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Speaker calls for ringing bells until all are free


Carolyn Gordon
Carolyn Gordon speaks at the King commemorative service.

Carolyn Gordon, chair of the department of preaching and communications at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., called those who came to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemorative service “bell ringers for freedom” for choosing the celebration over watching the Seattle Seahawks vs. 49ers football game.

Carolyn read from Luke 4:18 Jesus’ first sermon, often quoted by King, in which Jesus said, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach the good news to the poor, to proclaim release of the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of God’s favor.” 

She noted that it’s easy to stop there, rather than read on about people in the congregation wanting to drive Jesus out over a cliff, and that he escapes by walking through the crowd. 

“The year of God’s favor,” she explained, “is the jubilee, which is to happen every 50 years when land is to be returned to the original owners, debts forgiven and slaves freed.  His proclaiming that did not end happily ever after.

“Jesus went from hero to zero,” she said.  “Have you ever been in a situation when people have become so mad they wanted to hurl you off a cliff? 

“Just because you are called does not mean people will receive you.  Have you ever become tired of trying to free those who do not want to be free?” she asked.

MLK rally 2014
2014 march included many more children than previous years.

Carolyn pointed out that while everyone may not receive the message, someone may receive it.

“We are not to grow weary in well doing.  Not everyone will applaud when we ring the bell of freedom, but we need to ring the bell. 

“You are called, but the call is to more than you” she said, pointing around the room:  “It’s to you, and you, and you, and you.

“There are good days and bad days, but we are still called.  Dark times do not mean God has forsaken us,” she said.  “We need to do what we can do. The rest is God’s task.”

Carolyn said King also wrestled with his mortality and with people.  The people of Atlanta said they couldn’t do what was happening in Alabama and other parts of the country, where people were set free to eat at lunch counters and shop, but because the people of Alabama became free, the people of Atlanta did, too.

“We see the pretty part with the March on Washington and the dream speech.  We do not see the threats that kept King up at night, worried about protecting his family or how the FBI tried to tear up his family,” she said. 

“We do not see how he had to sneak out so he would not be lynched.  He was always in danger.  In New York, he was stabbed with a letter opener and barely survived.

“It’s like those who were going to kill Jesus because they did not like his sermon.  Through Jesus’ example of walking out through the crowd, he encourages us not to be afraid,” Carolyn said.

MLK March 2014

Marchers line up for Martin Luther King Jr. Day March that extended from the Convention Center to River Park Square.

Harriet Tubman said, “I saved 1,000 from slavery, but I would have saved another 1,000 if they had known they were slaves.”

“Some people do not want to be free and are mad if others are free,” Carolyn said.

“We allow fear to tie us up in captivity.  It’s hard to be free.  Don’t give up.  We need to celebrate the 1,000 saved” she continued. 

“If I can say I rang the bell because God told me, don’t worry about being satisfied or being alone.  If I ring the bell, and you ring the bell, and you, and you, and you will ring the bell.”

In England, people rang church bells to form community, to call people to worship, to notify of strife or if someone needed help.

“Churches ring their bells collectively as a call to worship and to community.  One bell may not be heard, but as all ring their bells, the bells are heard through the land.  Bell ringers all over the world are ringing the bell for freedom and justice, a symphony of bells,” Carolyn said.

“You may be discouraged and tired, but the call of God is not once,” she said.  “When we are tired of one call, God has a new call.  When we call people to be free, we do not decide who will be set free.”

Today, many African-Americans can go to the best restaurants or fly first class, but “we are still not all free.”

Carolyn said she grew up believing that women were not to preach. 

“I was okay with it.  I did not want to preach, but then I realized I was called to preach in a church that told women they were not to preach,” she said.

Carolyn is ordained in the Southern Baptist and National Baptist churches.

She was called to teach at a school and was shaken that university level people were still arguing over whether God called women to preach. 

“We’re doing it,” she said.  “In the midst of my righteous indignation, it was amazing to hear scriptures to think of others who are captives.  We do not think churches are captives.

“What are you still captive about?” she asked. 

For every freedom gained, she said someone sat at a table and argued on behalf of the person needing to be freed.

“For whom will you sit at the table and speak?  We are not called to fight every battle.  You may fight the battle for homosexuals. Churches can’t escape that discussion. Someone else may build ramps in churches for people with disabilities.  Someone may work on behalf of protecting children of immigrants here illegally.  There are still homeless people, still children raising themselves under bridges.  Who will sit at the table for them? We can’t afford any longer to be afraid,” she said.

“Jesus walked away into the world to set people free, to call people back from death.  When he finished his walk on earth, he found himself on a cross.  That appears to be the end of the story, but it’s not.

He cried, “Why did you forsake me,” and then said, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”

“It’s not over.  People ring bells because Jesus went into death and into life,” Carolyn said.  “Would we celebrate King if he had not died?  King would say there’s work still to do.

“Until all are free, black, white, rich and poor, you and others have to ring bells until all are free.  Don’t give up because it’s hard, because people are against you,” she said.  “Let your bell ring until God says, ‘Well done good and faithful servant.  Put the bell down.’”

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Copyright © February 2014 - The Fig Tree