Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Our country pauses to reflect on the legacy of this courageous ambassador for love and justice. As I try to do each year on this holiday, I have spent the morning listening to some of his sermons. I am always encouraged by his clear, compelling articulation of God's word. His love for Jesus and for others oozes out of the videos. This year my meditation is on his famous "I Have a Dream..." speech delivered at the march on Washington, August 28th, 1963.
Dr. King had a "dream" that we are all familiar with. A dream of a day when black and brown people would be granted the same opportunities, dignity, and rights as white Americans. A dream of a day when love would conquer hate, and light would drive out darkness. He had a dream of a time when people would have true friendship with those who were ethnically, culturally, and socioeconomically different than them. These relationships would cause them to empathize with each other and serve each other's greatest needs. This dream was of a day when justice wouldn't just roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream, but that we would all actually desire justice for all people.
"But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."
Amos 5:24 ESV
He dreamed of a united people in a divided world. A dream quite honestly taken right off the passages of scripture, and that first belonged to God Himself. A dream of God building a family of people from all nations, races, and languages where His love rules their hearts leading to acceptance of each other, and just treatment of one another.
"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!""
Revelation 7:9-10 ESV
A couple quotes that stand out to me...
"But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity." - MLK Jr.
Though blacks were no longer slaves, Dr. King lamented the fact that they were still largely treated as second class citizens and faced gross inequality in America. Today, we have made much progress. I write these thoughts as a minority pastoring and leading in a majority white context. Policies have changed. Minorities do have rights, along with some significant positions of power and influence. But there are still alarming issues of injustice facing minorities. Among many things, disproportionate and lengthy prison sentences for non-violent offenses plague the black community. There seems to be some kind of national news story of racism, brutality, or unrest every month in this country. Right here in Louisville Ky, about 10 minutes from my house there was a racially charged terrorist attack, killing two black people in a grocery store in 2018. This is simply to say there remains great work to be done. We must continue to speak to them, act to see them changed, and pray.
"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. " - MLK Jr.
I love this quote because it's vision isn't just on changing policies, it's on changing hearts. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ could make those who should be bitter enemies become family. Yes, changing structures can remove unnecessary hindrances to the gospel. Yes, changing structures can allow me some of the same rights as others. They need to be changed, but they can't make me love people. Only a relationship with the Son of God who died and rose to reconcile me to God and others can empower me to love.
"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,"
Ephesians 2:13-20 ESV
As God would have it, when we love people in this way our churches and communities become a living illustration for the truth we believe. I feel blessed to have a church and many brothers and sisters in Christ where this dream is becoming a reality.
"We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force." -MLK Jr.
Dr. King fought for justice and equality through non-violent protest. He refused to allow his agonizing battle become physical towards other image bearers. There are many who are continuing this fight and calling others to do so. May we all remember this principle, not allowing our hearts to harden towards each other while we wait for Jesus to make all things new.
I pray that the more we grow to love God, the more His dream, and MLK's, will become ours. I pray that we would think long and hard about the courageous steps required to run after that dream in our everyday lives. I pray that we would make disciples of all nations and build churches that embody this dream of love and justice for all people for the glory of God.
Read the full transcript and watch the video of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream..." address from the March on Washington.