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YES WE CAN! Steve Halsted's sermon November 9, 2008

On Tuesday of this past week, the eyes of the world were watching as the American people tallied their votes to see who would be the next President of the United States of America.

The question on many minds seemed to be: Can the racial prejudices of the past be set aside in sufficient numbers to elect, for the very first time, a candidate of African-American descent? History was on the line and all eyes seemed to be watching! It reminded me of the first Presidential election that I was keenly aware of as a young child - going back to 1960. At that time history was also in the making and the question on many minds was this: Can the religious prejudices of the past be set aside in sufficient numbers to elect for the very first time a candidate of Roman Catholic heritage?

John F. Kennedy was the candidate, history was on the line, and the eyes of the world were watching!

And the resounding answer given by the American people in both these historic elections was:

Yes, we can!
Yes, we can!
Yes, we can!

I just loved the way Barack Obama began his Election Night acceptance speech! To me it seemed the perfect expression for capturing the historic spirit of that magnificent moment as he said:

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the 'dream' of our 'founders' is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer. It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and always will be, the United States of America!"

I truely believe that the founders of our nation like Thomas Jefferson & James Madison, George and Martha Washington, Abigail and John Adams are now jumping for joy in the eternal realm!

As Tavis Smilley, a highly respected black talk show host proclaimed after the election, We now live in a nation as good as its promise."

Andrew Young, former United Nations Ambassador, Mayor of Atlanta, and Congressman as well as being an ordained UCC pastor, in an interview expressed his pleasant surprise that racism wasn't a large factor in this election.

And Maya Angelou, writer & poet extraordinaire, expressed the opinion that "our country has grown up."

I believe we cannot over-emphasize just how important this election result is in the eyes of "people of color" in America today! For them, indeed for us all, the words expressed in the formative document of our nation, the "Declaration of Independence" have found full, and exonerating expression in the free election of the very first President of the United States of America who is of African-American heritage. To them the highest barrier of, "No you can't" has been overcome by, "Yes, we can!"

In his book, "American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic," Joseph Ellis, pulitzer prize winning author, and historian, puts forth his view that the American Revolution was less a "revolution" than it was an "evolution". He argues that the founders realized their shortcomings and failures in their inability to abolish slavery, and inability to reach a just settlement with the Native Americans, and in failing to advance the voting rights of women. All these being progressive, liberal issues raised at that "so called" revolutionary period of history. It has taken a long "evolution" to get to where we are today! The "Declaration of Independence" stated: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (shall we say today "all people" in the most inclusive way), 'all people' are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights"...

We all know that African-Americans in their long history among us, have not shared equally in these "unalienable rights" of our nation. And although a new day has dawned, ("Yes, we can"), we must continue to remember the prophetic and courageous work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and those who supported him in the Civil Rights Movement, and we all know that the Rev. Dr. King died a martyr's death before seeing his dream fulfilled.

Perhaps it is no coincidence, (could it be Divine Providence?) that one of our lectionary Bible readings designated for this Sunday, the Sunday following this historic Presidential Election, is in fact one of Dr. King's favorite and most often quoted passages: "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." He referred to it on the eve before his assassination in Memphis, on April 3rd, 1968, where he had come to seek justice for the predominantly African-American sanitations workers in their strike against unfair labor practices. At the end of his speech he warned, "We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And he's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

That, I believe was Martin Luther King, Jr.'s way of saying: "Yes we can!"
Yes we can live in a nation where his four children and all children will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Yes we can sit down at the table of sisterhood and brotherhood, where the sons & daughters of former slaves, and the sons and daughters of former slave owners, will be one in body, mind, heart and spirit!

Yes we can transform racially divided states sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression; they will be as Dr. King predicted, transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice!

Yes we can live in a society where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers!

Yes we can!
Yes we can!
Yes we can!

Yes we can elect a president as a nation of "we the people" regardless of the color of one's skin! That is a huge change from the past! And it has taken an "evolutionary" revolution to achieve!

Our nation's founders seriously believed that all people are created equal in the eyes of their Creator God, but that belief was unfulfilled (in our nation) as they went to meet their maker.

Martin Luther King, Jr. faithfully believed that all people are created equal by their Creator God, but that belief was still a "dream" when he died.

As the election results were coming in on TV this past Tuesday night, I couldn't help but wish he were still alive to see it, and I couldn't help but think of his historic "I Have a Dream" speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in our nation's capitol on August 28, 1963. He closed that eloquent speech by saying: "There will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning -

"My country 'tis of thee; sweet land of liberty; of thee I sing; land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims' pride; from every mountainside, let freedom ring"

and if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that,

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and city, we will be able to speed up the day when all of God's children - black and white, Jews and Gentiles, Catholics and Protestants - will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual,

"Free at last, free at last;
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

Yes we can, Martin, Yes we can!
Yes we can, Barack, Yes we can!

And let God's People together say AMEN!