Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, Sermon
Throughout the week we have been inundated with horrific images from another country that does not seem so far away. Haiti has suffered an uncalculated tragedy on a scale that is unimaginable for us here. A conservative estimate was that in Port au Prince alone 40% of all buildings have been destroyed and 70% have been damaged. This is in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Dead bodies are piling up in the streets, there is an extreme shortage of supplies, violent criminals have escaped, the roads are impassable, limited pockets of desperate violence has already been reported, pictures of people buried in rubble to their waste, a government whose own president has no place to sleep at night and the United Nations cannot account for about 100 of its own people on the ground. In the first 48 hours of this disaster it has been chaos and human suffering. I have watched helpless as films of neighbors desperately trying to dig victims out of rubble with their bare hands flash across my computer screen. In two words the coverage of this earthquake have been gut wrenching.
It is hard to believe with all that we have witnessed over this week that merely 40 years ago the prophetic voice of Martin Luther King Jr. attempted to convince unreceptive American audiences that peace and justice for all was our only option because of our interconnectedness with each other. He exhorted us to have solidarity with the human family. King’s exact words were that we are “tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.”
With 24-hour news and instant information over the internet it is now hard to ignore King’s words. Who would deny that in some way we are connected to people half way around the world? We no longer have deniability to hide. We are constantly confronted with the web that ties us to others in our worlds. Look at the tag on your shirt, the car you drive, the computer you use, the fruits you eat and the oil you consume. Everyday we are inescapably tied to countries across the globe and their citizens are tied to use in a myriad of ways, both economic and political. We are no longer ignorant when toys from China are recalled and there is a disruption in oil production the middle east. Even on a more basic level we catch monks being beaten in Burma on iphones, illegal protests in Iran are replayed on youtube and dramatic rescue messages from Haiti on twitter. Whether it is the environment, nuclear proliferation or terrorism we have gained the wisdom that King proclaimed so long ago. We are not alone and our decisions have consequences well outside our borders.
Yet, the other half of King’s message sometimes gets lost in the superficiality of knowing our connectedness over mediums that conjure maudlin or shallow emotional responses to tragedy. King was attempting something deeper than ascent to being connected to others, he believed that we could, we must change the human condition because of our connectedness with all humans.
This is where our struggle today begins. We know of our connection to others, but do we really know these others? This is the challenge while we sit helpless watching tragedy unfold on our television screens. Jesus reminds us that our acceptance of him is based on whether we recognize him in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the one without cloths, the sick and the prisoner. In the book of Matthew he declares the discomforting words, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” The harsh reality of Jesus words are that he does not recognize those who do not recognize the least of these. If we do not know the least of these then we are the one’s cut off from Jesus and rejected. So, we must do more than acknowledge the poor and suffering in our midst and across the human family when they are this week’s cause on the television screen, we must actually get to know them.
Mother Teresa lived amongst the poorest of the poor and dying in Calcutta, India. She believed strongly that in her interaction with them she could see Jesus Christ. On her travels to talk about her organization Missionaries of Charity she once told an audience:
You have to learn how to give, not because you have to give, but because you want to give. I always tell people I don’t want their leftovers. Our poor don’t need your
pity. They don’t need your sympathy. They need your love and compassion.
Mother Teresa claimed that the only way to show this love and compassion was to “know the poor.”
Living an interconnected life is much different than an intellectual assent that all living creatures are connected, it means forging relationships that move us toward freedom and justice. When we have begun on this path we will be able to say with Martin Luther King Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
So, when you have your checkbook out over the next week to give to those poor folks in Haiti you are doing a good thing. Yet, know that this can only be the beginning of a long struggle for justice and freedom that will tie you to their well being. We cannot stand with them without a change of heart toward them in love. It must make us want to reach out beyond our comfortable bubbles to know the poor and suffering in our worlds. Who knows you might find out that you don’t really need to go very far to find Jesus Christ after all. Christ might be huddled in the rubble of Haiti, covered by a blanket on Connecticut Avenue or suffering in silence in our very midst. Let’s take this opportunity to get to know the real Christ this year.
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