Sermon for Sunday January 20th

It’s a song I first learned about 50 years ago now, when I was going to church youth events and summer camps as a young kid.  It’s probably the very same song they still sing today at Boy Scout or Girl Scout camps, at YMCA camps, and day camps, and drama camps, and church camps, and choir camps… in other words, wherever a group of kids comes together, and someone needs to get them all focused and pointed in the same direction.  I know that there are slightly different versions of this song, but the one I learned goes like this:

Black socks, they never get dirty,

The longer you wear them, the blacker they get.

Some day I’ll probably launder them,

Something keeps telling me, “Don’t do it yet.”

Not yet… not yet… not yet… not yet.

It was a wedding feast in the nearby village of Cana, in Galilee.  It must have been an old family friend, because both Jesus and his mother were there, along with Jesus’ disciples.  You all know the story… in the middle of the reception the party teetered on the brink of collapse, as Mary overheard the chief wine steward whisper to the bridegroom that, due to some unfortunate miscalculations by the catering staff, they had just finished off the last of the wine… and they hadn’t even gotten to the cake cutting celebration yet.  And so, Mary – always in the background, but never far from the center of the action, it seemed – leaned over to her son to break the bad news to him.  And as the text tells us: “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”

Black socks, they never get dirty,

The longer you wear them, the blacker they get.

Some day I’ll probably launder them,

Something keeps telling me, “Don’t do it yet.”

Not yet… not yet… not yet… not yet.

This is Martin Luther King weekend, as we commemorate the life, and work, and witness, and legacy of the man who truly changed the American landscape, and who would have celebrated his 90th birthday last Tuesday, had he not been assassinated on April 4, 1968 at the age of 39. I had just celebrated my 11th birthday less than a week before Dr. King was gunned down in Memphis, TN, and so – as a young boy growing up in a small town in Montana – I didn’t follow him, and the whole Civil Rights Movement, as closely as some of you might have.  But I do remember in the days and months leading up to his assassination, as the garbage strikes in Memphis, and the riots in Detroit and Chicago and Newark and Watts, and the march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama all filled the nightly news, that talk of Dr. King and his message and his methods filled our dinnertime conversations.

Those conversations were not always pleasant or particularly comfortable.  I certainly didn’t like to think of my parents as being racists.  But they most definitely were products of their generation.  And with the Vietnam War raging half a world away and support back here in the States slipping each day; and with life as everyone knew it here in the U.S. being turned upside down by the Women’s Liberation Movement, and Woodstock, and the drug-culture of the 1960s, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and two Kennedy assassinations; and with even an institution so seemingly unmovable as the Roman Catholic Church being tossed into upheaval by the actions of the Second Vatican Council – amidst all of this change which was rocking everyone’s world, I can remember talking about Dr. King at the dinner table in my family kitchen… and I can remember my mom being a little scared by everything she was witnessing going on around her… and I can remember her saying that, while she agreed that change needed to take place, couldn’t Dr. King just go a little bit more slowly?  “There would be time for all of this change to come about,” she would say… “but not yet.”

Black socks, they never get dirty,

The longer you wear them, the blacker they get.

Some day I’ll probably launder them,

Something keeps telling me, “Don’t do it yet.”

Not yet… not yet… not yet… not yet.

One might hope that we, as a society, have moved forward somewhat since 1968. I am pleased to say that I truly believe that my mother has. But I must also be honest with you and say that two times in the last 10 days I have had conversations with people here at the Church of Our Saviour… people of color here in our congregation… who have shared with me stories of the same kind of bigotry, the same kind of racism, still being directed toward them… by other members of this congregation. There may be some folks here who still wish this church could stay a white upper-middle class enclave, living in a bubble like it was back in the old days, where “only people of a certain type” might gather here to worship. “Sure,” they say, “we know the world around us is changing… but couldn’t we just stay the way we used to be? Perhaps sometime down the road, the Church of Our Saviour might be more representative of the world around us… but just not yet.”

Black socks, they never get dirty,

The longer you wear them, the blacker they get.

Some day I’ll probably launder them,

Something keeps telling me, “Don’t do it yet.”

Not yet… not yet… not yet… not yet.

We live in a world – as we seem to have for at least 2000 years now – where “not yet” is the mantra of the day, the excuse for leaving things the same just a little longer, the rationale for allowing social or cultural or personal inertia to keep us from making any substantive change in our lives, or in the life of our church, or in the life of the world around us.  But there are heroes in our midst… heroes like Martin Luther King, who refused to take “not yet” as a sufficient reason for sitting back and allowing oppression to continue… heroes like Mary, the mother of our Lord, who refused to take “not yet” from Jesus himself as enough of a reason to deny the participants at a wedding feast the chance to celebrate.

“Not yet.”  It seems like such a simple little thing to say… not really “Yes”, and not really “No”… it’s the perfect, middle-ground, non-committal answer, when you don’t want to have to come down on any one side of a particular issue.

“How do you think we are going to work our way out of this month-long government shut-down, or the week-long LA teachers’ strike, when neither side seems to be able to budge?” “Well, I haven’t really made up my mind yet… not yet.”

“Are you prepared to make the necessary lifestyle changes which your doctor recommends – to eat less, or to drink less, or to exercise more – so that you can add (as the commercials tell us) not only years to your life, but life to your years?”  “Well, I’m not quite ready to make that kind of commitment in my life... not yet.”

“Are you ready – as an individual, or as a part of the wider community – to hold yourself and your neighbors accountable to stop actively destroying the environment, by way of global warming or habitat destruction or resource depletion, before it’s too late and we can’t undo the damage we are doing?”  “Well, I’m not sure I’m quite ready to make those kinds of changes which I am being asked to consider… not yet.”

“Are you set to take your relationship with God to the next level; by committing yourself to a discipline; or a pattern of prayer and reflection; or a re-prioritization of how you spend your time, or your energy, or your money, so that you can more closely align your actions with what you believe to be God’s priorities?” “I guess I’m not sure now is the time to make that next big step… not yet”

“Are you ready to cast your lot in some new way here at the Church of Our Saviour during this period of transition in our life as a community, knowing that the work will be hard, and the road ahead uncertain, and the outcome far from clear?” “I just don’t think I have the time or the heart for it right now… not yet.”

Black socks, they never get dirty,

The longer you wear them, the blacker they get.

Some day I’ll probably launder them,

Something keeps telling me, “Don’t do it yet.”

Not yet… not yet… not yet… not yet.

“Not yet.” It’s the procrastinator’s solution for putting things off for another day.  “Not yet.” It is the fearful person’s explanation for avoiding change that might upset the status quo. “Not yet.” It’s the obstructionist’s way to thwart progress without ever having to take full responsibility for doing so. “Not yet.” It seems like a fairly harmless answer… until you realize that those two little words can sometimes stop the kingdom of God from moving forward.

So where are the “Not yet’s” in your life?  Where are you the one saying
“Not yet,” and where are others saying “Not yet” to you? 

You know… there is a solution – one which both Martin Luther King and Mary found, when people said “Not yet” to them.  They simply weren’t willing to accept “Not yet’ as an answer.  We may not always get the answers we want in life, but a definite “Yes” or a definite “No” is always easier to deal with rather than an ambiguous “Not yet.”  And so Dr. King and Mary, the mother of Jesus, both rejected the ambiguity of “Not yet”, and strove for clarity, and in doing so, changed the course of history.

Where there is the ambiguity of “Not yet” in your own life, strive for that same sense of clarity… so that you might act boldly, and courageously, and earnestly, and honestly… that you, too, might change the course of history.

          Do you remember those…

Black socks, they never get dirty,

The longer you wear them, the blacker they get.

Some day I’ll probably launder them,

A new voice is telling me, “Wash them today.”

Today. Right now. Today. Amen.