Yesterday the worlds of sport and civil rights lost an icon in Muhammad Ali. Time to update your sermon for tomorrow, because a passing mention of the event will not do. Waiting until next week will not do, because news moves fast and worship needs to be relevant to the moment.
If you are using Gospel lectionary of Luke 7: 11-17, highlight the ways in which Ali was a prophet to so many people, showing up at the gates of the city bringing life. While he didn’t raise anyone’s child from the dead, he came bringing life-sustaining water, food and medical supplies to children in many impoverished nations. In 1997, he came to the city gates of San Pedro, Ivory Coast, bringing with him six tons of food, medicine, and toys to a Catholic Mission that cared for 105 Liberian orphans, 61 of which were disabled. The mission also provided for the needs of 400 other children living in the community. It was a human miracle performed at the city gates by a human man. Imagine the moment, the excitement, the relief, the love of the man at the city gates. Great photographs are on online of this moment if you have visuals, and you can paint a picture with your words that will bring people to tears. How can we be the prophet at the gate, in the name of God?
The Epistle lectionary for tomorrow is Galatians 1: 11-24, Paul recounting his previous life and his conversion and the challenges he faced as a result. Rarely do we have a modern, true story of this type of conversion, but we have it in Muhammad Ali. He converted to the Nation of Islam and changed his name (from Cassius Clay) in 1964. Citing his faith, he refused to be drafted into the Vietnam War, and several wonderful quotes come from this time that you can use. (How ready is your congregation to discuss Vietnam? Maybe if we talked about Vietnam we would not have so many other wars.) He was found guilty of evading the draft and sentenced to 5 years in prison and stripped of his world heavyweight title. He appealed to the Supreme Court and his conviction was overturned, but years of his life were lost to this fight. How many of us would follow our convictions this far, would change our lives in so many ways for our faith? Just because Ali was not a Christian does not mean his journey or message are not powerful spiritual messages. Conversion, courage, inter-faith relations, and thoughtfulness are quality Ali can inspire in us all.
The Huffington Post has a great tribute to Ali’s faith here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/muhammad-ali-faith-islam_us_5751e6c9e4b0ed593f146d32 with photos and quotes for any visual arts needs you have.
I almost wish I was guest preaching tomorrow, because these seem like exciting sermons to craft, but instead I’m going to work in the garden and spend tomorrow listening to how another great preacher uses the life of Muhammad Ali to inspire his congregation to live a life God would be proud of.