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Laws and lives have changed, but some hearts have not changed

In honoring the “man God raised up to be our Moses” and addressing today’s political and economic struggles, the Rev. Stephen Thurston, president of the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., challenged people to join in the effort to challenge the pharaohs of today to “Let my people go.”

Stephen Thurston and Happy Watkins
Happy Watkins withthe Rev. Stephen Thurston, speaker MLK Jr. Day Service

He gave the sermon to about 400 gathered for the commemoration service Sunday, Jan. 15, in Spokane.  He also spoke at other Spokane events.

“We pray for these difficult times, with trouble and turmoil all over the land, with inequities still abounding,” he said, pointing out that God raises “us up, as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., so we will fulfill the dream in our everyday commitments in this particular time in history.”

Thurston pointed out Dr. King was wise at an early age.  He earned a doctoral degree before he was called as a young man to Dexter Ave. Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. 

When Rosa Parks, who was tired from working all day, decided not to give up her seat on a bus, Dr. King worked to form a peaceful movement with the pastors to move beyond the inequity of segregation.  African American clergy rallied to support the cry to “let my people go.”

Thurston said that even though Dr. King was the youngest pastor, the other pastors laid on him the mantle to lead the stand against unjust and unfair laws of segregation in Montgomery’s bus system and many southern cities’ separate-but-unequal laws.

Their civil disobedience was the start of the civil rights movement, Thurston said.

“In 2012, the laws and our lives have changed, but many hearts have not yet changed as inequality and unjust laws still pervade in the land we call the land of the free and home of the brave,” he said.  “In 2012, we again see segregation in the heart of many individuals who do not want to let people in the country be free.

“In 2012, we see in the highest levels of government, even within the walls of Congress, that the hatred of segregation and hypocrisy are having a trickle-down effect so they are seen in all 50 states.

“In November 2012, we are on the brink of the most important election for president of the United States,” he said.  “Concern about who sits in the seat goes beyond skin color.  It goes into the color of one’s heart,” Thurston said.  “Choices will affect the direction of the country in the future days.”

Community Choir
Community Choir at the MLK Jr Day Commemoration Service

Thurston said Dr. King used the Bill of Rights as a tool to challenge the morality of the people.  He pointed out that even though the U.S. founding fathers included no individuals of color—black, brown, red or yellow—they shaped the Declaration of Independence, which declares that God made everyone equal and with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Thurston said that Dr. King’s full “I Have a Dream” speech challenges the nation to know their rights in the Bill of Rights. 

“There are not sufficient funds in the vaults of justice in Washington DC., so brothers and sisters, these are difficult times with many checks bouncing in our communities, cities and states,” he said.

While many in the country declare that this is a Christian nation, those speaking loudest claim to be conservative Christians.

“The term ‘conservative Christian’ is an oxymoron,” Thurston asserted. “In light of reading the Bible set on the foundation of a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Bible indicates it’s impossible to be a Christian nation or person and be conservative.

“If we are true to Scripture, the founder of Christianity says if you come after me, you must deny yourself and take up the cross and follow,” he said.

In Christian theology, the commandment is “to love our neighbor as ourselves, to love God with all our heart, mind and soul,” Thurston added.

“Paul wrote in the Epistles that if we say we love God whom we have not seen and do not love our fellow men and women, we are liars and hypocrites,” he continued.

“Dr. King established the civil rights movement on love, which is the ethic of our relationship with God and one another,” Thurston said.  “On that principle, he called for challenging the whole nation until justice runs down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”

Thurston pointed out that Jesus calls people “to love those who hate you; to love those who despitefully use you; to go the extra mile and to give your cloak, too, if someone asks for your coat.”

He said Dr. King repeated that challenge, adding that honoring him is not enough.

“They killed the dreamer but can’t kill the dream.  We have to bring about Dr. King’s dream of freedom,” he said.  “Freedom is not given up by the oppressor but must be demanded by the oppressed.  Darkness does not drive out darkness.  Hate does not drive out hate.  We see that is true in the U.S.  Congress with Republicans against Democrats.”

Dr. King said that when love and light shine in the darkness, a lie can’t survive.

“Change is not inevitable, but takes struggle,” Thurston said.  “We can’t rise unless our backs are bent.  Dr. King left us the tools to change the course of the country and bring the state to God.

Reading from Luke 7:11-13, Thurston said Dr. King was a man like Jesus, who was involved in the lives of the people he met.

“No one Jesus met left the same,” he said.

In Luke, Jesus meets an unnamed widow, who is grieving, on the way to the cemetery to bury her son.

Thurston said Jesus saw her—looking beyond her outer appearance to see her real need.  Someone sitting in the seat of President of the U.S. needs to look beyond people’s appearances to see their real needs, he suggested.

“We need someone to see the needs of millions of people without jobs, millions on welfare because they cannot work and millions who want to work,” Thurston said. 

“The people are not lazy.  Many are people with college degrees who were forced out of their careers,” he said.

“Who do we feed when they are hungry, clothe when they are naked and give a hand to?” he asked.

Thurston said Jesus not only saw the woman but also was sympathetic, something he thinks those in Congress need to be—understanding that those who work hardest are paid the least and understanding that women are still paid less than men for the same work.

Jesus saw the woman, sympathized with her, and said, “Don’t cry any more.”  He put his hand on the coffin, and told her son to get up.  He used his power to give life and suspend death.

“When we put our lives in God’s hands, we are in good hands,” Thurston said.

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