So many of the people who have a profound effect on us lived well before we did. People who lived through great challenge and turmoil, but somehow made it through. People who faced tremendous opposition, but somehow kept their cool and control of their words. People who walked a path with little company while calling others to follow or join them. The names of those women and men are too many to list, but today I am thinking about one of them – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
His words, his movement, his life has made a tremendous difference in the lives of Americans now for more than 50 years. While he did not see all that he dreamed of, much of his dream has been recognized with voting rights, improved working conditions, mainstream acceptance in leadership, and an improved equality of life for minorities across the country. This is not to say that has all been accomplished and finished. Nor is it to say that all of the progress has been easy or even willingly achieved. Much has been done, but much is left to be completed. Only God knows when all things will be put to right in our country. Dr. King and the leaders of his movement are details of the American story that we can not live without a high degree of thanksgiving for what their life’s work made possible. He (and they) made us better as a people. Thank you Martin. Thank you Medger Evers. Thank you Ralph Abernathy. Thank you John Lewis. Thank you Rosa Parks. Thank you Corretta Scott King. Thanks to so many others who led in the most difficult of days.
While my life started after his ended I am thankful that his spirited platform is being honored and revisited. Churches all over the country will be remembering Dr. King today with special services. Cities will be having parades in his memory and Universities will have seminars or symposiums. Many government offices and public schools will be closed in recognition of his leadership. All well intentioned efforts to connect a historical figure with a modern need and problem. I can’t help, but see the irony that in the same week that we honor someone for a peaceful movement and reconciliation we will inaugurate someone whose platform either ignored or denied any such vision. No doubt many will see one as a shyster and one as a hero. One will be thought of as a quick tempered, big mouth that divides and conquers while the other is seen as a deeply profound speaker of faith, hope, and love. Sadly that opinion will likely flip flop depending on the political agenda of the evaluator.
I am choosing to remember today what Dr King said to us all – not to some, not to those he liked or approved of, not to those who bought into his agenda. These words aren’t the gospel, but they are good words for how people interested in the gospel applies politics and personal choice to how they live their life, raise their kids, and run their business. They are words that could possibly help us in a week like this not lose hope because the words of the righteous are a fountain of life (Proverbs 10:11).
If you will protest courageously, and yet with dignity and Christian love, when the history books are written in future generations, the historians will have to pause and say, “There lived a great people—a black people—who injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization.”
* From an address given in Montgomery, Ala., Dec. 31, 1955
“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
* From “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
* Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, Dec. 10, 1964
“Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.”
* The Measure of a Man, 1958
“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
*From Strength to Love, 1963
What would he say today? He would say the same things. He would not vary or wane with his words or agenda. He would bet big on love and on God’s sovereignty. He would deny the power of people or words that divide and destroy. He would ask the privileged to not consider themselves, but to cast a look at those in need and those without. He would warn us against the lies of men who tell us that others are lying to us or misleading us while they move the pawns behind the scene. He would not bully others, but he would befriend the alien and the stranger. He would not urge the public to trust him, but He would call us all to trust in God who is at work in all things.