Americans love holidays, especially three-day weekends. Our Federal government mandates the observance of the following holidays: New Year’s Day, Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. In so many ways, our designated national holidays reflect the wonder and mystery of the American experiment. As “one nation under God” we celebrate the twists and turns of our history.
This week, our nation observed the “baby” of all our national holidays “The Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.” established in 1983 after years of debate. For those who may not remember Dr. King, he stirred the soul of our nation to confront the injustices of segregation and racism. As a Baptist minister, King called on our national leaders to confront bigotry and hatred institutionalized by unjust laws segregating people. Under his watch, no longer would those “created in the image of God” find themselves relegated to a lower class.
In prime of life, King fell prey to an assassin’s bullet as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. An archenemy sought to silence his voice with a deadly shot on April 4, 1968, but hatred never wins in the end. His voice still rings out today. In a nation being drawn back across lines that divide, we would be wise to heed his call in our day.
“We may have all come from different ships, but we’re in the same boat now…” What would happen if we embraced this keen observation of King’s today? At times doesn’t it feel as if we row in opposite directions. Yet we wonder why we find ourselves stuck in middle of the sea going in mindless circles.
What counsel would Jesus give to those destined to sail on the same boat together? I believe the captain of our boat would call us to our higher selves saying, “ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same. You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44-48 ESV)
Likewise, King echoed these timeless truths saying, “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.” He confessed, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend” he affirmed.
In our day of divisive rhetoric lacking civil discourse, we would be wise to heed such counsel. Can you imagine how you could change your little corner of the world if you did as Jesus instructed saying, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either” (Luke 9:28-29 ESV)? Jesus did not give these instructions to the vacationers at Disney World, but to his followers who would share the same boat with those who opposed them. What if we treated people so?
On the night before his death, King proclaimed, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now because I’ve been to the mountaintop…I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land…” As a nation we have come a long way from those dark days, but we have yet to cross over.
I pray the LORD will turn our national nightmare into the dream rooted deep in the heart of King. Hear him anew today—“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh will see it together…” Amen!