Two of my recent posts highlighted the power of faith. In his poem, Tim Leadem explored the joys and challenges of pilgrimages and the faith required to keep going. This past week, Don Humbertson shared reflections on his faith journey. Today’s post honors the national holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and examines Dr. King’s life of faith.
As we head into the celebration of the birth and life of Martin Luther King, Jr., we are offered an extraordinary example of faith in action. Dr. King’s faith offers us inspiration and hope against all odds.
Over the years, I have paid various degrees of attention to Dr. King’s birthday and holiday. For a number of years, I would go to the library and get a book by Dr. King and read it. The reading that sticks with me the most was in a book of his sermons. This sermon was called Love in Action and talks about the compassion and mercy Jesus showed when he forgave the two thieves who were crucified with him. Dr. King draws attention to the one word ”Then” in his reflection on the Gospel of Luke (23:34). “Then,” said Jesus, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” He points out that the “then” is after he has been beaten, ridiculed, spit upon and crucified.
Dr. King was not perfect and certainly did not consider himself Jesus. Yet his ability to remain committed to nonviolent solutions is hard to imagine in the face of the constant injustices, lynchings, harassment, and condemnation that he and many Black people experienced. This commitment and the willingness to forgive those who oppressed must have been built on a deep faith.
A look at Dr. King’s life makes clear how faith in God and the practice of his faith were central to his life. The story of his growing up the son of a beloved preacher in Atlanta and his own following of the path of a minister are well documented.
Georgia Senator and pastor of the church where Dr. King and his father preached, The Reverend Dr. Raphael G. Warnock begins the Foreword he wrote for a book of Dr. King’s sermons called The Gift of Love this way: “No one in American history has addressed more eloquently or advanced more effectively the ideals of freedom, justice, and equality than the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. With his voice, he has discredited the fallacious doctrine of white supremacy; and through his activism, he changed America. Liberating the sons and daughters of ‘former slaves’ and ‘former slave owners’ for the possibility of what he called the ‘beloved community’. Dr. King bequeathed to all of us a gift of love.” (p.ix)
King’s sermon titles reinforce his commitment to faith and love. They include “A Tough Mind and a Tough Heart,” “On Being a Good Neighbor,” “Love in Action,” “Loving Your Enemies” and “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” among others.
It is easy to treat this national holiday celebrating Dr. King’s life and legacy as a day off and ignore the cause for the holiday. I’ve done that and it is kind of empty. There are lots of ways to celebrate Dr. King. Reading and reflecting on one or more of his sermons is a great way to stretch our faith muscles. Without faith, the roots of despair grow.
Taking part in service opportunities offered in many communities is another way to remember Dr. King’s life of service. Paying attention to deepening our appreciation for Dr. King and his message is a great way to prepare for the upcoming February and Black History Month.
Among the controversial things that Dr. King did to work for justice was to advocate an end to the Vietnam War and for a broadening of the civil rights movement. Had he lived, there may well have been a new coalition that moved forward his “I have a dream” vision through the Poor People’s March to a commitment to a world where equity, justice and peace prevail.
His murder in Memphis stopped his work to advance civil rights and world peace. Still, the world very much needs that vision. Celebrating Dr. King’s legacy as a holiday is an invitation for each of us to ask: what is ours to do to advance a world of equal rights and world peace?