Noonday Preaching Series
Calvary Episcopal Church
want to talk to you today about a story that Jesus tells. He was
a great storyteller. Its about a man who loved figs; he was
a fig-loving man. So that he would not have to borrow figs or go
to the market to get them, this man had his gardener plant a fig
tree in his vineyardnot a little scrawny tree, but a big
man waited for the tree to mature and then one day decided it
was time to check his fig tree for fruit. From a distance, the
tree looked wonderful. It had beautiful leaves with no brown
spots. But as he drew closer, he did not see any fruit. He was
not too disturbed by this, and said, "Well, maybe the atmospheric
pressure or something. Ill give it another year."
year later he came back and found the same thing, leaves everywhere
but no fruit. He came back the third year looking for fruitfigs,
because he loved figs. He wanted to be able to go into his own
vineyard and get figs. This healthy looking tree was there again
in full foliage, but all he found was leaves.
called the gardener and said, "Come here, come here. For three years Ive
been coming here, looking for fruit on this tree. All I find
is leaves. Its taking up space. Its taking the nutrients
out of the earth. Its just in the way. Without any further
discussion, cut it down."
you know whats involved in making us who we are? Do you
know what goes into making you who you are and making me who
I am? All that God makes of us, allows us to be? All that He
allows us to become and what happens? He comes looking for the
fruit of our lives, and all were doing is looking the part.
story of the fig tree is in the Luke Gospel, Chapter 13--just
looking the part, just looking the part. All that has gone into
making you who you are and I doubt anybody here would
debate with me that a tree is not known by who planted it. It
might have been a great person, might have been great-granddad
or somebody else, but thats not how we know trees.
tree is not known by its position in the garden, whether its
in the front or the back or the side or wherever. Thats
not how we know trees. A tree is not known by the birds that
come and light there and even build their nest there. Nor is
a tree known by the weary traveler who comes to find shade beneath
the tree. Thats not how we know trees. Trees are known
by the fruit that they bear.
breathe Gods air. It was good when He gave it to us. We
messed it up. We drink His water, His wet water. He put the wet
in the water. It would never have occurred to me when I was a
boy that wed have to buy watera billion-dollar industry,
buying water. What of it?
that goes into making us who we are. And He comes looking for
fruit, and all He finds is leaves,
leaves. God expects more of us than that.
reasonable or unreasonable demand was made. He did not ask the
tree to bear plums, he did not ask the tree to bear apples. He
wanted figs, and so he planted a fig tree. No further discussion,
cut it down.
the crowning of Gods creation. The time thats put
into developing our personalitiesthe who that we are and
the me that I am and the you that you are makes us so special.
Im the only me God made, and youre the only you God
made. You may be a twin, triplet or whatever. Nobodys got
your DNA but you. In all the universe, there is not another you
anywhere. That is pretty special to me. Nowhere is there another
you. The difficulty is we spend our time trying to be somebody
play a little basketball. I dont play that well, but I
play, and I enjoy watching Michael Jordan play. I enjoy watching
him start at the free throw line, fly down that vast court and
put that ball in the hoop. I just holler.
I dont envy
Michael one bit. You know why? Because if you brought him to
the church where I pastor, Monumental Baptist Church in Memphis,
some Sunday morning at eleven oclock, he couldnt
do what I do. I think they all make too much money, but I dont
spend time trying to be someone else when God has made us who
we are. Interesting the time put into making us who
of us who are of African descent owe it to our ancestors to bear
fruit. I am told that only five of 20 made it across the middle
passage. If thats true, look how God has allowed us to
survive everything that was put upon us. There was nothing put
upon us that we didnt survive.
took leftovers and throwawaysthe pigs feet and the
pigs tails and the innards. Our poor parents were such
geniuses that they took those throwaways and lifted them to a
culinary art. You can get chitlins in Paris now. They took day-old
bread, week-old bread, doctored it up and made bread pudding.
I just paid $5.49 for a slice of bread pudding the other day.
I dont know how they can charge that price, but they do.
ancestors took scraps of cloth and made them into beautiful quilts.
We call it folk art now. It wasnt folk art then.
I had an aunt who would take old stockings and make area rugs
out of them. We survived everything that was put upon us.
were no classes to teach slaves how to speak English when they
came here. All the discussion about bilingual education the
slaves had no classes. They learned it phonetically because they
had such a will to survive. All that goes into making us who
had such a strong will to survive; thats what
I tell young people as I speak to them. Dont think light
of grandma. We picked up our English. There were no classes,
and they didnt have time to say, "Give me this." They
said, "Gimme dis, gimme dis here." They didnt
say, " Im going to get you." I dont think
so. They said, "Im gonna getcha."
came looking for fruit, and all he found was leaves, just leaves.
I see a manicured lawn, zoysia grass, azaleas blooming. It looks
like a housemicrowave, 52-inch television, three-car garage.
It looks like a house, but is it a home? It looks like a house.
The closer you get to it, the more it looks like a house, but
is it a home? Whats happening in that house? Are the children
on drugs? Do they speak to each other in the morning? Do they
eat together at the dinner table? It looks like a house, but
is it a home?
It has classrooms. It has a library. It has a gymnasium. It has a cafeteria.
It looks like a school, but what is that I seea metal detector in an
elementary school? What is that I seea six-year-old with a gun in school?
has stained glass windows. It has an organ. It has comfortable
pews. It has a pastor and a rector. It looks like a church, but
where is the proof? I have talked so much about Calvary and the
remarkable ministries you have here in downtown Memphis. The
wonderful ministries you have--its fruit, the fruits
came looking for fruit, but all he found was leaves. Well, thats
not the end of the story. The gardener, the one who planted the
tree, the one who nurtured it and all that he had a kinship
to the tree. He said, "Wait a minute. I know its your
tree. I understand that. I work for you. I know youve been
here three years looking for fruit, and there is none. I have
no explanation, but give it one more year. Im going to
dig around it. Im going to fertilize it. Im going
to nurture it. Im going to make that tree bear some fruit.
Just give me another year."
it wonderful that God continues to give us another chance? Isnt
it wonderful to have another chance? Every day is another
chance. Every single day is another chance filled with opportunities,
crammed with possibilities. Every day that you get up, you can
get up and be grateful. So what have you got to be grateful for
today? Im breathing, and Im grateful.
have a wonderful member in our church. She has a lung problem,
and she said, "Reverend, I just cant stay away from
church." So, they fixed her up so she could take a tank
of air with her to church. She sat in the audience with her tank
and she said, "Reverend, I cant stay in that audience.
I got to get in the choir." And she got in the choir with
her tank of air. God keeps giving us another chance.
sanitation workers had gone on strike in Memphis in February
1968. They were treated so poorly and their wages were so low
that they could work all day and still qualify for welfare. So
they went on strike. We tried to get them to wait until June.
Then you would have the heat and the stench and the flies, but
they said, "No, we cant go back. Were out. Were
not going back." That started the movement for equality
for the sanitation workers.
started having rallies every night, and we started raising money.
Then we started making plans for a big rally, and we invited
Dr. King to come. The first time we asked him, his staff said, "We
dont have time. Were working on the Poor Peoples
Campaign. We cant come to Memphis." But he overruled
them and said, "No, were going to Memphis," and
he came and made a wonderful speech. We got him to agree to come
back and lead a march. That march broke up in violence, so he
wanted to come back and have a peaceful march. He said, "If
we dont have a peaceful march in Memphis, we cant
have one in Washington."
he came back to lead that march on April 3, 1968. We almost missed
the mountaintop speech. There were tornado warnings that night,
thunder and lightening and rain. He thought there would not be
many people at the temple. So he told Jesse Jackson and Ralph
Abernathy and myself to go over and have the meeting without
him. He would stay in his hotel room and work on the Poor Peoples
we got there and the place was nearly full. Abernathy walked
in, Jesse Jackson walked in, and then I walked in, and the people
started clapping. Abernathys preachers sense said, "These
people are not clapping for us. They think Martin is coming in
behind us." So he went to the phone and said, "Martin,
you better get over here, man. These people came out in the weather
to hear you." So, he came. We almost missed that mountaintop
Abernathy introduced him for fully 20 minutes. We didnt
know that would be the last introduction he would ever receive.
We knew how to get the introducer out of the way when hes
too long, we say, "Amen, brother. Amen, brother." But
no one said a word. Martin sort of teased Ralph when he got up.
He said, "I thought Ralph wasnt going to make a speech."
never heard him talk about death so much as he did that night. He didnt take a topic. He just got up and started talking.
He told us how his plane had been under guard all the previous
night in Atlanta, and that when he got into Memphis, he had heard
about more threats against his life.
he started to talk about the time he was stabbed in New York.
A woman came up to him as he was signing books, and said, "Are
you Martin Luther King?" He said, "Yes," and she
stabbed him in the chest with a letter opener.
he was recovering, he said of all the greetings he got, the one
most telling came
from a young girl in New York somewhere. She wrote, "Dear
Dr. King, I read about your misfortune, and Im so sorry
to hear about that. The papers said the blade was so close to
your aorta that if you had sneezed you would have drowned in
your own blood." She put at the bottom, "Im glad
you didnt sneeze."
picked up on that and did a whole litany onIm glad
I didnt sneeze. If I had sneezed, I would have missed the
young people "sitting in" all across the south. If
I had sneezed, I would have missed the Selma to Montgomery march.
If I had sneezed, I would have missed the voting rights. He talked
about all the things he would have missed had he sneezed.
then said, "You will get to the Promised Land. We as a people
will get to the Promised Land. I may not get there with you,
but God has allowed me to go on the mountain. Ive looked
over, and Ive seen the Promised Land. Youll get to
the Promised Land."
Im certain he knew he wouldnt
get there, but he knew we couldnt stand to hear him say, "I
wont get there with you." So he softened it and said, "I
may not get there with you."
never thought hed live to be 40. He was 39 when the bullet
hit him. He said, "Ive looked over, and Ive
seen the Promised Land, and Im not fearing any man. Mine
eyes have seen the coming of the Good Lord," and he turned
and walked to his seat. He always finished
his quotes, but he didnt finish his quote that night. And by the next day
he was right, he didnt live to be 40.
was to be served at my home. I told him dinner was at 5:00. He
called my house, and someone told him dinner was at 6:00. So,
when I got to the motel to pick him up, he said, "Im
in no hurry. Dinners not till 6:00."
gave me the wonderful privilege, along with Ralph Abernathy,
the last hour of his life with him in Room 306 of the Lorraine
MotelAbernathy, King and Kyles. And now Im the only
talked about things that preachers talk about. About a quarter
of 6:00 we walked out onto the balcony. He was greeting people
he had not seen. Somebody said, "Its going to be cold
Doc, get your coat."
didnt go back in the room.
He went to the door and said, "Ralph, get my coat." Ralph
was in the room putting on shaving lotion. Ralph said, "Ill
get your coat." He went back to the railing of the balcony
and was greeting people again. He said something to Jesse Jackson
and said something to some other people. We stood together. I
said, "Come on, guys. Lets go."
got about five steps, and the shot rang out. I looked over. People
were ducking behind cars. I looked back and saw that the bullet
had knocked him from beside the railing down onto the balcony.
ran to him, and I looked at him. He had this tremendous hole
in his face. Then I ran into the room and picked up the phone
to call an operator or to call an ambulance. But, the operator
had left the switchboard.
was nobody on the switchboard. I was saying, "Answer the phone, answer the phone, answer
the phone." And there was nobody on the switchboard. So
the phone was not answered. (I learned later that the operator
had gone out into the courtyard to watch Dr. King. When she saw
what happened, she had a heart attack. She was the motel owners
wife, and she died subsequently.)
The police were coming with their guns drawn, and I hollered
to the police, "Call
an ambulance on your police radio. Dr. King has been shot." They said, "Where
did the shot come from?" The well-known picture of the people pointing
is in response to that question. It was a terrible time. I thought I was having
waiting for the ambulance to come, I took a spread from one of
the beds and covered him from his neck down. I took a crushed
cigarette from his hand. He never smoked publicly, he didnt
want the children to see him smoke. I took the cigarette pack
from his pocket.
cannot tell you the feelings I had seeing my friend there on
that balcony bleeding to death. Finally the
ambulance came and took him away.
many, many years, I must tell you, I wondered why was I there? Of all the places I could have been, of all the places he could
have been, all the things we could have been involved in, why
was I there at that moment in history?
God revealed it to me over the yearsI was there to be a witness, and my witness
has to be true. Martin Luther King, Jr., didnt die in some
foolish, untoward way. He didnt overdose. He wasnt
shot by a jealous lover. He died helping garbage workers.
will mark the 32nd anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr. The interest in this 20th century prophets life
after 32 years is quite remarkable and unbelievable.
The fruits of his labor are with us now. A man with
a Ph.D. degreeof
all the things he could have been, he chose to use his gifts and his talents "for
the least of these."
so we see the results of his fruit. Yes, we will slay the dreamer
and see what happens to his dream. The dream is alive. MIFA
(Memphis Inter-Faith Association) is alive. Calvary is alive. The Berlin
Wall is down. South Africa is free.
of these are the fruits of his labor. Arent
you glad God gives us another chance?
the life and times of our servant, Martin, were grateful.
For those who carry on his work and his dream, were
grateful. For Doug Bailey and Calvary Church and all those
who join in bearing the fruit that mankind needs, were
grateful. This season of preparation as we remember your
death and your suffering, but most of all your glorious resurrection,
keep us always in your love. Always give us another chance.
©2000 The Rev. Dr. Billy Kyles