Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.
-Martin Luther King
(a reading chosen for the feast day celebrating Dr. King, April 4.)
But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
A collect for the Feast Day, remembering Dr. King
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.
Later this morning, I’ll be making my way to Atlanta for the “Rooted in Jesus” Conference. At least 1,000 folks will convene to think about what it means to follow Jesus in our world today. Good stuff. Say a prayer for this gathering.
It feels significant to be driving to Atlanta on the holiday, the holy day dedicated to the remembrance of Martin Luther King. I’ve been to his memorials in Washington and Memphis, but not to places of remembrance in Atlanta. Here I go. And as I go, I give thanks for Dr. King’s life and ministry and witness, so very rooted in Jesus.
I do a lot of traveling around the country these days. I’ve noticed that many, if not most, if not all, cities of any size now have Martin Luther King Boulevards. Even those cities where he was most unwelcome in his lifetime. I wonder what he would now think of all those streets named after him.
And if he were given the opportunity to see those street signs, I wonder how much he’d think things had changed. I wonder because I’m aware how racist thoughts pop up in my inner thoughts. I’m politically correct enough/ashamed enough not to share them, but they are there. I’m aware of how people I love and admire do and say racist things. I’m aware of how our churches participate in racism, institutional and otherwise. Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in American culture. I fear for our country, increasingly divided along racial lines, with leaders adding fuel to that fire.
I am old enough to remember how Dr. King was received in his lifetime. One of my earliest (and most pivotal) memories of church life was a youth magazine I received in Sunday School when I was about 12 or 13. One of the articles was written by J. Edgar Hoover. He attacked Martin Luther King, linking him to communism. I was a kid. I didn’t know much. But I knew that I’d find a better teacher in Dr. King than in Mr. Hoover. I knew on some level, at that early stage, that I would need to find another community, another place to express my discipleship, another place to bring my baptism.
Thanks be to God, I’ve found it in a community now led by our Presiding Bishop. Not that the Episcopal Church has figured it all out. Not that we always do what we are called to do. But we are led by a guy who repeatedly emerges from his shy, introverted self to call us to the way of love. Michael Curry reminds us that if it isn’t about love, it isn’t about God. Martin Luther King sang the same song. He called us to non-violence (a.k.a., ahimsa), to pray for enemies, to stand for justice, to walk the way of love. He reminded us that greatness is not to be found in academic or economic or intellectual accomplishment. Greatness will be found in service, in a heart full of love. Like the rest of us, he was not perfect. But he was rooted in Jesus. His work grew out of that rootedness.
So perhaps to celebrate this holiday, I can find a way to step into that greatness, a way to be of service, a way to tear down walls instead of build them, rooted in Jesus who told his followers (you and me) that the best response to enemies is the way of love.
The Gospel Of John | Epiphany 2020
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