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“Who is Calling Your Name?”

Reflection and sermon by Simone Monique Barnes

celebrating the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

8am and 10:15am worship services

St James Episcopal Church, Austin TX

Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.
Oh, Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.
Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.
Oh, my Lord, Oh, my Lord, what shall I do?
what shall I do?

To you, for you, with you, through you, and in your name we pray. Amen. (Please be seated.)

Before I begin my sermon, I would like to take a moment to thank all of you who prayed with me and for me this past year and a half. My last two check ups found no evidence of breast cancer. I will continue to check in with my doctors very regularly to monitor my health in the coming months and years.

I also want to explain and give warning about a breach of etiquette on my part. I will not be shaking everyone’s hands during the peace and after service. A simple cross your heart blessing, a hug, or even a smile will more than honor the intention for connection between us. While chemo and radiation killed my cancer, it also damaged my nerves and tendons, which can make handshakes uncomfortable for me. I thank you in advance for the compassionate understanding.

I also want to remind you that this sermon is going to be an interactive experience. We will be honoring Coretta Scott King’s Freedom Concert tradition, i.e. you will be singing. And this is a congregational experience honoring one of the greatest Baptist preachers of all time. The chosen will not be frozen today. Amen? Amen.

Martin Luther King Jr Day. It’s been 33 years that we have been celebrating this national holiday here in the United States of America, first observed on January 20, 1986. A three-day weekend named in honor of a Black man, in America. We are our ancestors wildest dreams.

One January, not so many years ago, I had a white colleague casually say to me during a coffee break, “Oh isn’t it funny how we have these three day weekends and we don’t even remember what they are for?” I paused. “I hear you,” I responded. “We’ve gotten into a bad habit of celebrating the sales, and the vacations, and the barbecues that occur during three day weekends. But, I’m Black. We don’t forget Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I’m Black. Our families and our community won’t let us forget. They remind us that it’s important that we mark the day in some way. In my community we’re reminded that it is too important to forget. For us, it’s a day on, not a day off.”

It was that day that I realized how easy it can be for some people to see a world without color. To move through a world without having a 3D experience. A limited palate of tastes, and smells, and textures. I felt as if I was walking through a parallel universe.

I explained:

In some cities, there are MLK breakfasts held by colleges or organizations like the Urban League or the NAACP. In other regions there are parades, with marching bands, and elected officials. In other cities, we have a march, to commemorate the spirit of the many marches for civil rights. All year long, at every birthday party, we sing Stevie Wonder’s song “Happy Birthday [to ya],” which was penned to celebrate the King Holiday. There are fraternity and sorority and community led service projects. Churches offer special programs to remind us that ministry, music, and social justice walk hand and hand. And Black radio stations nationwide disrupt their regular programming to play recordings of his sermons and speeches all day. And in every city and town, there is a oratory competition, with the littlest members of our community, children, often dressed in their finest clothing—bow ties, sweater vests, starched dresses, bows in hair, fresh haircuts and new braids—reciting from memory, inflections and all, the words of Dr King’s speeches. We’ve been celebrating his birthday long before our country finally decided to observe it as a holiday.

Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.
Oh, Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.
Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.
Oh, my Lord, Oh, my Lord, what shall I do?
what shall I do?

Sounds like thunder. Somebody’s callin’ my name,
Oh, Sounds like thunder. Somebody’s callin’ my name,
Sounds like thunder. Somebody’s callin’ my name,
Oh, my Lord, Oh, my Lord, what shall I do?
what shall I do?

On this occasion, I call out the names of Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair, four little Black girls who died in a church basement while adjusting sashes on their dresses, reading their bibles, and changing into their church choir robes just before Sunday morning worship when the Klu Klux Klan bombed 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on September 15, 1963.

The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing marked a turning point in the United States during the civil rights movement. The incident helped garner support to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 less than ten months later.

The excerpt we read this morning was taken from the eulogy that Dr King gave at the girls’ funeral.

When speaking of the girls he tells us that “In a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death…They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.

And so my friends, they did not die in vain.”

When children are killed, we’re really clear, or at least we should be really clear that it is not their fault, and more often than not, it is the “the system, the way of life, [and a] philosophy” which produced their deaths.

Too often we forget to extend that courtesy to teenagers. I think that’s why we often refer to the 16th Street Baptist Church victims as Four Little Black Girls, who were ages 11 to 14. It helps us to remember that were just kids.

When children die, there is sorrow, there is anger, there is a sense of injustice. When a child is killed or pushed into a situation where they feel there is no recourse, we as adults feel like we should have fixed it.

Mourning children is hard.

There have been so many names of children killed in the U.S. since that 1963 bombing.

The names in the news, coupled with the names in our neighborhood, and in our families can feel endless. We feel powerless. Do our efforts for change even make a difference?

Well, it’s like the allegory about a young girl walking along the beach with her dad. They look up and see thousands of starfish washed onto the sand. If fish stay out of the water too long, they will die. The girl frantically begins to throw starfish back into the ocean, one by one. Her father is concerned. “Honey, stop, there are too many. It won’t make a difference.” The little girl continues with her task. She pauses, looking at the starfish in her hand and says to her dad, “It’ll make a difference to this one.”

Pay attention to the stories that shake you to your core.

Who is the thunder calling out your name? It could be someone you were close to. It could be a name you heard of in the news. Whose name reminds you that there is still work to be done, work on the system, the philosophy, the way of life that produced their killers?

Make a difference to this one.

Sounds like Jesus. Somebody’s callin’ my name,
Oh, Sounds like Jesus. Somebody’s callin’ my name,
Sounds like Jesus. Somebody’s callin’ my name,
Oh, my Lord, Oh, my Lord, what shall I do?
what shall I do?

What can I do? Is God calling your name? Whose death will cause you to act to dismantle “the system, the way of life, the philosophy that produced their murderers,” so that they did not die in vain?

Gary Clark Jr has this new song that I love, with simple, powerful lyrics: “Feed the Babies, teach them how to love.”

This work isn’t easy.

We have to love our neighbors. I struggled for a long time with this whole, “Love your neighbor” thing. I remember arguing with my friends one day about a hard situation that I was in. (Sidenote: You know, when you hang out with church folks, they will call you on your stuff.) “Simone, the Bible says love your neighbor!” And I said, “I do love my neighbors. I’m a great neighbor. I’m also a linguist, a wordsmith; the Bible didn’t say anything about me loving my coworkers or my boss!” I think you can substitute whatever your circumstance is, for who is NOT your neighbor.

It’s interesting how we can pick and choose what verses to take literally and which to take symbolically when it suits us.

A verse in Luke asks us, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?”


We want to be like Jesus, but we feel like we fall short. We’re taught that Jesus was and is perfection. But I think we misinterpret perfection. We say to ourselves, “God is never angry.” Ha! A light skim reading of the Old Testament tells us otherwise. The wrath of God. And Jesus, there are times when He shows his attitude and frustration. “Oh ye of little faith.” Jesus is also known to check someone from time to time.

Loving your neighbor is hard. However, the Bible says we are to be slow to anger, it doesn’t say we’re not allowed to have feelings.

Loving your neighbor is not about thinking that they are right, but it is about figuring out how this situation came to be.

Loving your neighbor can be changing a law, or making sure that their basic needs are met. Or praying for them.

There’s a reason why Jesus walked amongst us. There’s a reason why Dr King and other civil rights leaders marched with the people. Empathy. There’s something magical that happens when we are shoulder to shoulder, side by side with one another.

When a child dies, it should make us want to change the things that factored into their deaths. It should make us want to make sure that access to healthcare, quality food, and wellness are without barriers. It should make us want to make sure that mental health resources are available. It should make us want to make sure than guns and bullets are never in the wrong hands. It should make us push for well rounded, truthful, compassionate, and equitable education. It should make us check our own behavior.

We are too quick to point out the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye while ignoring the giant wooden plank in our own. On social media, I watch us be devastated as we witness an indigenous elder be berated by young people who clearly were not being taught how to love. And then I watch us berate and belittle a young person who identifies as transgender, as if that child can’t feel or read or be harmed by any of those harsh criticisms. I watch our tears as we add houses of worship, and backyards, and front lawns, and coffee shops, and malls, and teacher’s lounges, and classrooms to the laundry list of places our children aren’t safe. And I watch us need a three day documentary to believe that 13, 14, and 15 year old girls, are girls and not grown women. I watch myself, noticing when I choose to speak up and when I choose to be silent. The ability to hate and the ability to love is in all of us.

So what will you do?

Like Jesus, we can be human. We can be tired. We can be hurt.

But we must do something to change the system, the way of life, and the philosophy that produced the suffering and the deaths of children.

My advice: Close your eyes for just a moment. Quiet yourself. Hush the noise. Be still. Someone is calling your name. Hush. Hush. Feel the thunder within your body, your mind. Who is calling your name? Hush. Hush.

Allow the names of those who have died to be your muse, moving you to the work:


Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

Emmett Till

Addie Mae Collins

Cynthia Wesley

Carole Robertson

Carol Denise McNair

Timothy Anderson

Trayvon Martin

Tamir Rice

Laquan Mcdonald

Blake Brockington

Ana Márquez-Greene

Devonte Hart

Draylen Mason

Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin

McKenzie Adams

Jazmine Barnes

Someone is calling your name.

Answer the call, so that they did not die in vain.

Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.
Oh, Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.
Hush. Hush. Somebody’s callin’ my name.
Oh, my Lord, Oh, my Lord, what shall I do?
what shall I do?


What follows below are readings from the Sunday, January 20, 2019, 8am church service at St James Episcopal Church in Austin TX, included here for context of the sermon above.

The First Reading

Genesis 37:17b-20

Reader   A reading from the book of Genesis.

Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”ReaderThe Word of the Lord.

The Psalm

Psalm 77:11-20

 I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
   I will remember your wonders of old. 

I will meditate on all your work,
   and muse on your mighty deeds. 

Your way, O God, is holy.  What god is so great as our God? 

You are the God who works wonders; you have 

displayed your might among the peoples. 

With your strong arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

16 When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled. 

17 The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered;
   your arrows flashed on every side. 

18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
   your lightnings lit up the world;
   the earth trembled and shook. 

19 Your way was through the sea,
   your path, through the mighty waters;
   yet your footprints were unseen. 

20 You led your people like a flock
   by the hand of Moses and Aaron.


The Second Reading                           

An excerpt: from “Eulogy for the Martyred Children

These children—unoffending, innocent, and beautiful—were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.

And yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. They have something to say to every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.

And so my friends, they did not die in vain. 

The Gospel

Luke 6:27-36

Jesus said, “I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Prayers of the People

Intercessor: In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, we will  have special prayers of  the people which are included in your readings. 

Celebrant: Fulfill your dream of liberty for all people, Almighty One, as we come to you in hope, praying: Let your justice roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Intercessor: You have called your Church out of bondage into the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, O Holy One: Grant us courage to confront injustice with your disarming grace and to follow your commandment to love our enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Let your justice roll down like water,

People: and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Intercessor: We know that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere: Inspire the leaders of the world to heed the call of the suffering and to resist the oppression and exploitation of all taskmasters, O Mighty God, that we may all work together to make equality and justice a reality for all God’s children. Let your justice roll down like water,

People: and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Intercessor: Look upon your children who live with poverty, racism, violence, or abuse and comfort them with champions of mercy, O Compassionate One, that all humanity may be inspired to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let your justice roll down like water,

People: and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Intercessor Fill this community with your love, O Gracious One, that we may walk in the light of creative altruism and not in the darkness of destructive selfishness, sitting together with our neighbors at the table of brotherhood. Let your justice roll down like water,

People: and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Intercessor: We pray for all who need the comfort of your divine protection and healing presence, especially those we now name, either silently or aloud.

(Pause for people to offer prayers)

We give you thanks for the goodness and blessing of life.

We remember those who have died in the struggle for freedom, and all others whom we commend to your eternal arms.

Let your justice roll down like water,

People: and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Celebrant: We give you thanks, our God, for the witness of your servant Martin Luther King, Jr., and we commit ourselves to the continuation of the struggle to resist oppression in the name of your love, until all of your people may be free at last, living together in your promised land of freedom `and peace, through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

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I am slowly beginning to wean myself off of social media in the mornings. It used to be fun. One could start the day with a dose of information, cuteness and joy.

Instead I now open Facebook and take a deep breath in wonder, “What mean and cruel thing has happened in the world today?” I am relieved when my senses are assaulted with birds dancing to music, children covered in peanut butter, and grandpas amusingly dancing to the music of their grandchildren’s generation.

Today was not one of those days.

A teenage boy made a clock at home and brought it to school. He ended his day in a juvenile detention center because teenage boys of Muslim Sudanese descent living in America should know better.

I find myself thinking what I would have instinctively said to that young man were he my son, nephew, cousin, mentee, or friend, “You cannot make something electronic like this at home and then bring it to school; they’ll think you’re a terrorist.” And instantly I am heartbroken with myself, because even that protective thought is cruel and unfair.

Despite the world around them, in reality what I would say (and what I am saying today) to youth is “No one has the right to limit your potential.”

I am sad. Very sad. Because for so many kids this is their reality, the scars that shape their adolescence and adulthood.

This is the world I live in.

But I haven’t lost all hope.

The candles of creativity and innovation are lit by the flames of curiosity and wonder. What the world needs today is more light. My educator heart breaks for all of the lights we extinguished today.

All is not lost. I am reminded that for every person who blows out a candle, there are several others ready to relight its flame.

I remember that I am a member of a Christian church in Texas that hosts an iftar dinner each year during Ramadan to share a meal and conversation with Muslim members of our community.

And then I read the Comments section of the Dallas Morning News’ story on Ahmed prepared to wince, but instead am surprised at the high volume of commentary in support of this child and others.

And then the #IStandWithAhmed hashtag is born, breathing new air into my life. The world isn’t completely insane.

He’s vowed never to take an invention to school again.”

But, still, there is a child, a child, who now has the memory of what it feels like to be handcuffed and fingerprinted by police. A child whose name will forever be connected to the words arrest, bomb and terrorist whenever his name is googled. And there are children and families who right now are telling themselves, be careful, be safe, it’s too risky, don’t do it.

Youth is supposed to be filled with sparks of wonder, imagination and curiosity.

I refuse to let social media bring me all the way down today. So I’m adding more oxygen to my fire by listening to dose of my freedom song playlist, so that I can be ready to relight those candles whose flames have been temporarily extinguished. I need the reminder that

  • Oh Freedom
  • Freedom is Coming [Oh Yes I Know]
  • Freedom is Coming Tomorrow
  • A Change Gone Come
  • Someday We’ll All Be Free

For those of us and those of you who felt lights dimmed a little today, in the words of the late Donny Hathaway,

Never mind your fears
Brighter days will soon be here
Take it from me, someday we’ll all be free…

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Dear #McKinneyPoolParty Youth,

I am sorry.

I am sorry that the focus is on you and not on the many adults who contributed to this situation.

I am sorry that the color of your skin caused some people to make you feel like you did or did not belong.

I am sorry that many of you will now be apprehensive about going to pools and social gatherings with your friends.

I am sorry that this will be the way you remember how your summer of 2015 kicked off.

I am sorry that the value of your home too often determines the value people place on you.

I am sorry that we did not prepare you to recognize and handle the amplifying power of social media.

I am sorry that you felt scared.

I am sorry that one of the hardest days of your lives will live for infinity on the internet.

I am so sorry.

In love,

— Simone Monique Barnes


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