Go where you are afraid to go. In the middle of the night hearing your name called, walk forward and listen for dreams that startle. Ask the impossible and go to your fears.
Martin Luther King Jr. was the son of a Baptist preacher. All the way, his family had been not only religious, but religious leaders who responded to the call. He was not so eager to answer the call, having many questions about Christianity. At the age of 25 however he became the minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He had answered one call, but there was a greater on just emerging in his life.
I imagine Dr. King had many sleepless nights knowing what would lay before him to pursue this dream. He would risk all those he loved. His home would be bombed. Those he loved would be beaten and some would die. It would cost him his life.
Dreams of a calling are hardly ever peaceful. They rouse us from the slumber of satisfaction in our own lives and call us to the borderlands. These dreams are not the inheritance of heroes and heroines, or singular figures, they are of people, everyday people, who suddenly see a new way forward in the darkness of the night. Dreams come to each of us, the extraordinary pastors in Montgomery, Alabama as well as to the people in the pews.
Imagine Samuel. Sound asleep then he hears his name called. He walks tipsy with slumber still releasing from his eyes. He thinks it must be Eli, his teacher. Three times he is called. Three times he is roused from bed, until at last his teacher tells him to wait, to listen for what dreams may come.
The dreams that come to Samuel are not peaceful. He is told of the destruction of his beloved teacher’s descendants and house. He learns that days are coming that are to be the end of Eli’s sons and his dynasty. An era has ended and Israel is being called back from injustice. Samuel wakes with a start. He is to be the new prophet. His first prophecy will be delivered to Eli.
We are told in rabbinical literature that Samuel is the last of the Hebrew Judges and the first of the Major Prophets. Samuel, not unlike King, found himself in the time between social movements, the most violent time of all and waves collide until a new day breaks and peace is restored. Samuel liked his world of quiet with his teacher Eli. He had no desire to be called forth from his home into the center of the world’s destruction. He had no desire and no need to rise and become a judge in Israel, a job that would make him the most-hated of citizens.
This is not an uncommon story. Martin Luther, for whom in part Martin Luther King Jr is named, was a monk that was all too happy being removed from the world’s impurities and disappointments . His simple cell and his prayers were far more than enough to sustain him. He listened though in his prayers and he knew in his heart he was called to reform this church that had fallen into corruption and was crumbling around him. In the words of the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Luther had to leave the cloister and go back to the world, not because the world in itself was good and holy, but because even the cloister was only a part of the world.”
We all live in cloisters don’t we? It’s a hell of a lot easier to stay where you are comfortable, even for ministers. The dream is not a pleasant experience but a startling call in the middle of night, when it may not at all be convenient, a call to rise. Have you not had that? Have you been listening?
It is all too often the place you fear most that your dreams will call you to. These civil rights movements, these figures of change are larger than life but in fact they were ordinary humans transformed by the extraordinary call. Martin Luther King’s life and those that walked beside him knew the dreams that startled in the night. The dream that children would not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character. They knew dreams meant sacrifice, meant pain, and meant loss before they would be seen in life. They knew they had to move beyond this fear, even beyond the dream.
Martin Luther King wrote that the great challenge in his movement was not those who hated him and opposed civil rights but the moderates and liberals who were too afraid to join him. “ The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear,” writes Gandhi. Go where you are afraid to go. In the middle of the night hearing your name called, walk forward. Listen for dreams that startle. Ask the impossible. Go to your fears.
At last we are stirred by something in the night and thank God we are. You might ask what are my fears?
I am afraid to be the lesbian minister. I am afraid to speak up on behalf of the LBGT community because I am afraid that’s all people will see in me. I prefer to stay in my quiet comfortable world where I am accepted. I prefer to make people feel good. I fear being seen as only one kind of preacher, speaking up for my own rights.
But dreams are stirring. I would bet I am not the only awakened in the night. We are going to have to leave the sanctuary, the cloister, and go outside these walls.
It’s going to make us uncomfortable.
There is an amendment that is going to change our constitution to discriminate. Imagine not being able to visit the one you love in the hospital? Not being able to make decisions for their care? Imagine losing the rights to parent your children? Imagine not knowing what would happen to your healthcare or to your home if your partner dies? Imagine the fear.
It is not just this amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. It is not just this issue. It is every issue, every day when you have to live in fear. It is every face that longs to at last have a dream of a world where you would not be judged by who you love but by how you love. It is not just this amendment. It is the dreams that startle us of youth who are dying because of this fear that institutionalizes prejudice.
I’m tired of being afraid of speaking. I’m tired of my fears. I wonder if you are too.
So we might be vocal. So we will raise our rainbow flag. So some might even think we are the gay church. Well thank God. Let us also be the poor church. Let us also be the church of the pagans. Let us also be a church of the doubters. Let us also be a church of the faithful. Let us be a church of the immigrant, the stranger, and the outcast. This is what church does: we defend the very last outcasts and in so doing put ourselves in the borderlands. And thank God. This is the church that never crumbles. This is the call that never ends. And it’s not just ringing at my home.
“The call goes forth, and is at once followed by the response of obedience. The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus.” Writes Bonhoeffer. Think of it. The disciples did not create a five-point theology when they dropped their nets. Martin Luther King never wrote a creed for the civil rights movement and Martin Luther looked to the active reforms of the church not it’s doctrine. Samuel does not make a confession. He only responds with the simple obedience: "Speak, God for your servant is listening"
We are called: gay and straight, black and white, we are called poor and rich, humble and esteemed, we are called. Speak, speak, speak for we are listening.
Let the people say: Amen.