Sermon Sermon by Affiliated Minister Kevin P. Bryant, January 17, 2020. Photo: A January visit in 1965 shows Martin Luther King Jr. with Nathan M. Pusey (left), Harvard’s 24th president, and the Rev. Charles P. Price on the steps of Appleton Chapel. Photo courtesy of the Harvard University Archives.
Good morning Saints. What a blessing it is to speak with you again. Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, my redeemer. Tomorrow in Massachusetts, it's Martin Luther King Day. In Alabama and Mississippi, it's ML King Day and Confederate General Robert E. Lee Day. Once again, systemic racism in America rears its ugly head. Hey, it's only 2021, right?
On April 3rd, 1968, the day before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech in support of some striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. And he talked about being on the mountaintop and seeing the promised land. I wonder what Dr. King would say to us as he stood on the mountaintop and looked down at us as we struggled in the valley? I think maybe he would've said, "Remember, you may be in the valley, but another mountaintop is ahead because a valley is a temporary place."
There is one thing we can all be sure of, God is always in the mix. When we're at the crossroads in our life, when we're forced to face the trials and tribulations of our life, when we're at the point of not knowing what to do, we can always trust in God to order our steps. Every one of us goes through valley experiences in our lives. In fact, these valley experiences are part of our lives. Every time we go through these valleys, we tend to wonder why God allows us to go through them. In the 23rd Psalm, David is speaking of a deep dark valley, where there seems to be no ray of light and we feel like we're not going to make it, but valleys are not dead streets. And yes, while you're in the valley, you may face disappointments, frustrations, discouragements and dilemmas of life. But remember, another mountaintop is ahead because the valley is a temporary place.
The valley is the only route to our own personal promised land. There's no alternate route. When the Egyptians chased the Israelites to the Red Sea, there was no way for them to go around it but God made a way for them to cross. When we journey through the valley, we must always keep in mind that God will make a way. We must always keep in mind that God's grace, his leading and his mercy will never fail. God's way many not always be the same as the one we would have imagined, our savior may do the opposite what we expect him to do. And sometimes inadvertently or otherwise, we have acquired the habit of trying to tell the Lord exactly how we want him to help us and ignore the fact that she knows just what to do.
When we're journeying through the valley, we sometimes tend to question God's timing. I know this because I'm guilty of it myself. I don't know how often I've said the words, think and said, "Lord, why won't you help me?" But I was overlooking the fact that all I have to do is trust God and stop holding onto the thought or better yet the fear that God will wait too long to do something about a situation in my life. David was journeying through the valley, but he didn't make the valley his personal home. I believe that from the beginning, David's trust in God told him that the valley was just a temporary place.
My brothers and sisters, where do you do most of your living? Do you live on a mountain or in a valley? When the Bible speaks of mountains, well the mountain is normally considered a place of revelation and awe. To have a mountaintop experience means you've received some insight and some inspiration. The mountaintop is where we meet God and we can see the promised land. And we all love being on a mountaintop, a place where we can feel God's presence, a place where we can clearly hear the still, small voice of God. But the valley is quite different.
The valley is where life becomes challenging. The valley is where many battles are fought and where feelings are hurt and attitudes are developed. The valley is a place in life where we struggle every day with fears, hopes, painful circumstances. The mountaintop is where we come to meet God but the valley is where God comes to meet us.
We as a country, a nation, a people, we're in the valley and we're struggling. And Dr. King brought to light the struggles of Black and Brown peoples of this country by conducting nonviolent marches and nonviolent protests. Even though the protesters were clubbed by police, chewed on by police dogs and had fire hoses used on them, the protesters never resorted to violence. On January 6th, 2021 pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol. These people were extremely violent, terrorized members of Congress. These domestic terrorists fought with police and it was total mayhem at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. Whose rights were these terrorists fighting for? What would have been the outcome if these people were only people of color?
It's 2021, my brothers and sisters, and we as a country, a nation and people, are in the valley and were struggling. Just remember that after every mountaintop experience, there is a valley. You're either going into one, coming out of one or in the midst of a valley. You'll have to go through the valley. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. And valleys are like that, they just happen. A valley can come upon you all of a sudden without a warning. Doesn't matter how good you've been, how careful you've been. But I'm here to tell you that the valley is a temporary place.
Valleys are like COVID-19, they're impartial. Valleys are not selective. Everyone eventually comes to the valley. The rich, the poor, men, women, all peoples of color. Viruses do not discriminate, but because of systemic racism in America, people do. Black, indigenous and people of color are dying from this disease at an alarming rate. Now we have a vaccine and I hope and pray that people do the right thing. We need to be more like Jesus. As Christians, we have a voice. Silence is a choice and evil succeeds when good people do nothing.
Now I got to remind you, don't take up residence in the valley. Some people have been down in the valley so long they're not even thinking about getting up and moving on in their lives. Some people have been in the valley so long that they give up and stop praying. Their faith is challenged. Their hope is gone. Egypt was just temporary because God opened up the Red Sea just in time. And the lion's den was temporary because God momentarily sewed up the jaws of the lions in the den. Now I know that we all have troubled times and sometimes we can't help but run into some very low places but you can rest assured that God does not intend for us to stay there because the valley is a temporary place.
Valleys are a part of life and no one will ever go through the valley without any scars. Sometimes the valley is a gift from God. Valleys have a purpose. Valleys teach us to walk in faith and let God order our steps because sometimes we lose our way. My brothers and sisters, be assured that God has a reason for allowing us to go through the valley. Jesus Christ himself was not exempt from suffering, from loneliness, temptation or suffering from discouragement. He experienced loss, the death of John the Baptist. Just like any of us he was misunderstood just as we are misunderstood. And he was persecuted and greatly criticized. And Jesus, by going through the same things we went through or the same things that we go through, enables us to be like him. And we can use Jesus as an example of how to get through the valleys of life.
David, the writer of this beautiful Psalm, takes a personal and possessive view of just what God means to him. He does something that we all should do in respect of God and who he is. David says, "The Lord is my shepherd." He was not debating whether or not he was someone else's shepherd, but when it came to his relationship with God, it was a personal endeavor. That's why David said, "The Lord is my shepherd. I have everything I need. The Lord is with me through my life and beyond. He makes me lay down in green pastures."
In mind's eye, in my mind's eye, I can picture for myself, soft green grass, cool shade under a tree, no stress or worry for dangers or problems, just peaceful rest. He leads me beside quiet waters. He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths. That means he gives us new strength and he guides us along the right direction in which to go. He leads me. He renews my strength. He guides me. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil for you are with me.
No matter where we go, no matter what we have to go through, God is always with us. And if God is with us, we have no need to be afraid. We have the need to be afraid in the valley or on a mountaintop of wherever it may be, God is always in the mix. The Lord is with us when we're in pain, when we suffer loss. God is patient with us when we whine and complain and through hardship, God may strip us of pride, renew our passion, refine our character, purify our moments.
David said, "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, we must remember Jesus is the light of life. He is the good shepherd and a good shepherd does not lead his sheep into a dark valley and just leave them there." Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
God does not watch over us from outside of the valley. God does not call us from the other side of the valley because he is with us through the valley. Well, have you crossed any valleys in your life lately? You ever had a situation that seems as if you'll never make it through? You prayed about it and you finally decided to just wait on the Lord and all of a sudden, you begin to see the end of the valley? Well I'll tell you right now, there's a blessing at the end of the valley. Valley experiences are the ones that shapes you and positions you in your life where God desires you to be.
My brothers and sisters, it doesn't matter who you love, what you look like or who you worship, god doesn't want anyone to take up residence in the valley. Together we can rise up and keep walking through the valley so we can complete our journey. My brothers and sisters, when you're in the valley, remember that there's a mountaintop ahead and once we get there, everyone can look out and see the promised land because the valley is a temporary place. Amen.