Ever been arrested, stopped in your tracks? Placed in the hole?
Twenty-nine times, advocate of non-violent change, preacher and civil rights leader, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was arrested, once for going 30 miles per hour in a 25-mph zone.
After a 1963 arrest in Birmingham, AL, for breaking a court order banning non-violent protest, King is in a small jail cell, crafting a letter that becomes light from the Civil Rights movement; in that cramped hole, King writes, “Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators.’
Has the power structure ever arrested you, stopped you in your tracks?
We hear that John’s arrest stopped him in his tracks.
Shouldn’t his arrest stop us in ours, too?
Don’t we baptize and are baptized? And isn’t it right after the baptism of Jesus by John that the power structure identifies John as a ‘disturber of the peace,’ an ‘outside agitator,’ and stops him in his muddy baptizing tracks?
Use the word “arrest” however you like, house arrest, mouse arrest, citizen’s arrest, cardiac arrest. Say it however we like, doesn’t arrest mean that someone or something gets stopped in their tracks?
Martin Luther King, Jr., is arrested and so were we.
John the Baptizer is arrested, weren’t we? Doesn’t baptism-of-repentance get stopped in its tracks by John’s arrest? Doesn’t the power structure see a washing of repentance, that turns lives around, to be the handiwork of “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators?” And, doesn’t arrest stop it all in its tracks?”
The son of a priest is arrested for doing priestly work, for calling people to be re-centered on God, to live God’s grace, mercy, peace, and justice. The priestly crying wilderness voice is placed under arrest, stopped in his tracks, for calling people to return to the Lord their God.
John’s first century wilderness cry been raised in God’s Church for 21 centuries, was raised in this place 7 weeks back? Did it catch your ear? Spin you around? Show you how far you’ve wandered?
With no crying voice in the wilderness, with John stopped in his tracks, who is there to call us, to repent us, to convict us, and to lead us?
Isn’t our hope of grace, the precious hope, that the deep, wide, hole left by John is already filled?
John is stopped in his tracks, arrested, but no power structure ever stops God. God’s love is an outside agitator and no arrest warrant ever stops God’s love from disturbing this world’s false peace through the gentle authority of Jesus the Christ. No one, nowhere, at no time, arrests the love of God.
The local power structure stops John in his tracks, but the Supreme Power, comes to Galilee, “proclaiming the Good News of God.”
That hole left by Herod’s arrest of John is already filled by Jesus the Christ.
The One to call us, to repent us, to convict us, and to lead us has climbed into our hole. And, arrest warrant or not, grace climbs into every hole in our lives, and there’s no power structure around that’s going to put a stop to that!
There’s no hole that Jesus hasn’t already filled with God’s presence, hasn’t already filled with God’s love, hasn’t already filled with immeasurable grace. This reality is how, in a cramped cell, with one more arrest on his record, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., can say, “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come.”
The urge for freedom will eventually come, and you will know it when it comes to you, for it will be Jesus coming to you, “proclaiming the Good News of God.”
In that moment, there in the darkness of your hole, it will become very real to you what the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preaches. that, “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” That, “hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” This will become so very true to you as the light of God’s presence reveals Jesus the Christ climbing into your hole, filling it with the hope, purpose, and possibility of God who calls you, repents you, convicts you, and leads you home. Your hole may seem your dark place of dying, but isn’t it also your bright place of rising?
Isn’t that the story of Jesus? His hole seems like a dark place of dying, but the presence of God at work in that place, makes it into a bright place of rising.
Isn’t that the story of our hole, too? That hole holds no arrest warrant for Jesus, and it holds no arrest warrant for you.
We’ve heard a proclamation by One who shares a love so strong, a grace so free, that it ever calls us, ever repents us, ever convicts us, and is already, even now, leading us. This One is Jesus, and he has come into all of our Galilees, has climbed into all our holes. So, that rising up grace unstops us in our tracks, unarrests us, says to us, together with St. John, and Dr. King, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” For love has lain a firm hold on you, has climbed down there with you into that hole. And, your place of dying, has become your place of rising, so rise up! That hole holds no arrest warrant for you. You are free! But, free as you are, and you are free, aren’t you still called to get that freedom out in God’s world?
Still, some of us don’t know we are free, do we? Still, some of us don’t know we’re toiling with the oppressors, do we? There’s still some work for God’s Church to do, isn’t there?
Until the power structures in this world are stopped in their tracks, until every last one of God’s wilderness children can raise their voices in freedom with St. John, with the Rev. Dr. MLK, Jr., and with the saints of every time and place to cry out, “Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last,” Church, we still have some more peace disturbing, power structure shaking, outside agitating to do, don’t we? Yes, we do. Yes, we do!
(All italicized quotes are from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)