I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. For you say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
Revelation 3:15, 17
Today we remember and honor the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
If you have the opportunity to read any of Dr. King’s speeches or books, I think you will agree with me that the breadth and prescience of his thought is amazing. Many of his works speak to today’s world as much as it did in the 1960s.
One short piece, Letter from Birmingham Jail, was suggested as a potential addition to our Book of Confessions, but apparently the effort was shelved because of copyright concerns. This is ironic, since one can find the text of the letter in multiple places on the internet. But, with respect to the copyright holder, The Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., I would like to share some excerpts which seem especially relevant to our situation, as a church that has tried for decades to become more racially diverse, yet even now is still 90% white. Consider what the Holy Spirit may be saying to us in 2022.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
. . . We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.
. . . I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership…….. [S]ome
have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.
. . . There was a time when the church was very powerful—in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society……. Christians pressed on, in the conviction
that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. . . .
Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent—and often even vocal—sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.1
As disappointed as Dr. King was in 1963, it seems that we are much more captive to fear, or self-interest, or apathy which keeps us silent or unwilling to be bold and even sacrificial in our obedience to God’s will. My hope is that all of us—myself included—find ways to discern, and live out, what God wants for us, and how God wants to work through us, for the sake of God’s justice and peace.
May we be willing and trusting co-workers with God. And then, as Dr. King would describe that time of restoration in a paraphrase of Job 38:7, “the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy.”
In Christ’s hope,