Sunday, January 15, 2012
Remembering Dr. King
Sometimes people forget that before, during, and after the time he was a Civil Rights leader, Dr. King was a Baptist preacher. The following is an excerpt from a sermon he preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on June 5, 1966. The full sermon is entitled "Guidelines for a Constructive Church." I share the excerpt below because it gives us a glimpse of King as pastor.
You see, the church is not a social club, although some people think it is. They get caught up in their exclusivism, and they feel that it’s a kind of social club with a thin veneer of religiosity, but the church is not a social club. The church is not an entertainment center, although some people think it is. You can tell in many churches how they act in church, which demonstrates that they think it’s an entertainment center. The church is not an entertainment center. Monkeys are to entertain, not preachers. But in the final analysis the church has a purpose...and therefore it has certain guidelines that it must follow.
Let us first think of the fact that if the church is following its guidelines, it seeks to heal the broken-hearted. Now there is probably no human condition more tantalizing than a broken heart. You see, broken-heartedness is not a physical condition; it’s a condition of spiritual exhaustion. And who here this morning has not experienced a broken heart? I would say broken-heartedness comes basically from the trying experience of disappointment. And I don't believe there are many people here this morning under the sound of my voice who have not been disappointed about something.
Here is a young man or a young woman dreaming of some great career and setting out in school to try to make that career possible, only to discover that they don't quite have the mental faculties, the technical know-how, to achieve excellence in that particular field. And so they end up having to choose life’s second best, and because of this they end up with a broken heart.
Here is a couple standing before the altar in a marriage that seems to be born in heaven, only to discover that six months or a year later the conflicts and the dissensions begin to develop; arguments and misunderstandings begin to unfold. And that same marriage which a year earlier seemed to have been born in heaven ends up in the divorce court and the individuals are left with a broken heart.
Here is a family, a mother and father striving desperately to train their children up in the way that they should go. Working hard to make their education possible; working hard to give them a sense of direction, praying fervently for their guidance. And yet, in spite of all of this, one or two of the children end up taking the wrong road, moving toward some strange and tragic far country. And the parents end up having to acknowledge that the children that they raised are prodigals lost in a far country, and they end up with a broken heart.
And then there comes life’s ultimate tragedy, that something that always makes for a broken heart. Who this morning hasn't experienced it: when you must stand before the bier of a loved one…that day when the casket rolls down the aisle? That experience called death, which is the irreducible common denominator of all people. And no one can lose a loved one, no one can lose a mother or father, sister, brother, a child, without ending up with a broken heart. Broken-heartedness is a reality in life.
And Sunday after Sunday, week after week, people come to God’s church with broken hearts. They need a word of hope. And the church has an answer—if it doesn't, it isn't a church. The church must say in substance that broken-heartedness is a fact of life. Don’t try to escape when you come to that experience. Don't try to repress it. Don't end up in cynicism. Don't get mean when you come to that experience. The church must say to people that Good Friday is a fact of life. The church must say to people that failure is a fact of' life. Some people are only conditioned to success. They are only conditioned to fulfillment. Then when the trials and the burdens of life unfold, they can't stand up with it. But the church must tell people that Good Friday is as much a fact of life as Easter; failure is as much a fact of life as success; disappointment is as much a fact of life as fulfillment. And the church must tell people to take your burden, take your grief and look at it, don't run from it. Say that this is my grief and I must bear it. Look at it hard enough and say, "How can I transform this liability into an asset?"
This is the power that God gives you. He doesn't say that you're going to escape tension; he doesn't say that you're going to escape disappointment; he doesn't say that you’re going to escape trials and tribulations. But what religion does say is this: that if you have faith in God, that God has the power to give you a kind of inner equilibrium through your pain. So let not your heart be troubled. "If ye believe in God, ye believe also in me." Another voice rings out, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden”…Come unto me, all ye that are heartbroken; I will give you rest”… if the church is true to its guidelines, it heals the broken-hearted.