Total Pageviews

19 October 2010

Emmett Till, Pharisees and Justice

When in the summer of 1955 Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old African American from Chicago was lynched for allegedly whistling at a white woman, an all-white jury took just over an hour to acquit the perpetrators, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam. Just a month later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama; his text was Jesus' Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, the Gospel for October 24.

Thinking out loud about the Pharisees, Dr. King finds a modern equivalent in the members of the jury that acquitted the murderers of Emmett Till; he describes them as people who "worship Christ emotionally but not morally". He goes on to say that such Christianity, in which "the ceremonial demands of Sunday will become substitutes for the ethical demands of Monday" is not only ineffective but dangerous. One of his phrases that I find particularly helpful is this: "Religious ceremony is a junction, not a terminus".  When we mistake ceremony for an end, we end up in the sort of feel-good religion that makes us both pretentious (trying to hide our hurt by saying, "I am just too blessed to be stressed") and presumptuous (trying to hide our insecurities by saying what we like to do is "the Christian thing to do").

True faith considers ceremony as a junction; it's a station on a journey. Sunday worship is meant to equip us for worship in the world. Worship that brings no fruit is dead. To the religious set that "casts Jesus' ethical and moral insights behind the gushing smoke of emotional adoration and ceremonial piety" (as Dr. King describes it), the prophet Amos has these fiery words: "Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream".

Luke 18:9-14; Amos 5:23-24

No comments:

Post a Comment