A couple of weekends ago, the local NPR station played Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech a week early due to the fact that Barak Obama's inauguration would consume airwaves on the actual MLK Day.
Certainly a lot has happened since King's speech was delivered on that sunny August day in 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. He spoke of dreams of freedom as well as equality arising from a land of slavery and hatred.
But as I've listened to folks around the country, and as I tried to list those achievements in the dash between King's speech and the second inauguration of our first African-American president, it seemed each was met with a caveat, and I've found myself, like many others, split between the camps of "What changes!" and "What changes?"
For me, this is more than a cerebral debate. When my 4-year-old niece is told she can't go down a particular slide at the playground because "it's not for people with black skin," I can't help but react with righteous anger and deep, deep sadness: anger for the millions who have been told "no" simply because of the color of their skin; and sadness for my niece and her family who, like many people of color, have begun the journey of the "first of many."
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
It's easy to give up and fall into the deep clenches of cynicism. It would be easier to lower our eyes than stare injustice in the face and be slapped by the reality of the world in which we live. But as a person of faith, how do we move from the shore of cynicism to wade in the waters of hope?
A good friend recently told me that her favorite speech was King's last before he was assassinated. Prophetic and bold, King's "Mountaintop" speech reminds me of the prophet Moses, who led his people out of enslavement from Egypt right to the edge of the Promise Land, but was prevented from entering into the land itself.
King spoke, "Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind... I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land ... Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."
We, AS A PEOPLE, will get to the Promised Land.
Jesus entered our earth as the person of God turning expectations of who a king, a Messiah would be, on its head from the very beginning of his ministry. Our God lived a very radical life of radical love: He touched untouchables; he embraced the morally decrepit; he blessed his enemies.
When the church is at its best, it is literally the body of Christ on this earth. We, as a people, become Christ's body.
There are times as the body of Christ we are called to stand at the foot of the cross and proclaim a radical love, a love that threw John in prison and had Jesus crucified. And it can be truly scary work.
But as the hands and feet of Christ and in grateful response for the love of a God who gave his own life for ours, it is our call to proclaim a gospel of love: to speak of love against hate, to spread open our arms instead of shutting our doors, to stand with the oppressed instead of walking by with eyes cast down, to tell our young people of color that they are beautifully and wonderfully named and called "Beloved."
When the body of Christ stands with the marginalized, we are participants in Jesus' reconciling love in this world. We silence those voices of cynicism by becoming emboldened to a God who has given us hope in a resurrection and a promised return--of a God who not only loves us, but has stood with the suffering. By a God who taught us to pray "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
Walking and working as the Body of Christ, we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.
The Rev. Tricia Dillon Thomas, is pastor to youth and families at Peace Presbyterian Church, 10902 Technology Terrace, Lakewood Ranch.