I had planned to write something totally different today. Until I went to church yesterday morning.
In honor of Martin Luther King Day my church devoted its entire service to remembering the struggle for racial reconciliation in this country and to our role in that struggle as Christians. The service was quite powerful and moved me to tears a number of times. As I sat there I kept thinking, “What a great idea, celebrating racial reconciliation on Martin Luther King weekend!”…as if the majority of African American churches in this country hadn’t been doing the same for years.
You see, in all my years going to church, that was the first time I had ever attended a worship service that observed today’s holiday. In fact, I have trouble remembering a sermon that even mentioned it. But what is even more troubling is the fact that I never noticed that absence until now. It never occurred to me that this day is a big deal for the church, one that many Christians surely celebrate each year with praise and gratitude to God. After all, much of Dr. King’s work was a direct result of the church community that supported him. As a pastor whose speeches were saturated with Scriptural language and who called his followers to resist evil in the way of Christ, King would not have succeeded without the church community behind him. In that sense, Martin Luther King day also reminds us of the perseverance of the Christian community.
Or at least one part of it.
While our country has come a long way since his death, Dr. King’s dream has yet to be fully realized and I take my own obliviousness to the holiday as evidence of that fact. Each year when the calendar calls us to reflect on King’s life, I have not celebrated with my brothers and sisters the way they have celebrated for themselves. And that is to my shame.
I have much to learn about loving my neighbor in the way that God has called me. But I also have much to learn about the church. At the end of the day, my lack of concern (which is not so much displayed by my opinion as it is by my attention) betrays an ecclesiological deficiency. I don’t value ALL parts of the body equally….not really. As 1 Corinthians 12:26 teaches us, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” I can’t remember the last time I really did either one of those.
Dr. King himself seized upon this analogy in his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” In it he responded to local pastors who criticized the protests of African Americans in their city, arguing that racial injustice should instead be worked out in the courts. The entire letter is both powerful and convicting, especially given that the pastors supposedly agreed with the cause–they just didn’t want to do anything about it. In response, King penned the following famous words:
I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
That is an ecclesiological statement. As my pastor preached yesterday morning, when the Titanic was struck on one side, the passengers on the other side could not disregard it saying, “That side of the ship does not affect us.” No, whatever happens to one part of the ship affects all of the ship. And it is the same with the Body of Christ. The injustices still faced by minorities in this country are my concern because they are a part of me.
I hope that truth stirs your soul as much as it does mine. Oh how I am convicted of my own hard-heartedness! As much as today is a time to celebrate, it is also a time to repent. My vision is too narrow and too selfish, which is why I pray that God would pierce my heart of stone and instead give me a heart of compassion and boldness. I pray that I would love others as much as God loves them, and that I would be more committed to the wholeness of His Bride. Until Christ returns, there is still much work to be done.