Tomorrow our nation will celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a series of breakfasts, memorial services and programs. In fact, I will be participating with other faith leaders and civic figures at the oldest commemoration of the life of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration here in Columbus.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a charismatic and profound speaker, who first and foremost was a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of the images in his messages are grounded in the word of God, especially prophetic images for justice, for mercy, and for righteousness. His famous “I Have A Dream” speech, with its powerful dream image can be traced to Moses having a dream of what the future was going to be like.
Today, we still live in a world that suffers through and through with inequality based on religion, race, gender and social status. The result is social injustice, racism, discrimination, wars and genocide. This is not God’s kingdom. When God’s Kingdom fully arrives there will be no inequality in it. In God’s Kingdom will be justice and equality and love for all. It’s the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. saw and spoke of so eloquently.
Dr King spent his life working for the elimination of racial and social discrimination in a non-violent manner – the way Jesus taught us to do – and died in that effort. His faith in God and the message of Jesus was the mainstay that kept him going in spite of immense adversity and personal suffering. His faith was the driving force, the power, the moral imperative that caused his ministry to be so extremely effective and powerful.
King heard the voice of Jesus calling him to follow the path of non-violence. He once said:
- ‘Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.’
Dr. King didn’t simply talk about his dreams; he went to the battle front time and time again to fight for them. Before he was finally murdered at the age of 39, his home had been bombed and his life and that of his family continually put at risk as he advocated for social justice, human dignity, and for an end to racism and bigotry.
You and I desperately need to rediscover that kind of prophetic voice so we can to shout loudly far and wide every day that it is love not war that will set us and our supposed enemies free.
We do history a disservice, however, if we only think of what King had to say about the vile injustice and offence of racism. He spoke also with great passion against the US commitment to the horrendous war in Vietnam. Like the great prophets in the Old Testament he identified with the people living in great poverty, the under classes, and like those prophets he spoke out against society’s emphasis on the accumulation of wealth and material things. In that most momentous ‘I Have A Dream Speech’ of 28th August 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial he said he saw that the black people were living ‘on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity’. In many ways the same is still true – but not just for people of color now., but for many of us.
Yet from many in the faith community today you would think everything is fine – the “dream” has come true. Surely we must have addressed all those injustices of racism, war, poverty etc. because leaders in government and church never seem to speak out against the injustice of poverty and discrimination. In fact, they make and support laws and policies that make things worse!
But if we truly are serious about our Jesus and our faith then we have to wonder why we have lost our prophetic tongue. A simple Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that has stayed with me is
- “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
And you know I think it is true for so much of Church in our generation too.
We continue to be far too silent or speaking with a weak whisper about the things that matter.
That day in 1963, when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the “I Have A Dream” speech, he concluded the message with the following words:
- “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plane, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope…With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” 1
Even though today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is no longer living by faith. He is now living beside the throne of God. He is living in total love, justice and equality. Still he made a difference in his time that is still felt today. He and his dream live on – unrealized, but strong.
Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
- “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
We can live and impact work for social justice and equality now – by working for:
- For economic opportunity, good education, peace in our towns and world
For people in prisons
For more people in jobs and homes,
For inclusion of the immigrant, the marginalized
For repudiation of cruelty like prostitution and human trafficking,
For prevention of child abuse
For elimination of gun violence
For solutions to drug use
For stopping the oppression of many by a few.
We can continue the ministry of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. As Martin Luther King, Jr. did, WE too can make a difference in our day!
1 Taken from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I Have a Dream” Speech
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 19 January 2014