In churches and synagogues and mosques…in schools and our houses of government…in community centers and union halls…the people of our nation gather this weekend to honor once again the legacy of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King was not just a civil right leader (though that would have been enough). He was a Christian minister who called us to build up the Kingdom of God in the best prophetic tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian New Testament.
Leading a non-violent revolution of social change, his words shaped the history of our time. The walls of white supremacy could not withstand the reading of the Gospel message when preached by Dr. King. Jim Crow, so powerful and full of pride, crumbled when confronted with the weapon of love unleashed by Dr. King and all those who participated in the civil rights movement.
Our reading this morning from the Book if Isaiah centers on the concept of the call to ministry within our tradition.
All of us are called to ministry. In our tradition we believe in the priesthood of all believers. This does not mean, however, that we are all called to the same tasks.
Dr. King was called to prophetic ministry – preaching the word of God to a world that didn’t often want to hear it, envisioning the way the world could be instead of the way it was, and organizing others to do the same.
In 1959, Dr. King wrote:
My call to the ministry was neither dramatic nor spectacular. It came neither by some miraculous vision nor by some blinding light expenence on the road of life. Moreover, it did not come as a sudden realization. Rather, it was a response to an inner urge that gradually came upon me. This urge expressed itself in a desire to serve God and humanity, and the feeling that my talent and my commitment could best be expressed through the ministry… Dunng my senior year in college I finally decided to accept the challenge to enter the ministry. I came to see that God had placed a responsibility upon my shoulders and the more I tried to escape it the more frustrated I would become.
Those who are called to prophetic ministry often run from the task. Moses did. He argued with God. I think you have the wrong person, he said. There must be someone better. Jesus himself was burdened deeply by his calling. Like King, he knew his path would end in death. At times he became frustrated and other times required solitude for reflection.
Even if we are not called to be a Moses or a King we are still called to be followers of Jesus. That means we inherit the mission of Jesus, a mission he announced when he began his ministry in the Gospel of Luke:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
These words spoken by Jesus come directly from the Book of Isaiah. In speaking them, Jesus was linking his ministry with the ministry of the Hebrew prophets.
Dr. King drew from those same Scriptures as his lead the Civil Rights Movement. He preached in a sermon called “A Christian Movement in A Revolutionary Age” that:
When Moses walked into the courts of Pharaoh and thundered forth with the cry “Let my people go,” he introduced into history the concept of a God who was concerned about the freedom and dignity of all his children and who was willing to turn heaven and earth that freedom might be a reality. Throughout the history of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament, we see God active in the affairs of men, struggling relentlessly against the forces of evil that beset them and seeking to mold a people who will serve as his children, as partners in the building of His kingdom here on earth.
The God of our fathers is a God of revolution. He will not be content with anything less than perfection in His children and in their society.
We still need that sense of revolution today. Some use that term and think of violence but we are called to non-violence. We need to be revolutionaries to make sure that everyone is free. We know this is not the case. The very voting rights that Dr. King fought for are under attack. Gun violence and domestic violence and political violence threaten too many the world over. People are enslaved by poverty the world over. Climate change threatens existence. We are not living in the Kingdom of God.
We need a new generation of freedom riders. This time, however, there is no need to travel anywhere. We don’t need to go down South. There are plenty opportunities for work in our local communities. We can and should continue to do this work in our churches. At the same time, all of us should examine how we are living our lives. Do our lives in this moment of history serve God fully? If not, what changes can we make in what we do and how we act to better live out our Christian faith?
Let me end with words from Dr. King:
"More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. 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. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right."
© The Rev. Charles S. Currie, Jr., M.Div.