• on January 21, 2021

Hope Is a Long Game

Kennetha Jo Bigham-Tsai
January 20, 2021

“With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”

-The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On January 18th, we celebrated the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who taught us that even the hardest of struggles for human rights and dignity could happen through nonviolence. The movement for racial justice, which he sparked and to which he gave voice, used non-violent means to cement the right to vote for millions of disenfranchised sons and daughters of slaves.

King’s movement found fruition in the 2008 election and the 2012 re-election of President Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States. It finds fruition today in the historic election and inauguration to the vice presidency of Kamala Harris, the first Black person, the first Asian-American, and the first woman to hold such office.

King’s message of nonviolence had moral weight and power to bring about historic progress, because it provided a stark contrast to the violence of the lynch mob and was a lived-out expression of Jesus’ commandment to love and pray for those who persecute you.

It was a movement that inspired change, because it was grounded in the courage of those who were willing to take the beatings and the violent pressure of the firehoses so that all people could have the right to sit at any lunch counter or drink from any water fountain, no matter their race, ethnicity, or national origin. Such courage was emblematic of Jesus’ courage at Gethsemane, where he fully faced his decision to go to the cross for the redemption of humankind. 

King’s nonviolent movement was fundamentally grounded in faith and hope engendered by the example of Christ. For King, all he needed was a mustard seed of Christ-like faith and a stone of hope, hewn “out of the mountain of despair.”

This January, so many of us have found ourselves in despair. On January 6, 2021, an angry, mostly white mob stormed the seat of democratic governance in the United States, waving symbols of hate. There were confederate flags and nooses, reminders of the violence of slavery and Jim Crow. One man wore a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt, sporting the inscription over the gates of that concentration camp. There were people who sported the insignia, 6MWE, which stands for “6 million wasn’t enough.”

This was not a non-violent protest for justice. Members of this mob beat police officers and threatened lawmakers in the hope of overturning a duly-conducted national election. Five people died, including Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick and four of the rioters.

It was sickening and disheartening to watch. But despite the horrors of this event and the pain it evoked, we can stand today with Dr. King to proclaim a hope born of our faith and of our willingness to dream. As he said in a much-celebrated sermon,

“I have a dream my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places shall be made plain and the crooked places shall be made straight and the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

 This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”[1]

King delivered this sermon at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. The events of January 6, 2021, nearly 60 years later, remind us that King’s dream has yet to be fully realized. But King’s hope for the realization of that dream was never in vain, because hope is a long game.

It is a long game that depends on persistent faith in God and in the arc of God’s justice. It depends on faith backed by persistent prayer, acts of kindness, and works of reconciliation. The long game of hope depends on our ability to dream of a better world in which the crooked places are made straight, where the glory of God is revealed, and where human beings stand together to see it.  Let this be our prayer, our hope, and our commitment.

At University United Methodist Church, we affirm that as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are an open and inclusive congregation and welcome all persons into full participation regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic situation, age, ability, education, background and whether single or partnered.

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