MLK: Bothering Christians to the point of Change
I am glad for MLK Jr. Day because I welcome the voice of God speaking to me on serious matters…
I am glad for MLK Jr. Day because I welcome the voice of God speaking to me on serious matters close to the heart of God.
I believe God can use it to bother you. And God needs to bother us on this. Bothered people take action they would not otherwise take.
One place we can hear the voice of God is through Martin Luther King himself.
Martin was a profound preacher, best known for his speeches where he DARED us to DREAM of a world operating free of the shackles of racism. A world which instead moved to the beat of God’s own heart. Where people pursued God’s shalom. MLK helps us long for the day when every person is valued because they are created in the image of God.
And he calls us to do more than long for it. He calls us get up and work for it. And he dared to lead the way.
Beyond his speeches and leadership, Martin led through prayer. May I urge you to slow down and pray this prayer for the church with me?
We thank you for your church, founded upon your Word, that challenges us to do more than sing and pray, but go out and work as though the very answer to our prayers depended on us and not upon you. Help us to realize that humanity was created to shine like the stars and live on through all eternity. Keep us, we pray, in perfect peace. Help us to walk together, pray together, sing together, and live together until that day when all God’s children — Black, White, Red, Brown and Yellow — will rejoice in one common band of humanity in the reign of our Lord and of our God, we pray.
Let me tell you why I like this prayer.
King is praying for the church. And I fear that too many Christians have forgotten that the church is a great hope in the polarized, hate-filled, politically charged racial tensions around us. Too often it seems we’re part of the noise and trouble.
King reminds us that first of all, when we are a Christ-led community that together intentionally pursues unity in the midst of diversity with each other, we are better able to carry on the ultimate work of Christ, who is reconciling all things to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19-20).
Every church says they are loving. But if that love is only focused narrowly, inwardly, cautiously, upon those we are very comfortably sure are our “neighbors” (because they are “like us”) it is not Christ-like love. There is no hope given by that kind of church.
We are called to love, and the more radical it is, the more unexpected it is, the more it flies in the face of politics and crosses humanly erected barriers of race, color, class, and creed, the more it ventures to the other side of the tracks, the more our love becomes a signpost in the world, pointing to a Jesus who is real and a hope that is true.
Gutsy love gives evidence of Whose we are and what the Spirit of Christ is like. The Church is called to gutsy love. That means every congregation is called to gutsy love.
When we love like Jesus taught us, we become a hopeful model, held up as a shining example of what it looks like when “the wall of hostility that separated us” is broken down. Christians believe our “hostility toward each other was put to death” with Christ’s death on the cross. (Ephesians 2:14-16). The world doesn’t believe that.
What do you believe?
Breaking down walls between people and hostile groups is a huge part of why Jesus came. The gospel is good news about restored relationship between us and God, yes, but don’t miss this: it’s good news because it means we can have restored relationship with people who are the enemy, the others, the differents.
And in our racially divided world, if we hope to have any impact or relevance of witness, Christian churches must move from being the taillights on this issue. Instead of trailing along behind we must become the headlights, shining a hopeful beam on a path forward. And we must begin by our demonstration of love for one another.
Make no mistake. If the good news we have heard is not good news for the eradication of racism that plagues our land and pollutes our hearts, it is not good news at all.
But secondly, as MLK reminds us in his prayer, it is not enough to express unity in the private realm within the walls of the church. It is a truth that must go out.
We are to shine like stars, working the kingdom’s love and truth in a world that doesn’t understand let alone follow Jesus. The wall of hostility is tall and seemingly permanent. Systemic racism is embedded in mindsets, policies, families, and structures. It is a blindness, or perhaps a deafness, drowned out by years of repeated cancerous mantras and political views on all sides which spin things as fast as they can away from the simple and clear message Jesus brought us. Only God’s people shining like stars can cast out darkness, until real change is wrought. It is a change that must be made in the real world.
So I love this prayer because it speaks of how important it is for the church to pursue unity among ourselves, and to work for peace in the world.
But it also speaks to my own heart. I must examine my friend circle. My attitudes. My biases. My privilege. The ways I am using my influence to benefit others. The deliberate steps I’m taking to befriend others not like me, to learn, to grow, to bring change.
I hope you allow it to speak to your heart, too. I hope you dare to dream and work for a vision Jesus cared so much about.
As Dr. King said elsewhere, “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”
We often pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Today it’s good to remember that the kingdom we are praying for, the will of God we are working for, looks like “every tongue and tribe and nation” gathered as one under the influence and impulse of Jesus. (Revelation 7:9)
If you don’t live in that kingdom now…if you aren’t actively doing something to bring that kingdom on earth now as it is in heaven, the world is too much with you. Save your excuses. It’s time to humble ourselves. It’s time to get past political anger and trite responses which allow us to remain unaffected.
The change begins with me.
It begins with you.
Don’t just pray the prayer. Work it. Be it.