Dr. King and a Great America

In March of 1968, just days before his assassination in April, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. climbed the pulpit of the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in Washington, D.C., the church now often referred to as the “National Cathedral.”  He was invited by Dean Sayre of that symbol of Episcopal prestige built on the highest point of our nation’s capital.  Dr. King wished to address the injustice, the waste of lives and resources, and the moral isolation our country found itself in the community of nations as a result the United States engagement in the war in Vietnam.  He also addressed the scourge of poverty in America.  Soaked in the words and images of Scripture, in particular from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke as well as the Revelation of St. John, the speech was entitled, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.”  [1]

The speech continues to inspire, challenge, provoke and empower a faith in God’s urgent call for us all to strive for justice and peace among all people.  His words seem particularly fitting as we observe the birthday of this prophet and simultaneously prepare for the inauguration of the 45th President the following Monday. Dr. King prepares to close his speech with this words:

Let me close by saying that we have difficult days ahead in the struggle for justice and peace, but I will not yield to a politic of despair. I’m going to maintain hope as we come to Washington in this campaign. The cards are stacked against us. This time we will really confront a Goliath. God grant that we will be that David of truth set out against the Goliath of injustice, the Goliath of neglect, the Goliath of refusing to deal with the problems, and go on with the determination to make America the truly great America that it is called to be.

He is not referring to anyone in particular when he speaks of Goliath, but that does not make his call to struggle any less pointed or strong.  The vision of a Great America is one that is rooted from the images of scripture where the poor are cared for, where all races, people, and nations stand reconciled before God’s heavenly throne, and where the lion and the lamb dwell together in peace.

The Church is called to help God establish such a Beloved Community on earth.  Until the coming of Christ’s Reign, the Church will often find itself in tension, if not outright conflict, with the powers and principalities of this world.  As I study the over two hundred-year history of the Diocese of New Hampshire, I am constantly struck at how courageous and committed its leaders and people have been in confronting injustice, racism, poverty, homophobia, and any fear and hatred of the outsider. 

With God’s help, our legacy is to be David against the “Goliaths of injustice, neglect, and the refusal to deal with problems” that beset us.  We can add another Goliath: that of a shirking reluctance to engage peacefully, respectfully, and confidently with those with whom we disagree.  President Obama was right when he encouraged the nation in his farewell address to stop arguing with people on the Internet and to actually go to meet the neighbor with whom we may disagree, to hear their stories, and to share what has been called “the messy truth” of our lives.  God did not shrink from the messy truth. Indeed, God chose to enter the mess by becoming human in Jesus Christ. To echo Bishop Doug Theuner’s oft-repeated words to me: “Don’t be timid.” 

 I pray that as we gather in our churches in the Sundays ahead, may we be awake and to see glimpses of Dr. King’s dream for a truly Great America: shaped by the great prophets of Isaiah and Micah, rooted in the great parables of Jesus, pulled forward by the vision of the Heavenly Kingdom, and audaciously made more approximate within the framework of a Constitution whose intent was to form a “more perfect Union, to establish justice, provide for the common defense, promote the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”.

Yours in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Governor,

+Rob

 [1] You can read or hear the Dr. King’s speech HERE: http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_remaining_awake_through_a_great_revolution.1.html

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