There are many good reasons to have a national holiday to honor the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. As a clarion voice in a time of civil revolution, he shaped our conversations around race and justice. As a political activist, he promoted a nonviolent approach to protest and forced action by those who were in power. As a speaker, he painted with his words a wondrous tapestry of a better world, a world that we are still trying to build.
But as a minister, King will always be first a Baptist pastor, who preached brilliant sermons that exhorted the faithful and challenged the powerful. To paraphrase another preacher, he “comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable.” That’s preaching!
There’s a great sermon of King’s called “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” and you would think it was written today, rather than 50 years ago. I read it over on this MLK holiday. It’s moving throughout and worth your time, but one paragraph especially gripped me. King preached:
Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. So we must help time and realize that the time is always ripe to do right.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was many things before his life was tragically taken from us. But to me, he is a pastor reminding the faithful that sitting on our hands and waiting is a cowardly vote for injustice. When we see something wrong, and there is much wrong, the people of God have the imperative to put on our boots and ready our tools, because we have work to do. We have to work to make our world safer for our daughters and sons. We have to work to make sure that our elders are not forgotten but honored and respected in the twilight of life. And 50 years later, we still have much work to do to ensure that our brothers and sisters of color are afforded the same opportunities and privileges that white folks do. God is at work in our world and the Spirit wonders when Christ’s people will join in the joyous labor.