Pastors uplift appreciation for life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
As host for the celebration service on Martin Luther King Jr.'s 90th birthday, the Rev. Ezra Kinlow of Holy Temple Church of God in Christ said the gathering celebrated what "we are able to appreciate in our lives as a result of King."
The Rev. Walter Kendricks, pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church and president of the Spokane Ministers Fellowship, said King "was a great statesman, an eloquent leader and a civil rights leader.
"He gave his life so we could do something simple: sit on whatever seat we want on a bus, sit at lunch counters, and earn an honest wage for an honest day's work. He did not mind giving his life for the pursuit of justice—not preferential treatment, but justice," said Walter, frustrated that in 2019, people have not figured out how to live together in harmony.
He read from Micah 6:8, "What does the Lord require of you?" and the answer "to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God."
Walter reminded that King said, "Injustice anywhere—in Mexico, Haiti, Africa, Canada or the U.S.—is a threat to justice everywhere."
The Rev. James Watkins of New Hope Baptist introduced the speaker, The Rev. Joe Wittwer, pastor of Life Center Foursquare Church, Spokane's largest church. Two years ago, he heard Joe speak about "gracism" and knew he was reaching across racial lines to be friends with black pastors.
"Forty-five years ago, he was a hippie, but in 1978, he moved to Spokane and became pastor of the small Life Center Church, which has now grown to 5,000 members and has planted churches throughout Spokane," said James, noting that the "elephant in the room" is that Joe is the first Caucasian brother to speak for the celebration service in 35 years.
Preaching on "Keep Moving!" Joe said the Gospel message is about reconciliation.
"God created everyone in God's image, no matter their color, ethnicity, nationality, or language. Black lives matter. White lives matter. Syrian lives matter. El Salvadoran lives matter. God's image is in each of us," he said.
God made people to relate to God and to each other.
At the end of the Bible in Revelations is the image of coming before "a great multitude of people from every nation, tribe, people and language."
For Joe, that's King's image of "the beloved community," everyone made in God's image and in the end, everyone worshiping God together.
In between, people fall and fight.
"Jesus came to reconcile us with God and each other. There's a spiritual and a social wing to the Gospel," Joe said. "If we follow Jesus, Jesus leads us back to God and to each other—to love God and our neighbor.
"In the civil rights movement, we are to keep moving to the kingdom, reconciliation and justice," he said. "In the last 50 years, we made progress, but have a long way to go. We need to keep moving so we do not get stuck. King said the arc of the moral universe is bending toward justice."
"That quote is misunderstood," Joe said. "King was not a fatalist, because the arc bending wouldn't happen without people working for justice. If we live in a universe of chaos and chance, there is no arc, but if we work, God bends the arc. God is just. Don't give up. Keep moving forward."
Joe said people are to keep moving toward the other, because God's great commandment is to "love God" and "love our neighbor as ourselves."
"What is love?" Joe asked. "It is doing what is best for the other, no matter what it costs you, just as God gave his son because God loved us."
When Jesus said to love enemies, he was not talking about a feeling or emotion, but doing what's best for the enemies, Joe said.
Then he reflected on the Good Samaritan story in answer to a man asking, "Who is my neighbor?" A Jewish man was robbed, but a priest walked by and a Levite, a priest's assistant, walked by, but a Samaritan, the enemy, bandaged him and took him to a room to be cared for. Jews and Samaritans hated each other. A Samaritan came and cared for a Jew, a stranger, a foreigner, an enemy.
"Jesus twisted the man's question, saying it's more important to move toward the other, to be the neighbor rather than to define 'neighbor.' Keep moving toward the person who is different."
Twenty years ago, even though he came to Martin Luther King Jr. services, Joe said he had no friends of color.
"I lived in a white bubble. I realized I was impoverished. I invited Rodney McAuley to lunch and said, 'I'm a white boy living in a white bubble.' I asked him to be my friend. I said I did not know what it was like to be a black man in Spokane. We are still friends, and he is a super networker. He has connected me, so now I have many friends of color. That has changed me.
"I had no idea what prejudice felt like. I had not woken up wondering how I would fit in the white dominant culture. I'm the beneficiary of white privilege," said Joe, who has talked with pastors in his denomination about white privilege and made some mad.
Along with making friends, he has educated himself by reading books, such as King's sermons in The Gift of Love, and King's letter from the Birmingham jail to white ministers.
"Reconciliation starts here in moving toward people. It starts with relationships and friends, but it does not end with relationships. The beloved community does not start until we love each other," he said.
"There's a spiritual battle around racial issues that keeps us in bubbles, distrusting, suspicious and hating. We as followers of Jesus need to rise up and say this should not happen."
Joe then moved to his second point that "we need to keep moving beyond anger to love."
When Jesus was going to Jerusalem, James and John tried to find hospitality in a Samaritan village, but were turned down. They asked if they should use their power to destroy the village.
Joe identifies with their anger.
After preaching on Christmas Eve about Jesus as a baby being a refugee fleeing violence, Jesus being a dreamer, and understanding what people on the border felt fleeing for their lives, he had a phone call from someone angered that he connected Jesus' birth with what was happening in the world.
"I was ready to give him a piece of my mind, but anger never made anyone smarter," Joe said. "Jesus did not come to destroy but to save. Jesus did not retaliate when the village turned him away, but went on to the next village. Sometimes we need to be big enough to move on. Being offended is a national sport. We need to keep moving beyond anger to love if we want reconciliation and justice. We can't get stuck at anger about the lack of justice.
"Anger may help us change a law, but anger does not change hearts. Only love can bring us together," Joe said.
He then told of Bob Goff, a lawyer, going to Uganda and learning that witch doctors kidnapped and killed children as sacrifices. He eventually found a survivor to testify against one witch doctor. He found a judge who would try and sentence him to life in a prison, joining more than 2,000 prisoners crammed in space meant for 200.
Bob brought the survivor to the U.S. for surgery that healed him, but God called Bob to love the witch doctor—the enemy. Bob visited him in prison, shared the gospel and the man became a follower of Jesus, spreading the gospel and love of Christ in the prison.
"Love did something anger could not do. Only love can change a heart," Joe said. "Bob continued to crusade among witch doctors, inviting them to learn to read and write. The books were the Bible and Bob's own book, Love Does."
In a sermon on loving enemies, King said there would be no permanent solution to the crisis in race relations until people of different races learn to love each other. He recognized it might be ideal, not practical, but "we have followed the practical way and it has led to confusion and chaos, but we are not to abandon righteous efforts.
"To rid the nation of segregation and racism, we are obligated to love. We may abhor segregation, but are to love the segregationist," Joe said.
He repeated, "We are to move beyond hate to love. We need to be willing to do what is best for the other despite the cost to us. Love will lead us to the beloved community."
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, February, 2019