January 22, 2009

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

The third Monday of January, each year since 1986, has marked in the United States a special day of commemoration on behalf of the work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is one of only three federal holidays in the United States that honors an individual person. Dr. King is worthy of such recognition.

Born into a context of racism and extreme marginalization Dr. King helped pioneer a movement for justice and equality that sought freedom from historical, cultural, political and legal frameworks of sin that ensnared both the oppressed and the oppressor alike. Based on principles of non-violence and civil disobedience, Dr. King helped inspire a nation to be better than it was and mobilized a movement that refused to accept defeat. Almost 41 years since the day he was assassinated, in the United States there could be perhaps no greater tribute than this week to also celebrate the election of President Barak Obama.

In a world still all too steeped in the legacies of racism and the politics of ethnic division, both in the United States and in the greater world at large, the vision and challenge of Dr. King should continue to weigh heavy upon us. To quote Rev. William Shaw of the National Baptist Convention, from a sermon he delivered in January 2008 at the Celebration of a Baptist New Covenant, ‘Jesus’ ministry was not the work of relief but reversal.’

Our world does not need any more relief; what it needs is reversal. Reversal from the cycles of violence that grip us, reversal of the ethnic legacies of racism that divide us, reversal from the sin of bigotry that blinds us, and reversal of the politics of discrimination that surround us. To take it one step further: what this world truly needs is not just reversal, but release. The kind of release that can only come when we begin to prioritize the laying down of our lives for others, the daily gift of costly obedience, and living out the transformative love of Jesus Christ.

Justice, equality and reconciliation between brothers and sisters continues on the long march to freedom. Each one of us has a role to play. As emerging Baptists who are especially indebted to this particular Baptist heritage, let us not grow weary in this long struggle, and may we find the courage to shake the very foundations of this world and advance this great cause. Only one question remains: does your life honor the King?

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