Remembering Martin Luther King

These are the remarks that I made at the opening of the service of commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo on Wednesday April 4, 2018

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I am honored to be here tonight as we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  I am pleased to welcome everyone to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

I am always honored to be on the same platform with Bishop Pridgen.  Bishop Pridgen combines the roles of religious and political leadership in a way that always reminds me of one of the things that inspired me about Dr. King, that the message of our faith requires that we work for justice & equality in all parts of our lives and in whatever spheres we move in.

I am honored to share this service tonight with leaders from many faiths and many parts of the Western New York community.  With people who also bring the messages of their faiths and the imperative to work for justice & equality to all parts of their lives and all the spheres that they move in.

In some ways it is difficult to believe that is has been 50 years since that day in April 1968 when the world was stunned by the violent death of the man who Walter Cronkite called on that day “the apostle of non-violence.” So many of the issues of poverty and discrimination, of justice and equality that were facing us then are still facing us today.

In other ways it is difficult to believe that it has only been 50 years.  The movement that Martin Luther King, Jr. and others set in motion has changed the United States and indeed the whole world for the better in so many ways.

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It seems to be the truth of our world, that whenever someone speaks up, whenever someone or some group of people, try to move the world in the direction of justice and equality, in the direction of good, the forces of evil are right there working to keep the world the same.

As some of you know, I grew up in the Mississippi Delta in the 50’s and early 60’s.  I can testify to what Dr. King called “the stinging darts of segregation.”  I observed them as a child.

Reflecting back on those times it is clear to me how deeply segregation deprived every one of us of what our lives could have been.

If only the African Americans in my town had been allowed to fully embrace the opportunities and the life of freedom promised to all Americans.

If only we had had the courage to be a part of the life of the whole community without earning the scorn of our neighbors.

I remember vividly smelling the tear gas in the air when I went to the University of Mississippi for the 8th grade science fair just days after James Meredith had enrolled.

I remember vividly seeing the racist bill boards that lined the roads in our town.

I remember vividly how the KKK showed up at my grandmother’s house when, inspired by Dr. King, she had been hosting dinners at her home for her white neighbors and African American friends and the KKK ordered her to keep her mouth shut.  My grandmother had the strength of character and the protection of her position to defy them.

I remember visiting the Delta at the time of my mother’s death in 2013 and seeing how little had changed from those times.

As many of you know, before I was a Bishop, before I was a priest, I was a professor of Church History.

I focused much of my study on Christian Humanism, the movement that connected the teachings of Christ with the humanities.

One of the readings that reflects Christian Humanism in the modern world is Dr. King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail.

In it he says, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Let that be our song and motto as we carry Dr. King’s vision into our world today.  There can be no justice as long as injustice and inequality are allowed to thrive in parts of our society.  There can be no justice as long as injustice and inequality are allowed to thrive in parts of our city.

We must claim justice and the equity that underlies it as our goal and aim.

Thank you for coming tonight and thank you for raising your voice for justice.

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From Prayer, through Sorrow, to Action

Moving from Prayer through Sorrow to Action

A Holy Week Message from Bishop Franklin

 Last Saturday I was, with many other Episcopalians clergy and lay, at the Buffalo March for Our Lives in Niagara Square.

Like many of these large demonstrations there were remarks by political leaders and community organizers and signs and chanting.  What made this one different was the leadership and message of young people from all over Western New York, including Anna Engel who is a member of St. Matthias in East Aurora.

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What the young people said to the 3000 or so of us gathered in the square echoed what the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been saying.  They have grown up with active shooter drills and frequent mass shootings at schools and movie theaters and concerts and churches.  They want to feel safe at school and if the adults aren’t willing to take action, they will.

A few weeks ago no one would have expect that high school students would be speaking to and inspiring the majority of Americans who are in favor of both sensible gun laws and increased mental health services.

On Sunday I marched at Christ Church in Lockport with the rest of the congregation as we remembered the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  We marched around the church and shouted “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” and then, a few minutes later, as we read the Passion, shouted “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

No one, except Jesus, who was a part of the original Palm Sunday march in Jerusalem all those centuries ago thought that the victory that Jesus would bring would come at the cross and at the tomb.  Yet the triumphal entry led to the cross which led to the empty tomb which led all of us to eternal life.

I believe that the prayers that began on February 14, Ash Wednesday, with the death of 17 people in Parkland, Florida have led our nation through sorrow for those lives lost and families and friends in grief to the action that we are seeing all around our country.

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I will continue to stand with the young people of our nation in taking action to make our schools and our streets safe places for our children and grandchildren to grow up.  It is our responsibility as adults to make the world a better place for them and, as they have made clear, if we don’t, they will do it themselves.

Whether they knew it or not, three thousand of our friends and neighbors were marching and demonstrating and demanding that our nation embrace the Gospel values of love and reconciliation, of healing and peace. The young speakers’ calls for social justice, to move us from embracing death to embracing life, were the very words that Jesus would have spoken.

Now, as the Easter season is dawning, may Jesus be with us as together we determine what our next ACTION should be.

God bless you as we keep marching in the days ahead.

Bishop Bill Franklin

Diocese of Western New York

 

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A CHILDREN’S CRUSADE: THEN AND NOW

This is the sermon I preached to the General Board of Examining Chaplains of the Episcopal Church and the readers of the General Ordination Exams. 

 We were gathered the week after the shooting in Parkland, Florida.

 The sermon was preached on the day commemorating Frederick Douglass.DSC_4596

When I arrived jet-lagged from the snow-belt yesterday, Duncan Ely, the Executive Director of the General Board of Examining Chaplains, asked me if I would preach at the Conference Eucharist today.  At first I was daunted by the idea that I had to produce a sermon text in twenty- four hours while at the same time read multitudes of General Ordination exams. But suddenly I realized that this occasion to preach allows me the chance to speak to a topic I have needed to address.

I know we are all daunted this afternoon, struggling to know how to face the aftermath of yet another school shooting, this time in Parkland, Florida.  But in my own personal struggle to know what to say to my Diocese of Western New York, I am heartened by the high school students of Parkland who are standing up and speaking out about evil.  A real, inspired Children’s Crusade has risen up before us, as has happened a number of times before, even in the history of the Christian Church. Children have changed the hearts and minds of people in past centuries, and would that it could happen again in our own time.

How fitting then that today we commemorate Frederick Douglass, the young liberator of the nineteenth century, in The Episcopal Church. The New Testament reading assigned for today speaks that “It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfected through suffering.”

And the collect for today speaks of “Frederick Douglass, whose impassioned and reasonable speech moved the hearts of a president and a people to a deeper obedience to Christ….to be outspoken on behalf of those in captivity and tribulation….”

Born into slavery in 1818, Frederick Douglass can be a model for the children of 2018, two hundred years later.  As a child of eight he was separated from his mother and given away to his owner’s brother and sister-in-law. At the age of fourteen he had the experience of conversion to Christ in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and their traditions of spiritual music sustained him to start a movement among young people for freedom.  Even in his teens and twenties, the power of his clear use of the English language, like the power of the speeches of the Parkland teenagers, caused him to be sent on speaking tours throughout the North. The more he became known for his speaking the more threatened he was to be recaptured by slave-catchers and returned to the South, and he was protected by a circle of young African-American men and women who traveled with him. Finally, he sought refuge in New York City in the 1850’s where he founded his journal THE NORTH STAR.  The 1850’s were perhaps the worst years of American history, but THE NORTH STAR “moved the hearts of a president and a people,” and it was a force toward Civil War and ultimately the abolition of slavery.  I believe that the message of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, that God was acting through these events, to be true and Biblical.  And, I believe God can act again.

Children have changed the hearts and minds of many in days gone by, and may it happen again.  We must move from helplessness to something more.

This prayer was composed by Canon Cathy Dempesy-Sims of Western New York as we in my Diocese needed help to face another time in our nation not unlike the 1850’s and 1860’s in which Douglass was one of those who wrought an indelible transformation from slavery to freedom.

Let us pray:

“Good and gracious God we are at a loss.

We do not know how our children keep getting killed at school while we seem incapable of making the madness stop.

We ask your urging to prod us out of helplessness into action, out of hopelessness into faith, out of fear into courage.

We pray that we, together with our elected officials, will find a way out of partisanship and into unity, out of blame and into responsibility.

We pray all of this through the One who emptied himself in order to free all, even Jesus Christ our Lord, who together  with the Holy Spirit lives and reigns with you, now and forever.

Amen.”

I invite the Diocese of Western New York to join me at the March for Our Lives, Buffalo on Saturday March 24 from 1:30 to 3:00 pm in Niagara Square.

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