Canaan Baptist Church of Christ
Serving from the Heart of Harlem since 1932
Theme and Tribute by David Julian Hodges
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faced hardship, temptation, opposition, persecution, and yes, crucifixion? How many biblical examples of God’s chosen had a smooth time of it? Not many…perhaps not any! How many contemporary examples, people of our time, whom we know to be called of God, have met little resistance in their work for the Lord? One of the stellar examples that we all know is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose last appearance in New York City, before he went on to glory, was before the Canaan congregation.

I want share a wonderful story about Dr. King with you today…a story reported by Taylor Branch in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Parting the Waters. It is actually about both Dr. King and Mother Pollard, one of the “foot soldiers” of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. As a community elder, Mother Pollard commanded respect and whenever she spoke, you could hear a pin drop. As eloquent as Dr. King was, on one particular night at a mass meeting, he didn’t give one of his best speeches. After he finished, Mother Pollard stood up and made her way slowly to the front of the church. She called Dr. King to her side and gave him a very public, motherly embrace and said, “Something’s wrong! You didn’t talk strong tonight!” Dr. King brushed it off, saying, “Oh no, Mother Pollard, I’m fine.”

But she persisted, and for all the crowd to hear, in her not-so-correct English she said, “You can’t fool me now, I knows something’s wrong. Is it that we ain’t doing things to please you? Or is it the White folks is bothering you?” But before Dr. King could respond, she moved her face close to his and said loudly, “I done told you, we is with you all the way…but even if we ain’t with you…God’s gonna take care of you!” With that Mother Pollard returned to her seat, as the crowd roared its approval. Dr. King’s eyes filled with tears. Later in life, Dr. King would say that with Mother Pollard’s consoling words that night, all fear left him and he felt a new form of raw energy that picked up his spirits and helped him forge on!

Those words of Mother Pollard sustained Dr. King for many years after Montgomery, through the toils and difficulties he faced, as he pressed forward, driven by faith and sustained by the power of God. It was a similar surge of faith that inspired him to compose the words I’m about to quote. Of all the many eloquent words King spoke, these continue to be my favorite. They were spoken during a time when Dr. King was the subject of great criticism, great opposition, and great testing, even by his closest allies in the Freedom Movement. It was almost as though this was his way of “pushing back” at those who criticized him. Who knows but that Dr. King may have thought of Mother Pollard when he spoke these words:

King said, “Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? But conscience asks the question, is it right?” And sometimes we’re called upon to do things that are neither popular, nor politic, nor safe…but we must do them because they are right!

So, our tribute to you, Pastor Johnson, is one of declaring after the order of Old Mother Pollard that “We, your church, are with you all the way, and we want you to know that. But even if you don’t always perceive that we are with you, never, never, ever forget that God is with you, because you do God’s work, and you are ordained to do it. For me, the scripture that undergirds all that I’ve said is from Isaiah 41:10. Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

We appreciate you for the life you’ve led before us, for the model you’ve been of overcoming doubt and surmounting obstacles, but above all for showing us the power of being “inspired by God, driven by faith in Him, and empowered in all things by the Holy Spirit.”

So this day, we pause to formally say to Pastor and Mrs. Johnson “thanks, thanks and ever thanks. And as people of God, we say together, Amen, Amen and Amen!

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132 West 116th Street - New York, NY 10026