a seminary professor, or a pastor in a major northern, big city pulpit. But in 1954, he accepted the call to return to the south. Charles Marsh writes that civil rights activism was not high on his agenda; rather, he had “his eyes set on denominational fame and fortune, eager to [raise the stature of] the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.” It was not until one evening as Dr. King pondered the call to be the leader of a planned bus boycott and considered the danger to himself and his family that fear stuck him and he sought to get out of the commitment while saving face. At his kitchen table, sipping coffee, he had an encounter with God. King sat at the table, his head buried in his hands, and he prayed: “Lord, I’ve tried to do what’s right. But I confess I’m weak now. I’m losing my courage. I’m afraid. I can’t let the people see me weak like this because then they will start to get weak.” King said he heard the voice of God bidding him: “Stand up…I will be with you…”. Marsh quotes Dr. King as saying, “I heard the voice of Jesus say still to fight on…He promised never to leave me alone…I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced him before.” Dr. King knew in that moment that God had singled him out.
In the expanded scripture text in Isaiah, the prophet lifts up the “second suffering servant” passage. He declares that God has singled out a servant with a local and global mission to challenge all humanity that we are called to a destiny beyond our finiteness, beyond our human pettiness, beyond our personal blindness and smallness, to live life on a much higher plane. Killings and murders, hunger and homelessness, broken lives and broken living, dysfunctional families – they are not in the Master’s plan.
There are at least three salient principles from the scripture that govern when God has singled you out:
1. Understand that you have been in the flow of God’s river from the day you were born. God had a plan for you from the beginning. In verses 1-3 of the scripture text, it is clear: “God put me to work from the day I was born…the moment I entered the world he named me…he gave me speech…he kept his hand on me…he made me his straight arrow. God was making me, molding me equipping me, getting me ready to shine at the moment He would determine and destine.”
Jeremiah said: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you, I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” God has a plan; he has a river flowing and the river knows where it’s going and where it’s going to take you. You may not know it at the time; you may not see it. You might say: “It wasn’t my plan to be a school teacher, or a doctor, a college professor, or lawyer.” God has a plan, and if you follow God’s plan, there is no clue today about your tomorrows.
2. When God singles you out, God will equip you with everything you need, when you need it most. In verses 4-6, the servant realized that, on his own, he had only experienced failure and disaster; he had nothing to show for a life of hard work. But God had equipped him with the necessary gifts and talents. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been sitting at a table with his head in his hands; fearful, downtrodden, dejected, and weak. But God said: “Sit up, get up, stand up, and go.” Mr. President, not only to you but to every one of us here, God says: “Sit up, get up, stand up, and GO.” Go in His power; go in His strength, go in His name. Go tell the world about Jesus. You will get weak and fearful at times, but when God has singled you out, He promises: Morning by morning new mercies, new strength, new blessings, renewed hope. You might not have it when you go to bed at night, but when you wake up in the morning, you will have everything you need.
3. When God singles you out, after all your planning and maneuvering and strategizing; after you’ve dotted every “I” and crossed every “T”: Let God have the last word. In verse 4, the servant is basically saying: “There’s not a whole lot of pay here for what I am doing; I’ve nothing to show for a life of hard work. Nevertheless, I’ll let God have the last word.”
The servant makes it clear in the scripture that the goal is to give God the last word. Feed the hungry, free those in all kinds of bondage so the nations of the world can see the light. When he had become completely worn out and felt that his life had been wasted, the servant understood: God would have the last word. When the message would not resonate to the very ones who would benefit the most, God would have the last word. When his own community turned against him, God would have the last word.
I see a man full of gifts and graces. I see a man full of love and compassion. I see a man giving to the world the best that God had to offer. I see a man whose touch changed lives. I see a man with a word of hope to a torn and dejected world. I see a man born in obscurity. I see a man singled out by God…for the redemption of humankind…nailed in his hands, pierced in his sides, hung on a cross. When they left him on Friday, they THOUGHT they had had the last word. But little did they know that on Sunday morning, God would have the last word.
When you’ve given the best of your service; be not dismayed when men don’t believe you. When you try and fail in your trying, when your hands are sore and scarred from the work you’ve begun, take up your cross, and run quickly to meet Him. He’ll understand and say: “Well done!”*******End
- Sermon Notes: God’s Gift to Metropolitan Church: A Promise of Greater Glory
- Sermon Notes: Born in Debt
- Sermon Notes: When God is the Center of Your Life
- Sermon Notes: A Place of Wholeness and Holiness
- Sermon Notes: Living Life with Bifocal Lenses
Tags: Martin Luther King Day, President Obama Visit, Rev. Ronald E. Braxton