Today, Sunday, January 15, is the birthday of the great pastor, preacher, and civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK).
To commemorate him, I share four quotes from his speeches that I believe summarize why he is to be honored and remembered by all the citizens of the United States. I have commented on each of them.
“Love is the greatest force in the universe. It is the heartbeat of the moral cosmos. He who loves is a participant in the being of God.”
I’ve heard this first sentence for as long as I can remember. I did not remember that it was a quote from MLK. Just maybe he quoted it from somebody else. No matter. It declares as well as any quote the heart of the great theologian, preacher, and national leader. His heart was love. His voice was love. His sword was love.
America, please listen to the heart, voice, and sword of MLK today, tomorrow, and as this year’s commemoration unfolds. Families, neighbors, communities, identifiable groups of people, politicians, everyone everywhere, listen again and again to the truth being told by MLK. Let his legacy and his memory lead us to believe and live out this profound truth again. “Love is the greatest force in the universe.”
God is love. His love is by far the greatest force in the universe. And when we receive God’s love and share it in turn with all those around us, regardless of differences or varying circumstances, we can wield the greatest power in the universe. And this is what will bring about the outcome that is God-pleasing, MLK-pleasing, and will make this world a much better place.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Here again MLK crystallizes the essence of his theology, philosophy, and the unique nature of his call for action for social change.
Prejudice, injustice, and bigotry are deep in the heart of darkness. Then, as now, they must be driven from the experience of human society. All but the darkest hearts would agree to that. The question is, “How can they be driven out?”
A natural response, the response of the fallen human heart, is to meet this darkness with hatred, violence, equal forms of bad will to push back and get even.
How simple MLK put it. How brilliantly MLK put it. How Biblically MLK put it. How correctly MLK put it. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, etc.”
In our world and in our lives today, we need an hourly reminder to come up on our computer or smart phone or watch phone that reminds us over and over again, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness.” Darkness vs. Darkness = Darkness. How simple, yet profound, is that!
MLK knew this: Jesus Christ is the Light of the World. A Light no darkness can overcome. It is this love of Christ, living in our hearts and shining through our lives that will drive out the darkness, any darkness, all darkness, no matter how impenetrable that darkness may seem to be.
“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”
I could not begin to understand what the “thirst for freedom” must have felt like for people of color from the dark days of slavery, to the dark days of segregation, to the dark days of prejudice, injustice, and bigotry. But I can say it most certainly was a “powerful thirst.”
Again, the human and “natural” response would be to lock hard into bitterness and hatred. That would be “human” and “natural.”
Yet, into that human and natural reality MLK spoke a Godly and love-filled reminder not to try to satisfy the great thirst “by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”
To some degree or another everyone has an experience, certainly not parallel to the Black experience, but some experience in which someone else or some group of people is holding the power over us and keeping us from getting what we most desperately want and feel we deserve.
Is it going to help or solve the problem by hanging onto bitterness and hatred against that person or group of people? MLK reminds us, no, that’s not the solution.
MLK knew that instead of bitterness and hatred, the answer is forgiveness and love. Is that easy? Absolutely not. The only way that ever happens is in receiving the forgiveness and love of God in Jesus Christ. Then we are empowered to bring that same kind of love and forgiveness to those who are seemingly holding us back.
Where does that kind of forgiveness and love come from? It comes from Jesus, who said of the Roman soldiers who nailed Him to the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” That is the power. The real power!
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
As a white man, 72 years old, in my opinion we have come a long way toward this part of MLK’s “Dream” coming true. I grew up in the South. I saw segregation, many injustices, and acts of prejudice. But I was taught God’s love for all people in our home and in our church.
I also experienced first-hand, in a positive way, de-segregation. I experienced Blacks and Whites sharing schools and sports. As a college student I supported the Civil Rights Movement and celebrated the positive results. Many times I have stood in silence and respect at the crypt of Dr. King at the King Center in Atlanta, and have taken white youth there to be influenced by his life and legacy.
We have now had an African American elected President of the United States. In many, many arenas of our society it is indeed the “content of character” that counts above all else.
We are all God’s children. “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Thanks be to God! Amen!
MLK again today, this week, and forever reminds white people to look at people of color in this “content of character” way.
MLK again today, this week, and forever reminds people of color to look at white people in this “content of character” way.
The best way to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is to continue to listen to his wisdom and find new ways to live out his vision for our society. And so we shall.
Then we will all be “free at last.” Amen!
[Kollmeyer, a retired Lutheran pastor, is a thirty-six year resident of Fayette County. He offers his pastoral and preaching services to any and all Christians. Reach him at email@example.com]