Sunday, January 15th was Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and my church hosted a community event in remembrance of this great man. And it was wonderful. It brought congregants from five different churches together, crossing both racial and denominational lines. That evening I stood in the sanctuary thinking how pleased the Lord was to see His people with different shades of skin, different backgrounds and different theological leanings all coming together to celebrate MLK Jr and what he stood for. At church that evening there was a focus on the fact that Dr. King was first and foremost a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And also a focus on his call for peace, equality, unity and brotherhood. All truths Dr. King eloquently vocalized in his most famous “I Have a Dream” speech. And those ideas indeed still resonate today, just as they did nearly 55 years ago.
As I drove home from the service that evening, I felt blessed to have been a part of it; a part of a coming together that surely pleased the Lord and would have pleased Dr. King, himself. But, I also started to think to myself that there is so much more to this great man that I am afraid will soon be all but lost if we do not take the time to remember, especially at this time of the year, when we celebrate both the MLK Jr. holiday and Black History Month.
Twelve years ago when I graduated from college I took a job teaching on the west side of Baltimore. Needless to say, I did not look like most of my students, nor the residents of the neighborhood. And I felt is was important to learn about, and to try to understand at least a little bit of black history. As I began to read starting all the way back with the first Africans being brought to America as slaves and leading all the way up to current history, I became fascinated with the life of Dr. King and the entire Civil Rights movement.
Over these past twelve years, as I have read about this time period and MLK Jr. in particular, I learned that there is much to this man that does not typically ever get talked about, that all people, but especially those who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ, could learn from. I would like to point out just a handful of these, as over the next week or so I will post five (of the many) important truths I think we can take from Dr. King; starting with Truth #1 today.
Truth 1: Our lives are not our own to do with whatever we wish. We must follow the Lord’s calling and will for our life no matter where it takes us.
In what is probably still the most thorough biography on Dr. King, “Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,” author David J. Garrow focuses in on Dr. King’s belief in this truth for his own life throughout the book. Dr. King did not feel like he had chosen his role as leader of the Civil Rights movement, but that it was his calling. In fact, King himself said:
“History has thrust me into this position. It would be both immoral and a sign of ingratitude if I did not face my moral responsibility to do what I can in this struggle.”
You see, as the name of the book suggests, Dr. King saw his role in the struggle for equality as his cross to bear. He saw the suffering he faced throughout his life as redemptive suffering. And he marched on as the drum major for justice, knowing that with every beat of the drum, his own death was not just a possibility, but a probability.
It was not a human calling, but it was his destiny. King was destined to lead the struggle for equality for Black Americans, and not only black Americans, but for all the impoverished and oppressed of America and even the world. MLK Jr. did not take Jesus’ words metaphorically, but literally when Jesus said:
“If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)
We must learn from this truth, from the example of Dr. King and ultimately the example of our Savior. There are many times where we have an abundance of choices in our lives. Many situations where there are multiple good options. But there are also times in our life when we come to pivotal moments where it no longer becomes simply a choice, but it becomes a matter of answering the call of our destiny.
I’ve heard it called the “rich man moment,” referring to Luke chapter 18, when the rich young ruler comes to Jesus wanting to inherit eternal life. After affirming to Jesus that he has followed all the commandments, Jesus tells him that he still lacks one thing. He must sell everything he owns and give it to the poor and then indeed he will inherit eternal life. But, the young ruler just couldn’t do it. He couldn’t give up his wealth to truly say yes to Jesus.
And when we come to our “rich man moment,” as each of us inevitably will,there are not a lot of choices, in fact only two. Yes or no. And in this type of moment to say yes is simply right and to say no wrong. To say yes is to answer the Lord’s call for that moment in our life and to say no is to harden our hearts to His will.