How much easier it is to judge what is different or differentiate what we don’t understand than to benefit from from the truth it holds. I’m thinking, today especially, about my knowledge and understanding of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a white bread person growing up in a Christian environment. Though he was a pastor, I would never think of him in the same camp with my pastors growing up. Though he was an evangelist, I would never put him in the same sentence with Billy Graham. And though he boldly addressed the materialism, conformity to the world and injustice of the current church in America, I would have never seen him as a modern day Old Testament prophet like Amos, though I do now.
Why? Was it his color? Was it the nearness to violence (though never embraced)? Was it his reputation as a womanizer that made us write him off? I’m sure it was all of these things, but it pains me today that I am more familiar with his affairs than his sermons. He was different. He was scary. He was controversial. He was confrontational. He was passionate. He rang the bell of justice and equality, and he spoke of a love that gave human dignity to everyone regardless of difference. I wonder if Jesus showed up today as He did when He came, how many of us would write Him off because He didn’t look and sound like an evangelical? No doubt He would be different. His sermons wouldn’t go over well in many of today’s churches.
So lets look at one of the sermons of Martin Luther King and see what it might say to us today. The following is taken from just one sermon, “Paul’s Letter to American Christians,” delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, on November 4, 1956.
I am afraid that many among you are more concerned about making a living than making a life. You are prone to judge the success of your profession by the index of your salary and the size of the wheel base on your automobile, rather than the quality of your service to humanity.
Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but through your moral and spiritual genius you have failed to make of it a brotherhood.
For so many of you morality is merely group consensus. In your modern sociological lingo, the mores are accepted as the right ways. You have unconsciously come to believe that right is discovered by taking a sort of Gallup poll of the majority opinion.
You must face the tragic fact that when you stand at 11:00 on Sunday morning to sing “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name” and “Dear Lord and Father of all Mankind,” you stand in the most segregated hour of Christian America.
As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.
“But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)