Preparing for Worship – John Kelly, pastoral resident.
This weekend, we celebrate a man born in the era of the Great Depression — who became a leader of the Poor People’s Campaign. We remember a man whose childhood was backlit by the noisy chaos of World War II — who came to be America’s leading proponent of nonviolence. We honor a man born Black amidst the rubble of the reconstructed South — whose life and ministry came to give the voiceless hope, and the hopeless a voice.
Much will be said, shared and posted about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: that he was peaceful; that he sought unity, not division; that he was a good, Christian leader. And none of this is false. Still, others will assure us that King wasn’t radical compared to contemporary standards. They’ll ignore his staunch positions on the immorality of poverty and nuclear warfare and his criticisms of the US government for propagating both. They’ll characterize the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Civil Rights Movement romantically, as past lessons that America learned once and for all. Many will point to out-of-context quotes, seeking to prove that “King just wanted us all to get along.”
But such broad generalizations make light of King’s steely convictions, intellectual acuity and God-fueled hope. Throughout his life, King faced all that the American experience offers — wars, economic crises, warped patriotism and immoral politics. But despite the temptation to give into inertia and go with the flow of the status quo, King based his life on a different narrative. Though he faced defamation, dehumanization and even death, King’s faith in the liberating, self-sacrificing God of Scripture gave him the courage to stand on the right side of history — with “the least of these,” to borrow a familiar phrase.
Though much more could and will be said today, and tomorrow, and the next day, may we all be practically shaped by King’s character and legacy. May it prompt us to speak truth to power, and to realize that if our spiritual convictions don’t shape our skin-bound society, we might be living by a different narrative than the one found throughout Scripture.
As we gather for worship together this morning, I pray we find our faith in the God of MLK, Jr. stirred. I pray our hearts soften up just enough, so that maybe we allow ourselves to understand our own stories as woven into the grand narrative of the Beloved Community.