Sermon 190120 - Witness to the Word

There is no audio file of today's sermon, by REv, David Wilson.  Here is a transcript:

One can imagine the diversity that is present among the 573 Tribes, Nations, and villages in this country.  There are many who treat this large number as we do Hispanic, Latino and Asian people. We try to lump everyone into one broad category without realizing how different we all are in this world.

            So as I help to educate people in different places about who we are, I remind folks that these 573 tribes each have their own language, culture, traditions and way of life. There is not a whole lot that we can say all of us have in common as indigenous peoples.

            As I have traveled among all of the 39 tribes in Oklahoma and among many in this country and around the world, I have observed there are three basic threads that connect all indigenous peoples. That is our understanding of the importance of community, relationship and hospitality. The three of these help us to stay connected. They remind us of the responsibility to take care of Mother Earth and that we are connected in such a way that we cannot but help to do what we can for all of God’s creation.

            As we reflect on the observance of Human Relations Sunday and upon the celebration of Dr. King’s birthday next week, I find that this theme is also included in what we attempt to do in the life of the Church.

            This day the church emphasizes the call of the Church “to recognize the right of all God’s children in realizing their potential as human beings in relationship with each other.” So we are assembled here as people of God in what the Rev. Mary Council Austin, former staff from the General Board of Church and Society would call, “a tossed salad,” She referenced that many call this country “a melting pot,” which assumes that we all seek to be alike. Yet, a tossed salad reminds us of the gifts that we bring from our lives and cultures to share with one another while remaining our own selves.”

            The Apostle Paul shared that same theme in the reading for today. What connects us today is not just our lives, but our relationship through Christ; one body that was made to drink from one Spirit.  This is a great passage for this Human Relations Day! Listen to these words used in Eugene Peterson’s Translation of The Message:


      The way God designed our body is a model for understanding our lives together as a church; every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t. if one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.”


These are powerful reminders that we are all in this together! Many think that the march on Washington in 1963 was only for African Americans. However, Dr. King touched and inspired many to fight harder for justice and inclusion in this country for all.

Dr King early on knew the plight of Native American people in this country. He knew the situation of the tribal people here was similar to what racial African American were facing in this country during this period. In his 1963 book “Why we can’t wait,” he wrote,


“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles of racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or to feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.”



At the same time of this event in this country. the Poarch Band of Creek Indians were trying to completely desegregate schools in their area.  In this case, light-complected Native children were allowed to ride school buses to previously all white schools, while dark-skinned Indian children from the same band were barred from riding the same buses.

Tribal leaders, upon hearing of King’s desegregation campaign in Birmingham, Ala., contacted him for assistance. He promptly responded and through his intervention the problem was quickly resolved.          

Also, little known is that in the 1963 March on Washington there was a sizable Native American contingent, including many from South Dakota. Moreover, the civil rights movement inspired the Native American rights movement of the 1960s and many of its leaders. In fact, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) was patterned after the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund.


Dr. King said, ““It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”



            In 1851 the Suquamish and other Indian tribes around Washington's Puget Sound were faced with a proposed treaty which in part persuaded them to sell two million acres of land for $150,000. Chief Seattle was a very spiritual and articulate man. Scholar’s debate about which parts of this speech were his and which parts was added by a writer at a later date. However, if he gave a speech on that occasion, it might well have sounded like this:

For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.

You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin.

Teach your children what we have taught our children that the earth is our mother.

Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.

This we know: The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know.

All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.

Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth.

Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it.

Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny.

We may be brothers after all.

Chief Seattle would have understood the words of the Apostle Paul from the words that we heard earlier, 2 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

            My sisters and brothers, this world is not about ourselves. It is about the entire community, the relationship that we have through the body of Christ, to be lived out in a manner that does justice to the world and peoples that Creator God has placed together, not to live in isolation, but to share the world.

            In a speech in Memphis, Tennessee, March 31, 1968, Dr. King said, The world is changing and anyone who thinks he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution ... We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools ... Racial injustice is still the black man's burden and the white man's shame ... The government must certainly share the guilt, the individual must share the guilt and even the church must share the guilt. 

            So where do we go from here? What is our task today and for the days to come? We are in an overwhelming time in this country where the racial divide seems to grow wider and wider.

This was indeed a busy weekend for Washington D.C. Three marches in three days; We arrived in Washington on Thursday to participate in the Indigenous Peoples Day March on Friday. Several thousand indigenous people from around the world gathered to march to draw attention to issues that are plaguing indigenous peoples around the world.  It was a beautiful sight to see the tribal regalia worn by so many tribes. It was beautiful to hear the beautiful songs that were sung and to gather support by many around the world.

But as the March was moving along, A crowd of teenagers surrounded a Native American elder, Nathan Philips from Omaha, NE. M       Mnmmmmn ,, and other activists and mocked them after Friday's Indigenous Peoples March at the Lincoln Memorial.

Videos of the confrontation show a smiling young man in a red Make America Great Again hat standing directly in front of the man, who was playing a drum and chanting. Other kids could be seen laughing, jumping around and making fun of the chants. The video quickly went viral and people responded quickly, condemning the act.  The veteran kept on singing his native hymn while playing the drum until finally a chaperone came and took the boys away.  The Catholic  school where the boys attended quickly condemned the act and the Catholic Church has already made connections with the organizers of the March including funds to help educate others about racism and issues that Native people face each day.

This horrible incident reminded our Native communities and I think the country that indeed we have a long way to go towards justice and respect for one another.  And unfortunately for many of us here, incidents like these are just another day in our lives.  It reminds us that there is much work to do!

How can we live our lives to help the world understand this connected nature of the world that Chief Seattle, Dr. King and so many sacrificed their lives? 

Perhaps the greater question we should ask ourselves today is “What difference can I make, what difference can you make for this world?” "There are those that will ask, why is this my problem?

A blog that I found by Mark and Angel  Hack Life helped me to see that this belief that young people can't make a difference is believed by young people everywhere. Mark and Angel write inspirational blogs on how to stay inspired and make a difference through personal and interpersonal relationships.  Marc wrote,

Today, as I was relaxing at the beach, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on a conversation four high school kids were having on the beach blanket next to me. Their conversation was about making a positive difference in the world. And it went something like this…

“It’s impossible to make a difference unless you’re a huge corporation or someone with lots of money and power,” one of them said.

“Yeah man,” another replied. “My mom keeps telling me to move mountains – to speak up and stand up for what I believe. But what I say and do doesn’t even get noticed. I just keep answering to ‘the man’ and then I get slapped back in place by him when I step out of line.”

“Repression…” another snickered.

I smiled because I knew exactly how they felt. When I was their age, I was certain I was being repressed and couldn’t possibly make a difference in this world. And I actually almost got expelled from school once because I openly expressed how repressed I felt in the middle of the principals’ office.

Suddenly, one of the kids noticed me eavesdropping and smiling. He sat up, looked at me and said, “What? Do you disagree?” Then as he waited for a response, the other three kids turned around too.

Rather than arguing with them, I took an old receipt out of my wallet, ripped it into four pieces, and wrote a different word on each piece. Then I crumbled the pieces into little paper balls and handed a different piece to each one of them.

“Look at the word on the paper I just gave you and don’t show it to anyone else.” The kids looked at the single word I had handed each of them and appeared confused. “You have two choices,” I told them. “If your word inspired you to make a difference in this world, then hold onto it. If not, give it back to me so I can recycle the paper.” They all returned their words.

I scooted over, sat down on the sand next to their beach blanket and laid out the four words that the students had returned to me so that the words combined to form the simple sentence, “I have a dream.”

“Dude, that’s Martin Luther King Jr.,” one of the kids said.

“How did you know that?” I asked.

“Everyone knows Martin Luther King Jr.” the kid snarled. “He has his own national holiday, and we all had to memorize his speech in school a few years ago.”

“Why do you think your teachers had you memorize his speech?” I asked

“I don’t really care!” the kid replied. His three friends shook their heads in agreement. “What does this have to do with us and our situation?”

“Your teachers asked you to memorize those words, just like thousands of teachers around the world have asked students to memorize those words, because they have inspired millions of repressed people to dream of a better world and take action to make their dreams come true. Do you see where I’m going with this?”

“Man, I know exactly what you’re trying to do and it’s not going to work, alright?” the fourth kid said, who hadn’t spoken a word until now. “We’re not going to get all inspired and emotional about something some dude said thirty years ago. Our world is different now. And it’s more screwed up than any us can even begin to imagine, and there’s little you or I can do about it. We’re too small, we’re nobody.”

I smiled again because I once believed and used to say similar things.  Then, after holding the smile for a few seconds, I said, “On their own, ‘I’ or ‘have’ or ‘a’ or ‘dream’ are just words.  Not very compelling or inspiring.  But when you put them together in a certain order, they create a phrase that has been powerful enough to move millions of people to take positive action—action that changed laws, perceptions, and lives.  You don’t need to be inspired or emotional to agree with this, do you?”

The four kids just shrugged, but they struggled to appear totally indifferent, so I could tell they were listening intently.  “And what’s true for words is also true for people,” I continued.  “One person without help from anyone else can’t do much to make a sizable difference in this crazy world—or to overcome all of the various forms of repression that exist today.  But when people get together and unite to form something more powerful and meaningful than themselves, the possibilities are endless

Together is how mountains are moved.  Together is how small people create massive, life-changing results.”

Phillips also said he is still “trying to process what happened” after the incident and is “feeling a little bit overwhelmed.”

“That energy could be turned into feeding the people, cleaning up our communities and figuring out what else we can do,” Phillips continued. “We need the young people to be doing that instead of saying: ‘These guys are our enemies.’ ”


May we remember the words of a speech given before a group of young students in Philadelphia in October of 1967 as we leave today to go out into the world to move mountains together:

“Be a bush if you can't be a tree. If you can't be a highway, just be a trail. If you can't be a sun, be a star. For it isn't by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.” 



“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”

Martin Luther King Jr.


Contemporary Reading - excerpt from "A Christmas Sermon on Peace" by Martin Luther King, Jr., December 24, 1967

I Corinthians 12:12-26 - The church as one body