This homily was delivered by Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy Head of School, Christopher Hayes during Upper School Chapel on Monday, January 13, 2014:
Who among us has felt the sting of being too tall, too small, too big, too freckled, too pimpled, of having ears, feet, or hands that mark us as being different? And, particularly when you are young, different can frequently lead to feeling less than. Less attractive, less popular, less valuable. Why can’t I look more like Chris Hemsworth and why oh why can’t Mrs. Hayes look more like Elsa Pataky (yes, that’s Chris Hemsworth’s wife). Then, life would be perfect. I would be accepted, even invited, everywhere. Other people would value me. I would matter more.
And what on earth does this have to do with Chapel, with January, and, most importantly, with you?
Next Monday, we will not have school. Many will celebrate the life of a great American by… sleeping late. Others among us may ever so quietly question whether the holiday has any relevance for them. After all, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was a person of color, acting non-violently to gain equal rights for other people of color. To point out the obvious, most of the people in this room are not of color.
So what, then, does Dr. King, who at first glance may appear to have been a crusader for just one group who were made to feel less than primarily due to appearance, an appearance that many of us do not share, have to offer us? I’m so glad that you asked!
Fifty-six years ago, Dr. King addressed the General Assembly of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA in St. Louis, Missouri, and he challenged the audience then, as I hope to challenge you. He began by stating that, “all too many ministers are still silent while evil rages,” hardly the best way to make friends with a group of ministers. He then stated that there are two ways of fighting evil, either with violence or non-violent resistance. Dr. King stated that nonviolence “is nothing more than Christianity in action.” He added that “nonviolence…is directed at forces of evil rather than persons caught in the forces. Those of us who struggle against racial injustice must come to see that the basic tension is not between races. The tension is at bottom between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. And if there is a victory, it will be a victory not merely for 50,000 Negroes, but a victory for justice, a victory for freedom, a victory for the forces of light. We are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may happen to be unjust.”
So as we pause next Monday to enjoy a day off, please consider it as a day to embrace progress made through relentless, unified non-violent action, and as a day to celebrate justice, not just justice for people of color, but justice for all. Liberty and justice for all, not just words excerpted from this nation’s founding documents, but ideas for which many of our ancestors fought, sacrificed, and sometimes died.
What then, does this have to do with us, sitting in comfort in 21st century Brevard County, far removed from the Titusville murder of educators and civil rights activists Mr. and Mrs. Moore in 1951 by a bomb planted beneath their house on Christmas night, but perhaps not so far removed from the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford less than two years ago? As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
What am I asking you to change? I could tell you, but instead, I will let Dr. King tell you in the words of his “I have a dream” speech. But first, let me caution you. Sitting in a comfortable chair in the anonymous twilight, it can be tempting to have a real dream. Instead, I ask you to lean in, to unpack Dr. King’s words, and to take away a phrase or an idea that you can carry with you today, next week, and as you head off to college and beyond. Perhaps it is simply to ask yourself the question whether you have justice when your neighbor is denied the same justice, or, as is written on the front of the Chapel at the request of Mr. Ed Scott, after whom this building is named, and as Jesus stated in Matthew Chapter 25 verse 40, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
Head of School
Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy
Please take a moment to enjoy these “I have a dream” speeches by three HTEA 5th Grade Students: