Editor's Note: The following sermon was given on January 21, 2013 at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday Commemorative Service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
As we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we likewise recognize the fact that 50 years after he delivered a speech that served as the prophetic supposition for an entire generation, I am here to declare today that from the barrio to Beverly Hills, from Atlanta to Anaheim, and from Modesto to Miami, the Dream still lives.
For I come to you today as a child of God, a child of immigrants, and a child of Dr. King's Dream. For that matter, I am often asked, "What is a Hispanic Born-again Christian? How will you define your community?" The answer lies embedded in a simple recipe. A Hispanic Christian is what you get when you take Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr. put them in a blender and place salsa on top.
My friends, there's a fine line between the prophetic and the pathetic. In the midst of a pathetic reality we find a prophetic declaration uttered by the mouth of the Apostle John pointing to the answer for a hopeless world. John 1:29 says, "The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'"
Later on that same John, now in his 90's, saw the revelation on the island of Patmos and declared, "Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: 'To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!'"
How do we live out Dr. King's dream in our 21st century reality? How do we advance the cause of justice in a very unjust world? How do we build a firewall against intolerance, abuse, inequality, and hatred?
Permit me to title the word the Lord has deposited in my heart for you today, Dr. King's Dream fulfilled via the Lamb's agenda. Behold The Lamb!
Friends, we live in difficult times—times of great uncertainty, angst, consternation, and flux. The obituary of Christian justice in the 21st century already permeates both church and society.
Scholars and leaders from within and outside the church have arrived at the inevitable conclusion that Christianity in America will not survive the 21st century in any viable or sustainable manner.
I beg to differ. For even though housing markets crumble, the stock market plummets and banks are failing, there is one institution that is still committed to justice—the Church of Jesus Christ is alive and well.
For that matter, I believe the 21st century stands poised to experience the greatest transformative Christian justice movement in our history. This movement will affirm biblical truth, reform the culture, transform our political discourse, and usher in a New Awakening. I am convinced that the best is yet to come.
For at the end of the day, this will not be a political movement driven by expediency and agendas of man but a prophetic movement driven by the impetus of the Cross. What is the agenda for this new movement? How can we best live out the Dream in the 21st century? It is not the agenda of the donkey or the agenda of the elephant. This movement stands driven by nothing other than the agenda of the Lamb. Behold the Lamb!
The agenda of the Lamb and the Spirit of God
At the heart of the Lamb's agenda stands the Church. Conceived on the Cross, contracted in the empty tomb, and delivered in the upper room, the Lamb's Church is a Spirit-empowered church.
Forget Harry Potter and Hogwarts, via the conduit of biblical allusions and metaphors there are real spirits in the world today. The spirit of Pharaoh is alive, holding people captive in the Egypt of bondage and fear. The spirit of Goliath still lives mocking and intimidating the children of God.
The spirit of Jezebel still makes men and women hide in caves with perversion and manipulation. The spirit of Absalom lives dividing homes, churches, communities and relationships while the spirit of Herod continues to target the young in and out of the womb, through poverty, sex trafficking, and mindless violence murdering infant dreams and vision.
Yet I have news for you. There is a Spirit that's more powerful than all these spirits combined. Friends, we need to tell the world shaken by violence and suffocating in fear, that the most powerful spirit alive today is not the spirit of Pharaoh, Saul, Absalom, Goliath, Jezebel, or Herod. The most powerful Spirit on the planet is none other than the Spirit of Almighty God, the Spirit of Justice, the Spirit of the Lamb. "For it is not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit saith the Lord" (Zech. 4:6).
It is that Spirit that gives us the power to do justice and live out the dream. "For ye shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you" (Acts 1:8). Not just power to get the shakes, quakes, and bakes. Not just power to build sanctuaries and engage in quantitative metrics of affirmation. Not just power for television and radio ministries. But power to bring good news to the poor, power to bring freedom to the captive, power to bring sight to the blind, power to declare the year of the Lord's favor, power to do justice, power to love mercy, and power to walk humbly before God. Behold the Lamb!
The agenda of the Lamb and the dream of complete freedom
The Scripture points us to true freedom. Isaiah 58: 6 says, "To loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke." 2 Corinthians 3:17 says, "For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."
One hundred and fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, we still live in a world where people find themselves bound—bound by sin, immorality, addiction, alcoholism, depression, loneliness, dismay, anxiety, fear, confusion, poverty, violence, and illiteracy. We are bound to the past, failure, defeat, and an unexplainable addiction to Caramel Macchiato! Do you know why there's so much bondage?
Do you know why the proclamation and Dr. King's dream experienced so much resistance? Because the enemy understands that the most powerful human on the planet is not the one with riches or the one with guns or the one with armies or the one with fame. The most powerful human on the planet is a person set free by the blood of the Lamb.
Why? Because it was a free man who approached Pharaoh in Egypt and said, "Let my people go."
It was a free man who stepped into the promise land and declared, "As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord."
It was a free man who stared down a giant named Goliath and said, "You come against me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin but I come against you in the name of the Lord God Almighty."
It was free young people who refused to bow and subsequently exhibited freedom even in the midst of a fiery furnace.
It was a free man who prayed down fire from heaven and then shouted, "Get Ready. Here comes the rain."
In more recent history, it was a free man who confronted the evil of slavery and then declared, "Malice towards none and charity towards all."
It was a free man who had a dream that one day we will live in a nation where we will be judged not by the color of our skin but rather by the content of our character.
But the greatest expression of a freedom came 2,000 years ago when hanging on a tree by his sacrifice, Christ, freedom incarnate, personified what he declared in John 8:36—"For he who the Son sets free is free indeed." Are there any free people in the house?
True freedom is found in the person of Christ. Our freedom stems not from the political preferences of ideologues in Washington DC. Our freedom does not come from the donkey or the elephant. Our freedom comes from the Lamb who's on the throne to whom angels cry, "Holy, Holy, Holy." Our freedom comes from Jesus who said in John 8:32, "You shall know the truth and truth shall set you free."
This dream will be fulfilled when we rise up and tell the world that in Christ, you can be free from sin (Rev. 1:6); in Christ you can be free from fear (2 Tim. 1:7); in Christ you can be free from condemnation (Rom. 8:1).
Christ fulfills the dream. Christ is the Lord of justice. For we are baptized with Christ in Romans, crucified with Christ in Galatians, seated with Christ in Ephesians, strengthened by Christ in Philippians, hidden in Christ in Colossians, and ruling and reigning with Jesus Christ in the book of Revelation. Behold the Lamb!
The agenda of the Lamb and the message of the Cross
Isaac asked Abraham, "I see the wood and the fire but where is the lamb?" John the Baptist's response from John 1:29 paves the way for Galatians 3:13, "For hung on a tree, he became a curse for us." First Peter 1:19 says, "It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God."
No other symbol incorporates passion and promise like the Cross. A simple symbol depicting two pieces of wood, one vertical and the other horizontal, successfully branded the eternal hope of glory to all mankind. Madison Avenue and multi-million dollar campaigns have not been able to reproduce the loyalty, commitment, and multi-generational allegiance to a message conveyed via the humble conduit of a brand, not written on the wood, but incarnated in the spirit of what it represents—grace and eternal life.
That universal Christian symbol vociferously and with unbridled persuasion not only conveys a message of what is to come, but also what life truly is—a cross. Jesus said, "Carry your cross daily and follow me."
The Cross is both vertical and horizontal. Life is both vertical and horizontal. Vertically, we stand connected to God, his kingdom, eternal life, spiritual truths, divine principles, and glory. Horizontally, to our left and to our right, we exist surrounded and revealed through community, relationships, family, culture, and society.
Simply stated, the Cross is both vertical and horizontal, redemption and relationship, holiness and humility, covenant and community, kingdom and society, righteousness and justice, salvation and transformation, ethos and pathos, John 3:16 and Matthew 25, orthodoxy and orthopraxy, faith and public policy, prayers and activism, sanctification and service, the imago dei and habitus christus, Billy Graham and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the New Jerusalem and Atlanta, Georgia.
For too long in America, people of faith have lived either vertically or horizontally. But few have succeeded in living, speaking, equipping, leading, and ministering from where the vertical and horizontal planes of the Cross intersect, the nexus of Christianity, the heart of biblical justice.
This is the place where conviction marries compassion, the fishes intersect with the bread, and truth joins hands with mercy. This is the place where we reconcile the optics of redemption with the metrics of reconciliation, the prophetic with the practical, and faith with action.
The agenda of the Lamb can truly be fulfilled when we reconcile the vertical with the horizontal. We need a church committed to saving the lost and transforming our communities, addressing sin and confronting injustice, protecting life and alleviating poverty, ending religious persecution and ending human trafficking. It's not "either or," it's "both and." It is both righteousness and justice.
What is justice? Justice stands not as a copyrighted nomenclature for the expedient efforts of operatives in the political sphere. Justice does not belong to the left or to the right. Justice flows from high for the purpose of lifting up the low.
What is justice? Justice is not the purpose of big government. Justice is the passion of a big God. Justice is not a political term to be exploited but a prophetic term to be lived out.
What is justice? Justice does not result in pathetic attempts of expediency but in prophetic postures of activism. For justice will at times march, at times protest, at times sing, but justice will always speak on behalf of those that cannot speak for themselves.
Friends, this nation stands divided; divided between liberals and conservatives, red states and blue states, elephants and donkeys. It's time for a movement that brings us together. It's time for an agenda that says, "The kingdom of God is not red state or blue state, liberal or conservative, rich or poor, black or white, charismatic or automatic; the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost!"
That's why we need a movement of both righteousness and justice. For we cannot deny there exists a generation within the Church with the heart's desire to reconcile the two planes. This generation seeks a holistic gospel that looks up and looks around, with holy hands lifted high in worship and helping hands stretched out in compassion.
For too long we have embraced a misplaced inclination to separate these planes. The very practice of separating righteousness from justice serves as a primary obstruction between communities, denominations, and ethnicities.
In reality there exists no such truth as a righteousness church or a justice church. There is only one church, and with all due respect, the church of Jesus Christ suffers not from bi-polar disorder. There is one church and that church stands committed to righteousness and justice.
Psalm 89:14 says, "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne. Unfailing love and truth walk before you as attendants."
Now is the time to marry the evangelistic message of Billy Graham with the prophetic activism of Dr. King. Now is the time to reconcile the message with the march, the Way with the Dream, the call for salvation with a call for justice, and the song of redemption with the song of deliverance.
Reconciling King and Graham will bring together urban and suburban, the white and the black, covenant and community, righteousness and justice resulting in a generation that will proudly sing both "There is Room at the Cross" and "We Shall Overcome One Day."
The agenda of the Lamb and our new song
In the agenda of the Lamb, silence is not an option. A new song breaks forth. That's why Revelation 5:6-9 says, "Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. And they sang a new song."
It was Dr. King who said, "Our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter." The Lamb's agenda activates the worshipper. The lamb's agenda activates the oracles of justice.
Silence is not an option when 30 million of our brothers and sisters live in poverty. Silence is not an option when 11 million undocumented individuals continue to live in the shadows. By the way, they are undocumented but not illegal. Why? Because a human created in the image of God cannot be illegal.
Silence is not option when, in 2013 America, men abandon their roles as fathers, our children are slaughtered, pornography marries technology, God is mocked, pushers are more admired than preachers, school grounds look like battlegrounds, and our neighbors sit paralyzed by the gate called beautiful begging for change. It's time to sing a new song.
So when you ask, "Why are black and brown so expressive in their worship?" there's a reason why we sing the way we sing. The reason we can't stay silent, the reason we praise the way we praise, has nothing to do with pigmentation, color of skin or ethno-cultural contextualization.
It's simple: the size of our praise is directly proportional to the magnitude of the hell that God takes us out of. In other words, if he took you out of a little hell then you give him a little praise. But if he saved you, delivered you, healed you, turned you around and set your feet on solid ground, then you give him the highest praise. Behold the Lamb!
The agenda of the Lamb and the blood of the Lamb
The antidote to cultural, geographical, and spiritual myopia is the application of corrective lenses stemming from Revelation 5:9, "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation." Revelation 12:11 also adds, "And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die."
Some of us shouldn't be here right now. Some of us should be in hospitals, prisons, and even six feet under. But guess what? Here we are. We are not hospitalized, in prison, or dead. Why? Because we overcame by the blood of the Lamb.
Living out the Lamb's agenda will enable us to tell everyone who was ever broke, busted, or disgusted that the Dream lives. The Dream lives on through a Convoy of Hope feeding the victims of Sandy. The dream lives through a Hollywood producer desiring to reconnect America with the transformative power of God's word via The Bible series. The dream lives through the King Center teaching the power of nonviolence and civil transformation.
In the early 20th century, communist leaders declared that by the 21st century the entire world would embrace Communism and there would not be one Christian alive on planet earth. In the 1930s Nazi officials declared that the Third Reich would outlast the Christian faith. In the 1960's the Beatles declared in light of their Yankee Stadium concert that by the 21st century they would receive more praise and adoration than the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Well, I have new for you. It's 2013. Lenin is entombed, Hitler is dead, the Beatles are gone, but today we're declaring that the Church of Jesus Christ is alive and well. The Dream still lives.
So let this be the generation, not to be known as the generation of Facebook, YouTube, iPads, and twitter, but the generation that advanced the Lamb's agenda.
So America, rise up. With the Lamb's agenda, rise up and heal in his name, rise up and deliver with his power. Rise up as the good Samaritan; rise up and live out true religion; rise up and clothe the naked; rise up and give shelter to the homeless; rise up and defend life; rise up and eradicate poverty; rise up and pass immigration reform; rise up and defend religious liberty; rise up and end human trafficking. And above all rise up and preach the Word in and out of season, make disciples, fulfil the great commission, and worship God in spirit and in truth.
When that broken soul says, "No one can open the book of my deliverance; no one can heal me." When the world cries out for an answer, tell them that there is one who is worthy. Behold the Lamb!
"To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!" Amen.
Samuel Rodriguez is the president of The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and the senior pastor of New Season Church in Sacramento, CA.