Sunday, January 20, 2008

For Martin Luther King Day

Not long ago I was getting an oil change and car wash and passing time in their convenience store. Among the greeting cards and postcards were some short books on Martin Luther King, Mother Theressa, and Nelson Mandela. They were compilations of inspirational quotes, meant to be easy encouragement on a low budget. Thumbing through both the King's and Mother Theressa's, I found few quotes relating to their religion. Sure there were the feel good quotes about God and love, but nothing reflecting the sharp edge of Rev. King or the desolate conditions surrounding Mother Theressa. I found that odd, but it called another observation to mind. I grew up reading in the history books about Reverend Martin Luther King. But in the headlines tomorrow, you'll read about Doctor Martin Luther King. Very rarely do I see "Rev" next to his name anymore. Maybe there's an etiquette behind it; doctors in any field don't like it when you call them "mister". Or maybe it's further evidence of the secularization of our society. You'll likely read or hear many quotes celebrating Martin Luther King Day. You'll probably hear snippets of his "I had a dream" speech. But will you hear him invoke the name of God? Credit God's glory? Express God's will?

I'll close with a quote, taken from part of his letter from a Birmingham jail dated April, 1963. I hope in this era of the Separation of Church and State, that his words light a lamp in your heart and soul that will not be covered by a basket. That his words call us back to arms in the ongoing culture war. But most of all that his words cause us to pause, look around, and ask ourselves, "where is the Reverend King of this era?"

A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or
the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.
To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks, before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman empire.

I'm grateful to God that, through the Negro church, the dimension of nonviolence entered our struggle.

Was not Jesus an extremist for love -- "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice -- "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ -- "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist -- "Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God." Was not John Bunyan an extremist -- "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist -- "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist -- "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice--or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment.

There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were 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. Whenever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators." But they went on with the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.

We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

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