There’s A Revival in the Valley: Ezekiel 37 and The Total Recall of Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign
Preacher: Onleilove Alston
As we celebrate the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I want to share for a few minutes about The Revival in the Valley: Ezekiel 37 and The Total Recall of Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign.
Let us prepare our hearts for prayer. Divine creator thank you for this day. Bless each person here. God of Sarah, Rebecca and Leah we confess to you that we have been silent when our neighbors have been abused by the systems of racism and sexism. We confess that we have diminished the mothers of creation, while worshipping an idol constructed by our biases. Help us to honor the legacy of The Poor People’s Campaign by following the leadership of those in our valleys and by following the leadership of those who are now last but are being made first.
Bring your revival to us, revive the dry bones and help us to follow you in spirit and in truth. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight oh Yahweh my rock and my redeemer. May your Holy Spirit enter this place. Amen
Let us turn our attention to Ezekiel 37: 1-14. I learned in seminary that this passage is one of the most preached on passages in the Black Church and it is one of my favorite passages. This passage is called by many the Valley of The Dry Bones.
The hand of the YAHWEH came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of Yahweh and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Yahweh, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of Yahweh. Thus says Yahweh to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am Yahweh.” So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says Yahweh: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says Yahweh: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land. And you shall know that I am Yahweh, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, Yahweh, have spoken and will act.”
Many Black preachers and even activist like the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey have spoken on Ezekiel 37, I think one reason why this passage is so loved by the Black community is because it speaks of a defeated and displaced people who through the spirit of God rise up to become mighty and are returned to their land. See this passage is a prophecy that Ezekiel is given concerning the defeated Hebrew people who are in Babylonian captivity, see captivity is interesting because those in captivity are trapped between slavery and freedom. In Babylonian captivity the Hebrews were taken from their land to live and work for Babylon, many were forced to take new names and some like Daniel and his friends were pressured to worship Babylonian gods. Most African-Americans were taken from Africa and brought to the Caribbean and the Americas to be slaves and though today we are not slaves we aren’t completely free either. We aren’t back in the African nations our ancestors were taken from, we have slave names like my last name Alston which is the largest slave holding family in America and many
of us are pressured to worship God in a European way. Captivity means you are free, but
targeted by the prison industrial complex, Captivity means you are free but dark skin women receive longer prison sentences than their lighter skinned counterparts. Captivity means you are free but your girls can go missing and your trans people can be murdered and the news doesn’t cover it. The impact of white supremacy is that many Africans in America feel like this captivity is a dry valley where we can’t live in our full humanity.
There have been many Prophets in the Black Community who preached to our dry bones
Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Rabbi Matthew Wentworth Pan African Jewish activist and founder of the first African-American synagogue in NY. Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael and of course the man we are honoring today Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. One of the most prophetic acts of Dr. King’s life and ministry was his plans to launch a Poor People’s Campaign where poor Blacks, poor whites, poor Native Americans, poor Latinos, poor Asians and their allies would converge on Washington, DC to demand an economic bill of rights to deal with the injustice of poverty. Dr. King was inspired to launch A Poor People’s Campaign when Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund invited Dr. King to tour Marks, Mississippi and the poverty he saw there literally brought him to public tears something that had never happened before. Later in his life Dr. King began to wonder if integration made a difference if the average African-American could sit at a lunch counter but couldn’t afford to eat there. So, during the last year of his life Dr. King planned the Poor People’s Campaign but
unfortunately, he was assassinated before seeing it come to pass. While a student at Union Theological Seminary I learned about the Poor People’s Campaign while being a Poverty Scholar with the Poverty Initiative now known as the Kairos Center at Union Theological seminary. What I learned by having to read official FBI documents is that Dr. King was assassinated due to fear over him attempting to deal with poverty in America and his murder wasn’t the act of one lone man but of a system that does not want us to unite and throw off the shackles of economic oppression. Even though Dr. King died the Poor People’s Campaign went forward led by leaders like Bertha Burress an African-American single mother who did secretary work for the Marks, Mississippi NAACP who rode from Mississippi to Washington, DC on a mule that said “Don’t laugh Jesus was a Poor Man”. I was honored to meet her in 2008 when I joined the Kairos Center for a visit to Marks, Mississippi to learn more about the Poor People’s Campaign. Many scholars would say the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign failed because we didn’t get an economic bill of rights BUT with thousands of poor people of all races setting up a resurrection city in our nations capital and doing actions on the hill I would say this was a victory because never in our history had all the races come together in this way for justice. Many
historians look at the Poor People’s Campaign and the poor of our nation in the same way Ezekiel looked at the dry bones in the valley and they ask can the Poor People’s Campaign be revived? Can these dry bones truly live? Can poverty be eliminated in American when more and more people of all races and education levels are burdened by debt and foreclosed homes? These are valid questions but we serve a God not of the seen but of the unseen. We serve a savior who was born a poor, displaced defeated Judean, a Black man whose teachings changed our world.
For many years my friends in the Kairos network of 200 poor people’s groups across the world dreamed of reviving the Poor People’s Campaign and now with our friend Rev. Dr. William Barber this is being done. I call the Revival of the Poor People’s Campaign a Revival in the Valley and I ask you this evening will you meet us in the valley?
In order to let go of the idols of greed and racism/white supremacy you must come down to the valley, you like Ezekiel must see the dry bones, you must look at what these idols have done. During the Pope’s visit to America we held up signs in Philadelphia and NYC saying I am made in the image of God, do you SEE me? You can’t stop doing what you won’t see. If you don’t come down to the Valley with me, then how can you be my ally? In the valley are bones that are dry because of systematic oppression BUT The Most High God is in the business of empowering the oppressed with his spirit. See what you may not know is that God’s spirit is down in the Valley and if you refuse to join me in the valley you will miss the movement of the spirit, because in the valley is your healing from how greed and white supremacy has hurt us all, healing is in the valley because God is in the valley, Yeshua came to go down to the valley of his oppressed Hebrew people living under Roman domination. I believe that the revival of Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign could be an Ezekiel 37 moment where the dry bones of the
campaign are revived during a time of great fear and hopelessness in our nation.
When we bow down to the idols of greed and racism we miss out on all God’s humanity has to offer, we become separated from your brothers and sisters and thus we cannot be in unity with The Most High God because Yahshua said how can you love God who you can’t see if you don’t love your brother who you do see and in Matthew 25 Yahshua makes it clear what you do to those who are considered the least of these is how you will be eternally judged.
As James Baldwin has said the dominant culture (rooted in white supremacy) in the US is
morally bankrupt and so if you are a child of The Most High God as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 12 you can’t be conformed to this world but you must have your mind renewed and transformed. To be a part of this Poor People’s Campaign revival you must look to the culture of those in the Valley those who have to be interdependent due to being poor, those who have to develop strength in trauma, those who have to love their enemies, the culture that Yahshua calls the Kingdom of God. When I say come down to the valley I am not saying every Black person is poor or defeated and I am not asking you to appropriate our culture but I am asking you to come where the spirit of God is by learning from us, letting go of isolation, confessing and repenting of white supremacy and working with us for justice that will heal us both. I am not asking you to do a tour of the Valley but to come down to the Valley. Those leading the revival of the Poor People’s Campaign aren’t asking for charity or pity but unity in the spirit to become a better
nation and world.
When the prophet Ezekiel is told by Yahweh to prophesy to the dry bones he is also in
Babylonian Captivity and the founders of the Kairos center are those who came from the
Homeless and Welfare rights movements. As a commissioner for the campaign I am a formerly homeless woman now working as the Director of Faith in NY a network of over 100 congregations working for housing, racial and economic justice in our city. I know what it is like to be in the valley of poverty. I am sure many of you know it’s like to be in
the valley of poverty, sexism, racism, ableism or some type of marginalization but together if we see and hear each other in the valley we can truly unite and revive the spirit of Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign thus changing our congregations, city, nation and the world.
The Revival of the Poor People’s Campaign is an example of those from the ranks of the poor being revived by the spirit to stand in hope during these chaotic and uncertain political times, will you join us for the revival in the Valley?
Concrete steps can you take this MLK Day to join the Revival:
1. Sign A Poor People’s Campaign Pledge card to get updates about campaign events in the NYC area: https://poorpeoplescampaign.org.
2. Participate in Faith in New York’s Leadership Assembly on Thursday February 1 st from 6-9pm at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church where diverse people of faith from across NYC will come together to decide on our united action this year to tangible deal with an issue of injustice in our city. For more info visit: http://www.faithinnewyork.org
3. Question the culture you are being pressured to join, the culture of division and isolation seek to be in authentic interdependent relationships with people of color not to teach but to learn.
As we close I want to leave you with these words of encouragement from Dr. King:
Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and
destroys. The aftermath of the fight with fire method is bitterness and chaos, the aftermath of the love method is reconciliation and creation of the beloved
community. Physical force can repress, restrain, coerce, destroy, but it cannot create
and organize anything permanent; only love can do that. Yes, love—which means
understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill, even for one’s enemies—is the
solution. –Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957