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It happened in the worst of times. God’s people had been in exile in Babylon for decades. There was no hope for them. They were lucky just to be alive. But they could not ever dream of ever returning home, going back to their fields and homes, vineyards and orchards, to the beloved Temple.

Into this misery, God burst with good news. Things were about to change and the people were about to be delivered by the hand of God. It was the fulfillment of a dream no one any longer dared to dream. Word came through the prophets Isaiah (chapter 40, RSV), “Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hid from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary,
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.”

The Psalms (126) uses these words to describe deliverance, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;”

I mention these passages because they are brought to mind on this day (Friday when I wrote this Sanitizer) when we remember the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. speech in Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963. It is an iconic moment in the proudest part of the history of our nation.

It matters to us in the church for several reasons. First the non-violent movement for social justice and the end of racial discrimination came from and was nurtured by the Christian church. Second the notes King sounded were from the Bible. And third they show how the church can relate to the ordering and governing of a nation.

The brilliance of that speech was King calling our country to live out our highest ideals. It was not full of judgment and criticism. Instead it took the things we hold most precious about our nation and lifted them up as a challenge to be righteous. The church’s role is to be the conscience of the nation. The ideals King spoke about, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” justly enjoyed by all in the country regardless of skin color, he said is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

He then backed it up with the Bible from Amos, “let justice roll like waters and righteousness an ever-flowing stream,” and from Isaiah 40, “every valley shall be exalted and every mountain levelled.” King gave a taste of Psalm 30 and Galatians 3.

Whether or not people like it, this was a sermon. The sermon was hammered home with the phrase, “let freedom ring,” from the hymn “America.”

I mention all this today because it is a reminder of who we are as the church. We live in a free country with freedom of speech and freedom of religion. There is no guarantee that these things will abide. The country urges people to fight for these ideals.

The church urges us to pray for these ideals. The church urges that they be shared by all. The church brings the country’s attention when there is injustice. The church reminds the nation that it is “under God.” God is sovereign. No nation stands over God.

Most Christians in our country are proud Americans. Christians also understand that nations and states are not and never will be perfect. Christians have ears open to those who feel excluded from “liberty and justice for all.” Christians strive to relate the Bible to decisions we make as citizens. Christians know that God and God alone is eternal.

Christians are proud of the highest ideals of their nation. Christians also know the pervasiveness of sin. Christians call the country to live out its highest and most worthy ideals. Christians citizens work toward those ideals

King, a Baptist minister, did that in a way that should make us all proud. King spoke his words in the shadow of Abraham Lincoln, a man our pastor, E T Corwin called, “…a man to be linked, to the end of time, with the great and the glorious.” Corwin said of Lincoln, “…he was not the enslaver, but the freedom-giver of men.” Corwin went on, “…but just at this time, the one we thought raised up to carry on this great renovation [a nobler, a truer position of freedom before the world], to consummate the great truth contained in the first sentence of our Declaration of Independence, ‘that all men are born free and equal,’ – such a one, not the tyrant, but the friend of the oppressed, the freedom giver to the slave has fallen by the base hand the assassin.”

Seeking to reassure his mournful congregation here at HRC, Corwin wrote, “the throne of God is occupied by the Lord Jesus Christ, whose whole business is to raise the poor and the downtrodden and to break the rod of the oppressor,” and goes on to say that God’s purposes of justice and freedom cannot be thwarted.”

It is this sentiment that King brought before a divided nation calling for unity and justice for all, no matter the color of one’s skin. The church embraced that ancient and modern dream then and it does today.

The book of Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost noted that the prophet Joel foretold a day when, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days
I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

We who love Jesus live in that day. A day of dreams. What dreams? Dreams of the best. What visions? God’s visions of his creatures all living in harmony and joy. As our pastor, Edward Tanjore Corwin pointed out, this is not a question of if. It is a question of when. It is where God is leading us and it cannot fail to come to pass.

Today may be hard and a struggle, but up ahead we see light and the light is Jesus. We are marching with him. God’s people live as if that future has come already and hence, with confidence we can say, Isaiah 40:31”but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.”

Please pray with me. Lord, make us kingdom of heaven people. People who know the great fulfillment of all your promises is right there on the horizon. Give us the foretaste of that kingdom in your Son, Jesus. Bring our church to life living according to your will. When we falter, pick us up. When we waver, set us straight. When we grow weary renew us. Energize us in godliness. Amen.