Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.A prayer for the day we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Jesus said: But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.Luke 6:27-36, chosen for the day we remember Dr. King
We set aside today to remember the life and ministry and witness of Dr. Martin Luther King. In a season when our nation seems more divided than ever, here are thoughts about how to navigate division, wherever it turns up: at home, in a workplace, at church, in our country, on our globe. Like Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy, Dr. King shaped his strategy with an eye on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It’s a great example of how important scriptural engagement can be. A selection from that sermon (Luke’s version) is printed above. In that sermon, Jesus offers a counter-intuitive call to love enemies.
Here’s how Dr. King spoke of Jesus’ teaching:
Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.
It is in fact a spiritual practice, and I come back to Dr. King, who offered specific guidelines for those who would join him in non-violent resistance. Dr. King, often compared to Moses, came up with his own ten commandments for those who would choose to be part of his movement. Here they are:
- Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus
- Remember always that the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation-not victory.
- Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
- Pray daily to be used by God in order that all might be free.
- Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all might be free.
- Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
- Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
- Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
- Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
- Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration.
We can take a broad view of what it means to love enemies. We all have them. They turn up in many places, in many ways, evoking varying degrees of intensity and complication. It takes practice to relate to them in the transforming way Dr. King describes.
You may not feel able to embrace all of his commandments, tackling them all at once. So do what you can today. Because this day, honoring Dr.King’s birth, and this week, and this new year all offer opportunity to hear these commandments, and set them to work in a world that sure could use them.
As part of The Good Book Club, I’ll be leading an online Bible Study for 8 weeks. It started on January 9, but it’s not too late to dive in!
Time: Wednesdays at 8pm EST Topic: Paul’s letters to the Romans. Learn more here. I hope you will join me!
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.