Changing Leaves, Changing Seasons, Changing Hearts
The times and seasons are a-changing’, so suddenly, with new challenges and new opportunities over this tumultuous year which has just passed since that last Sunday in August, in that fateful year of 2020, when I took that photograph of the turning leaf.
And 58 years ago, on Wednesday, August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave his immortal “I Have A Dream” speech to the crowd assembled on the Washington Mall at the climax of that summer’s Civil Rights March on Washington.
The writer of this blog was then an 11-year-old white boy growing up in the Deep South.
No one in my family watched or listened to MLK’s speech, and if they had, they wouldn’t have thought much of it.
But although it is very clear that we still have so much prayerful work to do in order to realize MLK’s compelling Dream for our broken, but still beautiful and redeemable, nation, and although the terrible implosion of Afghanistan this month has unleashed a fresh shock wave into a world that is still reeling from pandemic fear, sectarian hatred and communal violence in many forms, the resulting mass exodus of oppressed and terrified refugees actually holds, I believe, the possibility of not only welcoming these new arrivals to our shores, but also the possibility that the Spirit might be using this new crisis in a unique way, to help us focus more upon the things that we native-born Americans who are Christ-followers, might have in common, rather than the things that still keep us at arm’s length from each other.
Because as these new arrivals begin streaming into our country and into our communities, bringing with them a vast new array of needs to meet and problems to solve, we might be sorely tempted to react the way Jesus’ disciples did on the shores of Galilee, to the overwhelming sea of hungry faces in the crowd that had come to be healed and fed: It’s getting late, Master. Send the people away into the villages so they can buy something to eat.
The Master replied: you feed them.
The disciples protested: But that would take a whole year's wages.
The Master asked: what do you have on hand to feed them?
They checked and reported back: here is a boy who brought his lunch of five loaves and two fish, but what is that among so many?
The Master said: have the people sit down. Then He gave thanks, broke the bread and distributed the fish, and most of us know the rest of that story of the Feeding of The Five Thousand.
Yes, he IS still capable in our time and place of performing the same sort of miracle in our present crisis. But there is something else to consider, and that is the observation that God seldom exactly repeats his past miracles.
So what sort of miracle might he possibly perform now? Well, what about this?
The simultaneous realization by multitudes of American Christ-followers of every race, color, language and ethnicity, that nobody’s little stash of five loaves and two fish, scattered throughout our different American racial, ethnic and cultural contexts, will ever be enough to even meet our own needs, much less the additional needs which will shortly land on our doorstep with wave after wave of the displaced and downtrodden, who know nothing about this new land and will need every kind of help we can possibly give them.
Might this finally cause us as a nation to come to grips not only with the poverty of our efforts to love and care for those neighbors who already live next door to us and work over in the next cubicle from ours, but also to fall to our knees, not only to ask for forgiveness, but for the strength to love and serve them as we should?
And then, with our native-born neighbors and ourselves reconciled by this fresh moving of the Spirit, we can come together to pray, love and serve these new refugees in such a way, that it will not only speak powerfully of our Creator’s love for them, but give us an even greater incentive to tear down those ancient walls which sometimes seemed to confirm the sorrowful observation that the church hour on Sunday morning was the most segregated hour in the average American’s week.
Because the necessity of pooling our separate stores of loaves and fish in order to feed these new multitudes will demand that we put aside our differences and work together in the spirit of love driven by urgency.
And then, just perhaps, as we see the same Spirit working in the hearts of those who appear to be so different from ourselves, the scales will fall from our eyes and we will see afresh the wisdom of Martin Luther King’s Dream: that it is the content of their character, and not the color of their skin, that makes them our truest brothers and sisters, as we serve together the crying needs of our broken world. AMEN.