It’s a privilege to stand here and reap the benefit of all the blessed history and historicity of this noble place.
I’ve never been accompanied, ushered, to the pulpit before. They usually trust me to get here by myself. But I’m grateful for this assistance.
I’m honored not least of all by having opportunity to share in this service with your distinguished Dean who’s the recepient of so much admiration and so much well deserved.
Now, this is Georgia Day, and the Governor can’t be here since he’s retired. Thank you for “having Georgia on your mind”! I’m told that when the prescribed time has expired, that the organ swells, lights tremble, and people leave. I want you to know I’ve been walked out on before, and I’d hate to see you go. But if I have to choose between you and what the Spirit says ’do’, farewell. No, seriously, I thank you so much for the privilege.
Earlier this year I was on the southern coast of Georgia, in Savannah, and spoke to the Conference of Black Mayors, and that night as I was watching television and falling asleep, something came over the air, some group had selected the one hundred greatest songs of the century just passed. It caught my attention. And they said the number one song, in their opinion, and you may or may not agree with them, but the number one song of the last century as far as they were concerned was, “Over the Rainbow.” Judy Garland. I like the one by Patti LaBelle, too.
The second song, according to this group was “White Christmas,” by old Bing Crosby. And the third song in significance of the past century, they said was “This Land is Your Land and This Land is My Land.” But the fourth song really caught my attention. It was a number done by Aretha Franklin, and it was called “R-E-S-P-E-C-…..” Would you finish it if you know it? See, this is a very astute congregation. It’s an interesting song in the late 60s it came, and caught up in the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, and it lent itself to argument for women’s rights and so forth. And I was impressed by that. That it was in the top four songs of that group that evaluated them.
Let me take a few minutes—fifteen? Sixteen?—and please don’t count.
I have two texts I’d like to share with you as I talk about RESPECT, as a matrix for spirituality. The Old Testament, the Book of Zechariah, fourth chapter, sixth verse where he says, “Not by power, nor by might, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.” Then the New Testament, Jesus speaks through Matthew, twenty-fifth chapter, “For I was hungry and you didn’t feed me; I was thirsty and you did not give me drink; I was a stranger and you turned aside from me; I was naked and you left me so; I was sick and you didn’t minister unto me; I was in prison and you ignored me. I say to you, in response to the query from the Disciples, “When Lord? We would never have done this.” And Jesus responded in the fortieth verse, “I say to you in as much as you didn’t do it unto the least of these, my brethren, you didn’t do it to me.”
Incidentally, this song was written by a Georgian, Otis Reading. RESPE….In more than a half century of ministry I have married many couples, and usually in counseling with them I play a little game, challenge them to choose one word that they’d like to see as sort of a theme, a word, a dynamic, in their relationship. And they usually begin with ’love’ and ’trust’ and that sort of thing. And they’re all good words. But I’m looking for a particular word, and I don’t let them stop playing until they arrive at the word I had in mind, which is ’respect’.
And I’ve concluded in more than a half century of counseling couples, that nothing is more important in that relationship than that they keep a high level of respect for each other, no matter how tempted they may be to lose their temper or say some things that they regret. That if they hold on a decent measure of respect for each other as children of God, so that they can keep their vows. For we are the sons and daughters of God, and none of us has the right to abuse any other of us. The vows are commitment to aid each other in the fulfillment of the promise.
Now, if I could have worked with Otis Reading, I would have had him use the word ’reverence’, instead of ’respect,’ but it didn’t fit. I tried it. “REVERE….”.It didn’t work. And so we’ll have to settle for respect. RESPECT, understanding that it’s anonymous with ’reverence.’ The genesis of self-respect is in knowing who you are. And not letting others define you. No need to debate the identity of Jesus! He defined himself clearly for us in this text. And, in as much as America’s had many defining moments. And I believe that we have an opportunity now to engage in a seriously redefining of ourselves.
Many of those moments, like the Boston Tea Party, the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Bill of Rights, the 1954 Supreme Court Decision, 64-65 Civil Rights/Voting Rights—all defining moments.
I remember during the fiftieth anniversary of Gone with the Wind, that Georgia situation. USA Today called me and said, “Brother Lowery, this is the fiftieth anniversary of Gone with the Wind. How do you feel about it?” And I said, “Frankly, not quite considering it a defining moment, but in Christ we are empowered to define ourselves, be born again, and be like Augustine who when he was born again and gained a new respect for himself and for others, went back into his old neighborhood and ran into a young lady that he had known before he gained this new respect. And she said, “Hi Auggie.” He said, “How are you, my child?”, with all the ecclesiastical pomp he could muster. And she said, “Auggie, Auggie; it’s me; it’s me.” Saint Augustine said, “Yeah, but it’s not me! It’s not the Augustine you knew. There’s a new Augustine on the block. Something has happened to me. I’ve gained a new respect for the Creator and for this creature of his love and his intent.
So we are called, particularly in these moments to open ourselves to the awe and splendor of God’s universe, to hold in reverence the Creator and the created creatures and environment, a new respect as a matrix for spirituality. It empowers us to encounter God in Christ to respect the sacredness of our being, and the sacredness of others. To relate to each other in God’s creation–not for what they can do for us and our agenda, but how they synchronize with our design for who we are and who they are.
As members of the body of Christ, we are called to embody the Divine energy loose in the universe. To deny this embodiment is to abandon the good spouse of spirituality and cohabit with the prostitute of materialism and greed. Such a denial leads us to the production of offsprings with congenital defects of racism and sexism and greed and economic exploitation and addiction to violence, and drugs. Such a denial leads us to a market-place mentality that knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. Spirituality, that is a reverence for the Creator and the created, leads us to become instruments of healing, healing the distortion in our social, economic, and political institutions. Spirituality empowers us to become part and parcel of the solutions, rather than the problems. Lack of spirituality, failure to respect leads to economic elitism and the growing disparities in our world that breed social disruption. Spirituality calls us today to seriously address the disparities between those who have more than they ever need and those who have less than they always need.
The spirituality I’m speaking of is a new level of reverence for life and for the living. It takes us beyond declaring war on the terrorists, to waging fierce battle against the political, social and economic factors that constitute and enrich and fertilize the breeding ground for terrorism.
Make no mistake, there is no justification for the madness that we’ve seen. For respect, reverence for life, provides an opportunity to take the moral high ground as we bring these mad people, these culprits to justice.
In a sense, we’re caught between a war between fear and hope. Fear rides the beast of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Hope seeks the higher ground of creative social interdependence as a vehicle to achieve new dimensions of human relationships. Fear relies solely on war against the terrorists, while hope leads us to battle against that breeding ground. Fear drives us on fangs of vengeance and violence. Hope calls us to the wings of international community, to law and judicial discipline. Fear seeks principally to destroy those who hate us, while hope seeks to build a world with policies and practices that minimize the creation of hostilities that feed hatred. Fear tends to drive us to disparage the premise that it takes a village to raise a child. Hope enables us to understand that the village has been expanded into the whole world which impacts the lives of our children in unprecedented certainty. Fear resists parts of the world we don’t understand. Hope insists that we serve a God that’s got the whole world in his hands. Hope whispers, sometimes shout, that respect, a matrix for spirituality tells us that those who would build bridges across the troubled waters of divisions are strength, as of God’s strength. Fear that resists and resents world communion represents the weakest link. Fear deceives us that we can sustain ourselves as an island of plenty in the midst of a sea of depravation and want. Fear thinks we can lock ourselves in protective prisons of plenty while much of the world is locked in prisons of despair and hopelessness. Hope helps us see that there ’ain’t no hiddin’ place’. That the only true security is not by power, nor by might, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.
The African American experience offers opportunity to embrace a hope that has sustained us through trial and tribulation, and as James Johnson put in “Let every voice and sing”: “with hope unborn had died, we held on to hope,” even when we sing the blues! Now, I know this is not a great familiar place for The Blues, but even when we sing The Blues, we kept the flame of hope burning.
I remember a young man I admired, a little fellow named Jimmy Rushie who sang The Blues with Count Bassie, and he sang, “I may be blue, but I won’t be blue always.” Hope kept springing up even in The Blues. He said, “The sun’s going to shine in my back door someday.” If Blues could keep hope alive, surely we can find hope in those hymns of Zion and those anthems and those songs that have characterized worship and kept us afloat amidst turbulent waters of oppression and turbulence. Fear does not see that hope. Hope helps us to see that there ’ain’t no hiddin’ place’ except in the Spirit of the Lord. Hope leads us to work with the same zeal that we have worked to rescue those who have caught under the falling centers of the hatred and madness among us. That same fervor, that same sense of oneness, hope translates as a realization of a new level of RESPECT—for each other! And that that Spirit must transcend the crisis and permeate the lifestyles and relationships between all of us from this day forward. This is a level of transformation to which we are called in these times.
Fear tends to place contentment in a return to normalcy. Hope leads us to understand that there will never be a return to what we called ’normalcy’. That the new normalcy must be a creature of a transformation that looked towards the new heaven and a new earth and a new relationship and a new fellowship and a new reconciliation between those who wrestle with their differences and distinctions.
Hope, to genuine patriotism reflects a sensitivity that rescues the unemployed with unemployment benefits, that rescues the perishing who have lost their jobs with benefits and health care and job retraining and job recreation.
Fear, sacrifices our liberties, while hope leads us to understand that we must in this moment of crisis, strengthen those liberties, not abandon them that brought us thus far along the way!
God is still in charge, and still on the throne. When we cry “O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain,” and we end it by saying, “Crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”
RESPECT, as a matrix for a new spirituality offers us an opportunity—and a challenge.
I remember, in the story when Benadad charged into the village presided over by Ahab, he had much less military force to meet the challenge, and wanted to give up. But God said, “Hold on”!
Have respect for the God that promises of God, in the presence of God in your midst. Benadad didn’t understand our God. Benadad said their God can’t save them. Their God is a God of the plains, and we’re going to fight them from the hills, and they won’t be able to find the kind of help and strength that they need to overcome the temptations and the oppression. He didn’t understand our God. How God is a God of the hills and a God of the plains. He’s a God of the high. He’s the God of the low. He’s the God of the rich. He’s the God of the poor. He’s the God of the East. He’s the God of the West. He’s the God of the North. He’s the God of the South. He loves all his children! And he calls us to find R-E-S-P-E-C-T for each other as a matrix for a new level of spirituality. So the reign of God can become real.
Let me close by saying that, don’t give up on God. He’s hungry for our escalation of our faith and hope and love in our relationships. We know how it’s going to come out. You don’t have to wonder about him. When don’t know when. We don’t know the how. We don’t know the price. We do know our place ought to be. We know how it’s going to come out.
I was, one Sunday when Wimbledon was being played, Arthur Ash was playing a young fellow, Jimmy Connors. And on a Sunday God gave me a very short sermon that Sunday. As now, and I was going home to see Arthur Ash play Jimmy Conners, and I was pulling for Arthur Ash. Not because he was black. Not totally. Really at the heart and soul, my pulling for Arthur was that he was old and closer to my age than Jimmy Conners. And I was afraid if Arthur didn’t win the day, he might never have another chance. Jimmy Conners was young. As he did, he had many other chances. So I went home and went to pull for Arthur. A couple young girls, Andy Young’s daughter and Randy Blackwell’s daughters visiting my baby daughter, and when my wife was putting dinner on the table I said, “Darling, is it alright if I take my dinner into the den and watch Arthur Ash?” She said, “You told me last week that you were going to have R-E-S-P-E-C-T for our dinner hour.” I said, “Darling, I’m going to start promptly next Sunday! I assure you.” She frowned, but yielded and I took it into the sofa and sat down and watched and Arthur wasn’t doing well. The children sitting there saw I was perspiring. My daughter said, “Dad,…” I said, “Shhhhh, have you no RESPECT for what’s going on here? I’ve got to help Arthur.”
Now, he wasn’t doing well, I tell you. And finally, it became so tense and my daughter said, “Daddy, you’re going to have a heart attack.:” I said, “No, no, I’m no