Pastor’s Perspective – April 2018
“For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for gain, and from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely. 14“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace. 15“Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all; They did not even know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;”
Jeremiah 6: 13-15
We have yearned for peace for generations. Peace always seems both tantalizingly close and tragically distant. Peace is something that everyone claims to desire but for which few are willing to sacrifice. When it comes to peace, irony abounds. Peace is the goal of both the warrior and the pacifist. Peace officers carry and necessarily use weapons of warfare and demonstrations for peace have an annoying tendency to erupt into full scale riots.
Why is peace so elusive? Scripturally speaking the prophetic community actively sought peace, but recognized that, outside of a divine intervention, humanity would be hard pressed to attain it. Prophets like Jeremiah recognized that politicians and leaders have a terrible tendency to proclaim a peace that was knowingly fraudulent. They might speak of peace in public, but they waged war in private, and all for political expedience and personal gain. Many false prophets are more than willing to twist words and proclaim a false peace to gain favor with the King or the government.
In modern terms the false peace is typically found in our legislative solutions to crime, violence and poverty. We sign a new executive order or pass a new statute and then proclaim the end of the opioid crisis, the homeless problem, immigration concerns, or the wars in the Middle East. Meanwhile the problems persist and the only ones who get peace are those who now have something to show the people for the next election cycle. Their actions and empty words grant them cover with false narratives and promises of a utopian outcome. Those who seek to truly change the world are not satisfied with superficial solutions but demand a true transformation that begins in the hearts of human beings.
Fifty years ago the last great American prophet was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not yet 40 when an assassin’s bullet cut him down on the morning of April 4, 1968. He had devoted his life and his ministry to bringing transformational peace to the nation he loved. He had become an icon of the Civil Rights movement, but to call him a Civil Rights leader is short sighted from the Kingdom perspective. Dr. King was a man of God. A prophet who spoke the truth about the national sins that crippled us and kept us from the peace and harmony that God intended us to live in.
He had a famous and remarkable dream that racial bias would become a relic of the past in America. He dreamt that people would someday be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. His dream was a biblical dream. For those who understood and remembered the ancient Hebrew prophets it was easy to hear in Dr. King’s dream the memory of those who wanted to see justice in the ancient strongholds and freedom for the captives. King embraced and called others to a Messianic vision of the Kingdom of God.
What made King’s dream so compelling is that it was positively articulated. While he recognized the evils of the world he did not revel in them. Instead he encouraged the nation to embrace the greater angels of our founding vision of freedom and equality. Instead of attacking our nation’s founders, he promoted their inclusive vision and congratulated their aspirations. In doing so he invited all Americans to rise to the challenge of our sacred responsibilities toward our brothers and sisters and seek the Kingdom greatness that was interested and invested in service for others. He took seriously the gospel challenge to love others more than self and called all who would identify as/with the least of our brothers to pick up their mantel and march toward the Promised Land with him.
Dr. King’s dream, however, was not shared by all people. His call to peace and love was met with a torrent of hatred and violence. Grown men took out their anger against little children and the enfeebled. Wherever the weak sought to rise, the powerful sought to drive them down. Dr. King was beset by enemies on all sides. His message of racial equality was met by villains of all stripes. White and Black nationalists found common ground in opposing his vision of racial reconciliation, integration, and harmony. The Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam could not abide by a man who would march with the Rabbi Abraham Heschel on his right side and the harmony between Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Jews of all colors drove the Klan insane.
The Gospel call of peace and forgiveness has a way of bringing out the violence in some people.
As we celebrate Dr. King’s ministry and legacy, there will be many people who will claim his mantle. They will copy his marches and seek to engage the people politically. They will call for Civil Rights and seek changes to unjust laws. They will cry out for peace. But there will be no peace if they do not follow the compass of Martin Luther King, Jr, the prophet of the Most-High God and the disciple of Jesus Christ.
King’s legacy cannot be determined by counting crowd size or electoral achievements. The true achievements of Dr. King can only be understood by the legacy of love and grace that he left. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man that was beaten and stabbed, but he never lowered himself to hate those who tried to kill him. He embraced the love of Jesus Christ and forgave those who sought to harm him or who called him every vile name imaginable. He once acknowledged that it was hard to like the people who wanted to kill him and his family, but he stated, Jesus asks me to love them, and love is greater than like.
Today we live in a world that believes that Dr. King’s legacy can be found in the eloquence of his voice and the size of his crowds. We believe that a ground swell of people can change our world by changing our laws without transforming our hearts. We hope that by mimicking the method we can achieve the goals of transformation. We are mistaken.
It was not the methods that made the Civil Rights movement great. Not the rallies, nor the marches. What made the movement great was that it was infused by the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ. This was a movement of the Church for the nation. King’s leadership taught the Kingdom values of Jesus Christ to the people in the streets. He took the command to love your enemy seriously and recognized that defeating our enemies would not create a better world. He did not simply seek political solutions to deep historic problems, he sought righteous responses to evil. He took Jesus at his word and asked the nation to do the same. Billy Graham may have been America’s preacher, but Martin Luther King, Jr. was America’s prophet. Graham told us what to believe, King taught us how to live in the Kingdom, even if King Jesus was not yet on the throne.
In an age of violence and hatred, King made the instruments of his warfare love and grace. He never allowed his followers to embrace hatred or seek revenge. Instead he taught forgiveness and a love that could transform an enemy into a friend. In a world filled with vengeance and hatred, we need more of this. We do not need more voices, we need better ones. Godly voices that echo the Kingdom message of Jesus Christ.
These voices are not likely to be found in strongholds of conflict like Washington, DC. Instead we must boldly seek to speak gospel truth to power. We must show love even for our enemies and seek not to defeat our adversaries but to convert them into the love of God in Jesus Christ. The greatest tragedy of our day is that our politicians see each other and their own people as enemies. Our greatest evil is that we have ignored the call of Jesus Christ to love our enemies.
King believed that the movement of God can transform the hearts of the evil. This allows us to close the door of hatred and stop focusing on those we disagree with as irredeemable. The impulse of the Holy Spirit reminds us that every sinner is in fact a rebellious brother and sister in need of forgiveness and redemption. This was the message of Dr. King and one that we sorely need to recall if we are to forge a better tomorrow for our children and grandchildren.