More Than Reading Jesus . . . Martin Luther King Jr.

Yesterday Natalie Tweeted –

Natalie Burris

@natalieburrisNatalie Burris
I wonder how many white evangelical churches this a.m. made a peep about MLK Jr.?

I was five years old when Dr. Marin Luther King. Jr was killed. My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Booker, was black. I did not know she was black. I knew she was my teacher. Near the end of my third grade year we experienced a “trial run” in anticipation of the desegregation of Oklahoma City Public Schools. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Craig, was black. I knew she was black. I knew she was my teacher.

Today I live in a fairly homogenous area of Oklahoma. Natalie grew up here. That a young anglo-white female would wonder how many white evangelical churches made a peep about MLK Jr. is telling. She writes well and often. More often between semesters as she is pursuing a law degree at DePaul. Natalie explores issues of race, inequality, and faith among other subjects. It is safe to say we have something of a mutual admiration society. Her Dad was one of my best friends.

In recognition of her question I am offering the introductory thoughts from the sermon yesterday at Snow Hill. Many post their sermons. I wrestle with that notion. It is not that I am embarrassed or self-conscious so as to be worried about critique. (We pastor types are often our own worst critics.) Instead, I really believe preaching in a pastoral context is, well, contextual. I get that the Good News transcends context, but it is understood in context. Snow Hill may be located in the Tri-City area, but we have our own particularities, our own contingent experiences. Sometimes these may be shared. Other times they are acute to our representation of life in community following the Way of Jesus. We hope Christianly.

So, here’s to Natalie and for Natalie who once counted Snow Hill her faith community. And, I would hope were she living here would be again.

Finding Jesus, Finding Us
John 1:43-51

Most financial institutions will be closed tomorrow. There will be remembrances of Martin Luther King Jr. held around the Country.

Dr. King once remarked,

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Evidently Dr. King had indeed read Jesus.

In Dr. King there was a melding of the political and the religious. Driven by very real inequities, King sought to bring to bear the equality described in Scriptures like Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, . . ..”

Those who heard the kind of message announced by King stirred the passions. In something of a, “we have been looking for someone to stand for and against,” people took to the streets and airwaves, to their pulpits and town squares in solidarity. Those who lived it or studied it cannot escape the dark history that resulted in the Civil Rights Movement.

The path to a national holiday in honor of King’s birth was not easy. Never before had a national holiday been established for a private citizen who had never held office. Some opponents used the cost of a “day off” as ammunition against such a national holiday. Even after the legislation was signed by a once resistant Ronald Reagan in 1983, it was not until January 20, 1986 that the first celebration of the day occurred.

Most of us who gather here today find it difficult to relate to the value of the event of Martin Luther King Jr. Yes, you did not mis-hear that. There is a reason to relay the sum of a life as an event. In the event of Martin Luther King Jr, many found a message that transcended a person and represented a host of others who challenged the structures of society that kept a particular group of people from being recognized as valuable members rather than simply as laborers, and some to be owned.

Longing for things to be different is a human experience. Looking for someone or some movement to trigger action that brings about change is more than a pastime. Today we are more a tune to human experiences of injustice than ever before. And in part, it is due to those like Dr. King who took the words of Jesus as more than something to be read.

We are not here today to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr – but the event of Martin Luther King Jr. that will weigh on the psyche of our Country – one way or another tomorrow. An event that  contains in its elements the sort of experience that helps us do more than read about Jesus

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

5 comments on “More Than Reading Jesus . . . Martin Luther King Jr.

  1. Natalie says:

    Thanks for the kind words Todd! It’s encouraging to remember that – despite “homogeneity” – you and many others find these issues important!

    1. Natalie – the words are well-deserved.

  2. Marty Duren says:

    I grew up with an MLK that was mostly ignored. A reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution told me a couple of years back that when MLK won the Nobel, it didn’t even make the front page of his hometown paper-the AJC.

    In my young adulthood, I read many books and articles demonizing him as a communist and philanderer. It was later that I began listening to his speeches and reading some of his writings.

    It’s amazing to me when I hear him speak that I almost always have a visceral response that I’m hearing an Old Testament style of prophetic voice. I’m certain that his quoting of the prophets has something to do with that, but I also think it has something to do with the fact of the gospel having implications in areas we too often ignore. He seemed to have predicted what a true “gospel-centered” society would look like, at least from a racial perspective.

    1. Marty,
      It seems very hard to hear a prophet as such when our alliances and relationships tend to favor the reigning empire. Make a note the next time someone refers to a pastor/preacher as prophetic and see if the commenter is simply affirming long held assumptions or is really being challenged about participation in structures and systems that de-legitimize others. I suspect we look in the wrong places for the prophetic voices.

      1. Marty Duren says:

        On that note check out a new book, “The New Jim Crow.” It looks prophetic.

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