Summit Presbyterian Church
January 15, 2017
Psalm 40: 1-11
In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama for leading non-violent demonstrations against segregation in that city. He spent about a week in jail. During that time, eight white clergymen who claimed to be sympathetic published a statement criticizing his actions in the local paper. So King wrote a response known as “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
King was not from Birmingham, and during the civil rights movement, white officials and others would often complain that demonstrators were stirred up by outsiders; people from the north or larger cities. So King began his letter by saying: “I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham.” He explained that he was head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. SCLC had affiliates across the south, and the Birmingham affiliate had asked King to be on call if they decided to do non-violent direct action. “So,” King said, “I [along with several members of my staff] am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here. But more basically,” he continued, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.” He went on to say that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly . . . so it was time to give up on the “outside agitator” idea. “Just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman World,” said King, “so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my home town.” Dr. King heard God’s call. He said, “Here I am.” He showed up.
In President Barack Obama’s farewell speech on Wednesday, the heart of his speech was a call for all of us to “show up, dive in, [and] stay at it” as citizens. To be “jealous guardians” of democracy not only during elections, or when our own narrow interests were at stake, but over the span of a lifetime. To not only vote, but to organize, and even run for office. After these exhortations, he moved into that part of a farewell speech where he acknowledged people close to him. He thanked Michelle, and called her his best friend; he told his daughters Sasha and Malia how proud he was to be their father; he thanked Joe Biden for his friendship and his staff for their support. There were tears. The crowd cheered. Obama was demonstrating another way we’re called to show up, dive in, and stay at it: by saying “I am here,” to family, to friends, to others close to us.
Moving to the scripture, the psalmist says, “here I am.” She begins by saying why she’s here: God drew her up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set her feet upon a rock, making her steps secure. God then put a new song in her mouth: a song of praise, a song that proclaims God’s wondrous deeds. Here I am, says the psalmist: I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; I have spoken of your salvation. I have not concealed your steadfast love and faithfulness. God said “I am here,” to the psalmist. She responded by saying “Here I am” to God.
As people of faith, as followers of Jesus Christ, we have heard God say, “I am here.” Each of us has a different story, but we all know something of desolate pits and miry bogs and finally having our feet set upon a rock — for the Lord is our rock and our salvation. Maybe God drew you out of the desolate pit of addiction, or grief or loneliness. Maybe God drew you out of the miry bog of guilt and regret, blessing you with a new start in life that you didn’t feel you deserved. Of course, our stories are not over, and being saved doesn’t mean our troubles are over. In fact, you may feel bogged down in the mire right now. But the words of the psalmist are true — happy are those who make the Lord their trust. For God is a God of steadfast love and faithfulness, even though there may be times when God seems absent and we must wait patiently. God’s wondrous deeds and thoughts toward us are more than can be counted. The heavens tell of the glory of God and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.
And because we have heard God say, “I am here,” we can say “Here I am” to God. By listening for God’s Word with those open ears God has given us. By listening to the law of God written within our hearts; by delighting in God’s will, and doing it as best we can. By singing a new song, proclaiming God’s love and faithfulness in worship and prayer.
We also say “Here I am” by saying “I am Here” to others. To our family: our children, our partners, our parents our sisters and brothers. To our friends and neighbors and all in our congregation. By giving of our time, by sharing our wisdom and treasure and love. And also by proclaiming that God is here: blessing our family and our friendships; rooting for us, offering help in times of grief and wisdom in times of confusion, sustaining the church of Christ, binding us together in love.
We say “Here I am” to God by saying “I am here” to our country and its democracy. By voting and organizing, speaking and listening, marching and writing, maybe even running for office. And also by proclaiming that God is here in our political life. Not blessing our country above others. Not sanctifying one party above another, or calling for the union of church and state. But God is here - seeking to guide us and our elected leaders in paths of peace and righteousness. Seeking to draw us together across all kinds of divisions so we can face the enormous global challenges before us. Giving us hope, and blessing our efforts to live into the kingdom of God.
Finally, we say “Here I am” to God by saying “I am here because injustice is here,” wherever that may be, and let’s face it — wherever we are, there it is. In our cities and our rural counties, where even full time workers do not have enough to get by, children don’t have enough to eat, or people face discrimination, even hate. For, as King pointed out, whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. That’s never been more true than in this time of climate change, when the carbon emission from a smokestack anywhere warms the world everywhere, ensuring those who have done the least to cause climate change will suffer the most from it. We also say “I am here” by saying “God is here”: the God who takes thought for the poor and needy, the God who loves justice and asks us to do the same.
Saying “Here I am” is not easy: the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the lives of many other courageous and faithful saints testify to that. But it’s also the path of blessing and joy. For we have a new song to sing, a song that proclaims the steadfast love and faithfulness of God. Let us say, “Here I am,” and tell the glad news of deliverance to the world.