A Note from Pastor Rick: Reflections for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2019

I have found myself thinking more this year about the upcoming MLK holiday than in years past.  I am not exactly sure why that is.  It is not the result of some major epiphany.  Nor do I think it is due to the increasing background noise of our ongoing political arguments that touch on issues of race and ethnicity and what are the core values of our society.  Maybe, as much as anything, it has to do with the fact that I am more aware of the increasing racial and ethnic diversity in our congregation.

Years ago I read an excellent biography on Dr. King entitled, Bearing the Cross by David Garrow.  The book is a fascinating read and it gave me a deeper appreciation of Dr. King as a man, a follower of Christ and a very public minister of the gospel.  I cannot begin to imagine the pressures and stress of being at the tip of the spear against the political and spiritual stronghold of racism.  Dr. King was not perfect, nor was he a mythic figure.  But he was very much a real man seeking to be faithful to the call that the Lord placed upon his life when he was a young pastor, serving the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.  Thrust by his peers into the leadership of the bus boycott by African Americans in that city, Pastor King soon found himself anointed by the Lord to lead a nationwide struggle against segregation, racism and violence.  It was on the evening when he was asked to lead the African American churches in Montgomery to protest the enforced segregation on the buses in that city that Martin King had a powerful encounter with the Lord that gave him the assurance in his soul and the spiritual equipping to lead what became a national movement.

I was fifteen years old when Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis.  I can vividly remember a conversation I had with a classmate and friend in the week following his funeral.  The friend’s father was the President of the local chapter of the NAACP in our town; we were fielding ground balls during batting practice for our high school baseball team.  I remember feeling the need to say to my friend how sorry I was for the tragic loss of such an important leader for his community and for our nation.  I then asked him who he thought would replace Dr. King as the leader of the civil rights movement.  I will never forget his answer to me on that dreary April afternoon so many years ago.

Tony looked directly at me and said with great sadness, “No one can replace him.”

Fifty-one years later I can still feel the weight of that prophetic sentence and the truth of what my friend said to me.  Dr. King was uniquely called, gifted, prepared and anointed to be the prophetic conscience and voice to our nation.  I often wonder what the past half-century would have been like had he lived.  We can only wonder—and grieve.

We can also honor his life and legacy, no matter that it was cut off prematurely.  Of all our national holidays, MLK Day is the only one that honors a Christian minister who lived and gave his life for a righteous vision borne out of his faith in the Kingdom of God.  So, this year as we feel called by the Lord to “seek first God’s Kingdom and his righteousness”, let us remember Dr. King with thanksgiving and with renewed hope and prayers for the vision he cast before us of a social order healed of the wounds of racism and one that is truly hospitable to people of every color and ethnicity.  That Kingdom vision is still compelling—and it is still unfulfilled in our nation.

– Pastor Rick

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