Thursday, January 12, 2017

Light and Bread at Midnight

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Each year at this time as I remember and give thanks for the life and witness of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I re-read Letter from Birmingham Jail. If you don't know it, I encourage you to honor his memory by clicking on that link and reading, or re-reading it, in these early weeks of 2017. The letter is a response to liberal white Protestant clergy, of which I am one, who tend to counsel patience and "waiting and seeing" when in fact what is needed is to stand and be counted. I hear the words as a challenge to do better by resisting oppression. I hear these words from prison as akin to those of St. Paul, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer - as words of clarity that come to a person who is locked up, but whose freedom you cannot take away. His words inspire me to be more courageous and less patient with injustice. His words kindle a desire within me to speak truth to power in this time and place. With God's help...

But this year, I've just finished listening again to the audio of the sermon, "A Knock at Midnight," which also seems just as relevant this year. You can read the manuscript here but hearing it is even better.  It speaks across the decades, I think, into our very circumstances.

It is a "thick" and powerful sermon but two paragraphs that really speak to me as a Christian leader are these: 
Bestsellers in psychology are books such as Man Against HimselfThe Neurotic Personality of Our Times, and Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Bestsellers in religion are such books as Peace of Mind and Peace of Soul. The popular clergyman preaches soothing sermons on "How to Be Happy" and "How to Relax." Some have been tempted to revise Jesus’ command to read, "Go ye into all the world, keep your blood pressure down, and, lo, I will make you a well-adjusted personality." All of this is indicative that it is midnight within the inner lives of men and women...
...the church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will. But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace. Men far and near will know the church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travelers at midnight.
I yearn for that kind of Church: a Church that "provides light and bread for lonely travelers at midnight." And I pray for the grace and the courage to work toward that day. Let freedom ring!

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