Today we honor the life and work of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Born on Jan. 15, 1929, Dr. King was the son and grandson of Baptist preachers. After earning his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Boston University, he became pastor of a church in Montgomery, Alabama. A year later, Dr. King was catapulted into national prominence as the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott initiated by Rosa Parks. He was able to rally both whites and blacks with his nonviolent demonstrations and his ability to be an articulate prophet. Dr. King’s work was instrumental to the passage of three Civil Rights acts in the 1960s. He was constantly threatened, attacked, and jailed, but Dr. King refused to back down. He was assassinated in Memphis in 1968 while advocating for local sanitation workers.
Dr. King was a man of tremendous faith, and I imagine he read the passage we heard today from Luke many times. Jesus teaches those gathered to love: love their enemies; love through non-violence; love by giving freely without expecting anything in return. In a time when he had plenty of reasons to hate and be bitter, Dr. King chose love, over and over again. When he was arrested, he loved; when he was stabbed, he loved; when he was threatened and his home bombed, he loved.
Malcolm X, a contemporary of Dr. King, disagreed with him on this point. He did not believe in nonviolence. He had seen too much pain, suffering, and degradation. As his people were beaten, abused, and murdered, Malcolm X wanted to fight back. Many people judge Malcolm X, saying he should have embraced nonviolence like Dr. King. I think we judge because we have a hard time admitting that there is a part of us that is a fighter, too. Nonviolence sounds fine until you are slapped in the face; nonviolence sounds romantic until your children are threatened; nonviolence sounds noble until you watch your brothers and sisters beaten and murdered.
What Dr. King does is inspire us – inspire us to live a Christ-like life in modern times. We may be past segregation and legal oppression of people of color, but there is still racism and oppression, as seen by many recent cases in the news. Jesus and Dr. King today invite us and remind us to be agents of love. In a world that needs less violence, we can be agents of love, mercy and grace. Amen.