1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Today is Human Relations Day, celebrated by the United Methodist Church in congregations all over the world. It is usually celebrated on the Sunday closest to the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, in recognition of all he achieved in terms of Civil Rights.

Dr. King is widely credited with leading the Civil Rights Movement, and he certainly did a lot, including sacrificing his own life. But Dr. King didn’t act alone. Recently our Wednesday morning book group read a book by David Brooks called The Road to Character in which A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin were discussed. They were two men who were important associates of Dr. King, and who had achieved much in their own ways.

Randolph was described as formal, dignified, and impossible to humiliate. He was known for his moral integrity, his charisma, and the example he set. He was a union organizer, and had formed the March on Washington Committee in 1941 to get the right for black Americans to work in the huge defense industry that was forming in response to the war, and also for the right to fight for the country. His work was so significant that then president Roosevelt invited him to a meeting at the white house. Randolph succeeded in getting an executive order from the president to allow black people to work in the defense plants. Randolph was also a champion of nonviolent resistance in the 1940s and 50s as a way to advance the civil rights cause. He was a student of Gandhi, and helped form the League of Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation in 1948. He was a man of impeccable character.

In contrast to Randolph, Bayard Rustin had a troubled childhood, and was raised by his grandparents. His grandmother was a Quaker, and taught him the importance of being calm, having dignity, and being in control of oneself. She took him to Bible camp where he learned about the Exodus of the Hebrew people who had been freed from slavery. He volunteered to help Randolph with the original March on Washington efforts. A pacifist, he went to jail in 1943 for noncooperation with the draft. But sometimes, in spite of his grandmother’s teaching, he could be arrogant and angry. He was also not restrained in his sexual behavior, and some in the civil rights movement wanted him out, afraid that any scandal surrounding him would taint the movement. But others saw his value to the movement. He was supposed to be the official director of Dr. King’s March on Washington, but some were afraid of his reputation. Here is where the very moral, very restrained Randolph stepped forward, offering to be the director, and appointing Rustin as his deputy, allowing Rustin to be the director in all but name. Two very different men, with different skill sets, working together for an important cause.

And there were others. I have mentioned the book David and Goliath before. It tells the story of Fred Shuttlesworth, who was a Baptist preacher active in the Civil Rights movement. In 1956 he had announced that he would be riding the buses in defiance of segregation orders. The night before he was to ride, the KKK bombed his home. Remarkably, he was not injured. People begged him not to ride the bus, but ride he did. Sometime later, he enrolled his daughter at an all white school, where an angry crowd met him as he pulled up in his car. There were men with brass knuckles and wooden clubs and chains and a crowd of people screaming “Kill him!” but Shuttlesworth got out of the car. He was beaten, but he checked out of the hospital that same day, and preached forgiveness that night to his congregation. What an astonishing example of how to follow Christ! And here is another one. Once, an arresting officer had struck him, kicked him, called him a monkey, and then asked Shuttlesworth why he didn’t hit him back. Shuttlesworth replied, “Because I love you.”

When Dr. King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, Mahalia Jackson, the great Gospel singer, was a part of the event. But perhaps her most important contribution to the movement that day was not her singing, but her suggestion to Dr. King. As he began his speech, she called out to him “Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!” It was then that Dr. King pushed aside his prepared notes and began to preach. And that is when he delivered his most spellbinding and powerful words. Not many people would stop delivering the speech they had prepared to 300,000 people and wing it because someone else shouted out to do it, but Dr. King trusted Mahalia Jackson. When he would get discouraged and depressed, he would call her and ask her to sing for him. That brought him peace. He trusted her.

So we have a great orator, two wise and experienced colleagues who knew how to help each other, and a famous singer with a gift for inspiring and calming her friend who all collaborated to make the March on Washington in 1963 the amazing and galvanizing event that it was. It took all of them and many more people to make the changes that resulted from that day. It took people with different gifts and different experiences all working together. But they formed the dream team that that led to one of the most significant events in the history of the Civil Rights Movement.

And that is exactly what our scripture today is talking about. God gives us all gifts of the Spirit, and while they are different gifts, they are given by the same Lord, and no one should ignore or denigrate a gift from God. The scripture goes on to say that these gifts are not just for our personal use or enjoyment. They are given for the common good. We need to use them to build up and encourage others; to make the world a better place. Our scripture says that a word of wisdom is given to some. Dr. King was wise in the way he approached the terrible things that were happening and the necessary responses to them. But he relied on the gift of knowledge that others like Rustin and Randolph had. They talked to him about Gandhi. The faith of Fred Shuttlesworth was an example to all of how to maintain dignity and love in the face of violence until the violence was so clearly out of line with reasonable behavior that it could no longer be tolerated by the community at large. And Mahalia Jackson was an example of the gift of healing, calming Dr. King when things were overwhelming, and then acting as a prophet as well, encouraging him to speak the word she knew had come from God. Together, they performed miracles.

You know, it works that way in churches too. I believe that one of the reasons this congregation does so well in reaching out to others in Atascadero and across the world is because of the diversity of gifts that people are willing to share for the common good here. Whenever a big project is before us, there are generous people who are willing to step forward and share the gift of their time, to bake something, to stuff envelopes, to hang rummage, to build furniture, to fix lights, to install organs, to run the video and audio system, to make sure we have coffee and food to fuel our fellowship and our work, to send money to wherever it is needed, and the list goes on and on. There are people who have dreamed dreams – of an endowment fund to support the work of this congregation far into the future, and those who had the original dream of planting a United Methodist Church right here in Atascadero. And there are many behind each of these people, supporting them and encouraging them and inspiring them to go on. You named many of them last week when you filled out the cards about who made a difference in your Spiritual life.

I am so grateful for all that you give in so many ways to the life of this congregation. We have talked off and on for the last several months about some of the ways we might be in ministry in the coming years. We have dreamed about reaching out to the large percentage of children who are living below the poverty line in this community. We have dreams about sponsoring a refugee family as that opportunity becomes available to us. We dreamed about buying a new organ with which to inspire our services as we sing our praises to God, and that dream took us only two weeks to accomplish. We had a dream about making a place for our youth, and thanks to an Eagle Scout project by Alden Gross Giesse, we have a firepit and tree stump seating. We have plans for two of our Girl Scouts, Abi Smith and Justine Johnson Yurchak, to redesign the downstairs classrooms to make a youth lounge. We are reaching out to our community, and developing our church home in order to make it a place where even more people can come to learn about the Word of God and the difference it can make in our own lives and in the world around us. This all happens because so many people are willing to share the gifts that God has given them. You have a card before you again this week. It asks for your visions and hopes for this congregation. What do you hear God calling us to do and be, and what are the gifts that you might have been given, that are a part of building up the common good in this place? I invite you to take a moment to fill those cards out, and if you finish in time, to drop them in the offering plate as it comes around. If you need more time, feel free to hand them to me on your way out.

When we all become aware of the gifts we have been given by a loving God, when we all decide to share those gifts for the common good, no matter how big or small we think those gifts are, together we make up a dream team, and with the grace of God, nothing will be impossible. Dream big. Amen

The Dream Team


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