Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
This is my Father's world... yet still very, very far from the way God wants it.
In hope, I believe the world will ultimately be put to rights. Evil, destruction and death will not have the last word. That word will belong to life, blessing and joy. The will of God will be done, on earth.
In faith, I believe the decisive move toward what will be, came in the least impressive of all ways, as the "wondrous gift was given" silently and out of the way: God's own self, in utter vulnerability, coming through the sacrificial service of a young peasant girl, out of the spotlight.
In love, I join with an immense host of those who have been inspired by the One that little baby turned out to be, the host of those who invest their lives in the future he demonstrated with his life and made possible with his death and resurrection. Most of the host work for that future like Mary did, out of the spotlight. Most of the time, the wondrous gift continuous to be given silently, unnoticed on the world's great stages.
Today I give thanks for one of the host who found himself in the spotlight, one who moved in it not silently, but eloquently. The debt I owe to Martin Luther King, Jr., is immense. Thank you, Martin.
As we moved into Advent last year, we were reminded by the protests in Ferguson--and then many, many other parts of the U.S.--that our little piece of Our Father's world is still very far from the way God wants it. Still very far from the way God led Martin to dream it... and to work for it. But it is far closer now than it was before the Holy Spirit empowered Martin Luther King, Jr., to galvanize a movement for change.
As a person of privilege, I can be tempted to forget both how much has changed, and also, how much still needs to change. But deep change continues to be needed. In the world. In the U.S. In my own soul. Lord, have mercy.
Part of the mercy of God comes in the form of sisters and brothers who invest their lives... sometimes risking their lives... sometimes, as Martin did, giving their lives in the service of God's great and coming future. They seek it. They pursue it. They embody it. Now. Ahead of time.
Many years ago, a friend and inspiring colleague in mission, Susan Gillies, shared a story about another friend and inspiring mission colleague, Chuck Shawver. At that time, Susan was a missionary of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies, working for change primarily inside the U.S. Chuck was (and still is) a missionary of the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, working for change primarily outside the U.S. Susan remembered how Chuck had responded to a question from someone in the deep South... of Mexico. That person wanted to know why Chuck was working to address challenges in Chiapas, Mexico, when the world's news media (yes, reaching even into remote Mexican villages) made it clear that the U.S. still had its own immense challenges. Chuck said yes, the U.S. faced huge challenges. And Chuck explained that he belonged to the larger Body of Christ, with sisters and brothers who were giving their lives to meet those very challenges. He explained that he had not come to Southern Mexico out of a position of power or moral superiority, but out of obedience. And the very One who called Chuck to serve alongside Mexican sisters and brothers on behalf of the coming Reign of God was calling many, many others to seek, anticipate and even embody, ahead of time, that coming Reign in the U.S.
Despite some beautiful hymns to the contrary, the mission of Jesus Christ in our world does not move from places where the-light-shines-and-there-is-no-darkness to places where there-is-only-darkness-and-no-light. Christ, the light of the world, has silently, unobtrusively begun to shine in every place. In every place, however hard it may be to see in any particular moment, what the Gospel of John says is true: "the darkness has not overcome it" (1:5). But also, in every place, there is opposition to the light, and a great need for transformation. As my friend and inspiring mission colleague Samuel Escobar has eloquently written, the mission of Jesus Christ is "from everywhere, to everyone."
In every place, there is some light. In every place, we yet long for the coming of light in its fullness. So, like the prophet Isaiah, we cry out, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down!” (Is 64:1 ESV) And, in ways large and small, in the spotlight and out of it, within our own nation or far beyond it, we are called to let that bit of light that God has lodged within us to so shine, that those around us may give their thanks--and their lives--to God (Mat. 5:16).
So, especially on this day of remembrance and renewal of commitment, thank you, Martin, for letting God use you courageously and powerfully to nudge our nation closer to the beloved community and the coming Reign of God. Thank you, Lord, for the work you accomplished in Martin Luther King, Jr., and for way you have used him to inspire others all over this planet. And thank you, Lord, for calling us into the work that remains to be done. I am grateful to have a tiny part in that work around the world--and just as grateful for those who advance that work right here in the U.S.
Lord, rend the heavens! Bring the fullness of your Reign!
May you be blessed... and be a blessing to those around you, in whatever corner of God's world this may find you!
p.s. If you have not seen Ava DuVernay's movie Selma, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is powerful. And points to a story that is even more powerful. Thanks for the testimony, Ava! May it encourage us all to keep walking in the same direction!