“If I have a primary subject for my sermon today, it is this: It’s time to light up the world house,” said the Rev. Bernice A. King at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. “I want to concentrate on the first seven words of Matthew 5:14: You are the light of the world.”
The Scripture was Matthew 5:14-16.
As she began her sermon, King offered some words from her father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. She chose words from his last public speech at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968.
“We have got difficult days ahead, but it really does not really matter now because I have been to the mountaintop,” King said. “I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place, but I want to do God’s will. I have looked over and seen the promised land. We as a people will get there. I do not fear anything because mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Those were his last public words, she said.
“He was a prophet, and we do have difficult days ahead of us,” she said. “The last time the collective people of God had a very important impact on society was during the time my father led the Civil Rights Movement. We should never forget that it was a movement that emerged out of the church. It lit up the darkness in society particularly in the southern regions.”
The movement led the way in providing solutions as well as identifying problems, King said. There was strategy and planning and an ideology that defined the movement’s actions. That ideology was “Kingian nonviolence.”
“Today, we call it Nonviolence 365,” King said. “It is not just a tactic, but a way of life in which we live and engage the world on a daily basis.”
It was time for those called to be light to the world today to look to the work and leadership of Martin Luther King, she said. When Time magazine published a tribute issue on the 50th anniversary of the “I Have A Dream” speech in 2013, she said she was pleased that the cover caption called him “Founding Father,” but she was even more pleased that, in a subhead, Time called him “The Architect of the 21st Century.”
“My father was 32 years shy of living in the 21st century, but he provided the blueprint for how we should move forward,” King said. “You can find that in his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, in the last chapter on ‘The World House.’ We have to find a way to live together regardless of race, nationality, religion or culture. We are unduly separated by ideas. We were never meant to live apart. We must learn to live in peace. We must live together as brothers and sisters or we will be forced to perish together as fools.”
King outlined a path to unity.
“We have to have a revolution of values,” she said. “That means we have to have bodies that know they have been transformed to have the mind of Christ; we have to be what the world cannot be. The followers of Christ are the light. People look to political systems, educational systems, health systems to solve problems, but we fail to realize we have a personal responsibility. We have a stake in the outcome.”
It is a very dark world, she said, and society needs that light.
“We need that light because it is disturbing that people are drawn to ISIS,” King said. “We need that light in the interaction between African-Americans and law enforcement and the prison-industrial complex. We have failed to have an agenda to address poverty in America and across the world. We are called, as a country, to be the light of the world; it is our calling.
King established three characteristics of light: It reveals truth, it is a guide and it is very active. It is hard to see in the dark, she said, and light shines to show truth and reality.
“We are lacking truth because we have been defined by others,” she said. “We should be truth ourselves.”
Light is a guide.
“The same ideology that my father used to guide the Civil Rights Movement is the same ideology we need today,” King said. “As we are addressing social inequities, we have to remember that it is about the issue and not the people. We tend to attack personalities, and my father said to defeat injustice, not people. That person [you disagree with] is still a member of the human family. We don’t seek to ‘win’ over people. We seek to ‘win over’ people.”
Nonviolence is a way of life but it is not passive, she said.
“We don’t use violence, but we are assertive in spirit, mind and engagement,” King said. “Our loyalties have to be ecumenical and not sectional — not merely national, but for the whole world. Our care, concern and compassion reach every arena, including the Middle East.”
Light is very active, she said. The speed of light is faster than the speed of sound.
“But we have a lot of noise in society right now,” King said. “Light is constantly moving and has the property of being effective without noise; it has the power to illuminate a situation. We have to be actively engaged in the issue of the day. We have to speak up, but it is more important to act up, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. We have to be active in a manner that represents the heart, character and essence of God.
“God calls us to love unconditionally. He never told us we had to like, and there are many people I don’t like, so I have to rely on God’s love in relationships. This light is needed today to address our policies and disparities. Forty-seven years is too long to have extreme racial disparities.”
The congregation applauded.
“I don’t know if you have thought about it this way: Have you said, ‘This has nothing to do with me; it is not my business?’ Who is really responsible? You are the light of the world, if it is dark and if you look at yourself, see if you are representing light,” she said.
Victor Hugo said when there is darkness, there will be sin, but the sin is not the responsibility of the sinner; instead, it is the responsibility of the one who created the darkness.
“Martin Luther King said that the children of darkness are more zealous than the children of light,” King said. “It is time to be vigilant, courageous, to not back down but be the light to the world that desperately needs it.”
She closed her sermon talking about Amnesty International’s decision to seek to decriminalize prostitution. This is an organization that has represented human rights, she said, that made the decision that it would be best to allow the sex trade to be a legitimate business.
“I have to ask myself, ‘Where were the people of God when this happened? How did we get to the place where a woman’s body — or a man’s for that matter — is part of the free market system?’ It disturbs me.”
She told a story about the sun and cave visiting each other. The sun invited the cave to come up to his realm, and the cave was delighted with how wonderful it was. The sun went down to visit the cave in the bowels of the earth. When the sun got there, it asked where the cave’s darkness had gone.
“Where there is light there can be no darkness,” King said.
She then led the congregation in singing four verses of “This Little Light of Mine.” The congregation stood and clapped.
“Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to God,” she said.
The Rev. Robert M. Franklin Jr., director of the Department of Religion and Chautauqua’s pastor, presided. Robert M. Franklin III, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, direct the Chautauqua Choir. Pati Piper served as cantor for Responsorial Psalm 138, “The Fragrance of Christ” by David Haas. The Chautauqua Choir sang “Beautiful City” by André J. Thomas as the anthem. The response after the morning prayers was “Open My Eyes, That I May See” by Clara H. Scott. The offertory anthem was Cantique de Jean Racine, Op. 11 by Gabriel Fauré. The organ postlude was Toccata in F, S. 540 by Johann Sebastian Bach. The Daney-Holden Chaplaincy Fund and the Myra Baker Low and Katharine Low Humbree Family Fund supported this service.