As I write this the U.S. is poised to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day, commemorating the life and accomplishments of Dr. King for the cause of human rights in the USA and around the world. I suspect, however, that the NFL championship games, with Super Bowl stakes, have captured the minds and hearts of many Americans more than the truly historic and Kingdom of God significance of Dr. King’s life and legacy.
I would also confess that many white people (most?) regard this special day as primarily “for them,” and not “for us.” I mean, it’s a big deal for the African American community, but not so much for many whites. Everyone appreciates the day off (if they have it), of course, but the truly historic and kingdom significance of the movement Dr. King formed and led—well, some of us, not less in Christ following circles, are a bit slow on the up-take. And that this is so, that we can be so dull, so slow, so stubbornly resistant to evidence of our God’s mighty movements bears eloquent testimony that we are still a long way from realizing “The Dream.” Worse, such slowness and dullness reveal the not-yet-complete conversion of mind and heart to the freedom-ways of our God.
We cannot afford to miss this latter point. In the beginning God made us all in God’s image. Whatever “human” is, bearing God’s image is central. Therefore, for those who care about what God intended, all human beings come from God with God’s insistence that they bear the divine image with all the privileges and responsibilities that go with it. This divine image, by the way, predates the tragic brokenness and corruption that followed.
Indeed, the rebellion against God and God’s intent, along with the resulting brokenness, did follow. (That slowness and dullness to recognize the importance of MLK Day is, I think, a function of the brokenness.) And what did God do? He called a family to bear blessing and bring blessing to all families on earth—the people of Abraham. One of Israel’s most profound theological insights was that Yahweh—their Lord—was not a tribal God. Their Lord was Lord of all places and peoples. Note that: all peoples. Those who try to restrict the scope of God’s love and grace to Israel, or to Church, or to one part of the world, have unwittingly reduced our God to the status of a tribal deity.
From the beginning, however, God’s response as God of all was to bring blessing to all people. A long story it has become—long at least from our perspective. In time, God entered the story in Jesus and from the inside out began right-wising and renewing everything. Not least he renews that image wherever it can be found, which extends to all people-groups everywhere. Then, at the last, the redeemed and renewed human family will gather around the Throne which becomes the epicenter of God’s grace-blended family embracing every tribe, language, culture and people.
Now, on the eve of MLK Day 2014, we find ourselves somewhere in this story, which is a freedom story. And from within the story, we play a role that helps either to drive or detour the story. Christ-followers today must not allow themselves to be anything other than freedom-lovers and freedom-bringers.
It was for freedom that Christ set us free, the Apostle Paul reminds his friends in Galatia (Gal. 5:1). Earlier in that letter Paul stressed the full orbed nature of that freedom when he declared:
And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on the character of Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you (Gal 3:27-29 NLT).
One of the clear implications of Paul’s assertion is that Christ-followers both reflect and extend Jesus’ own ministry of declaring the day of God’s favor and setting people free(see Luke 4:18ff.). In doing so, they connect with the larger story of God’s way with the world. In doing so, they acquire eyes to see movements of freedom that witness to and work for the freedom and dignity of God’s image in all persons, and when they see such movements they celebrate and seek to extend them.
So, I am praying that all Christ-followers will “do so”—that is, will recognize God’s favor and grace at work in the impulses and movements for human rights and freedom that were generated out of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I am praying that more of us will talk with one another, especially white folk with African Americans, to appreciate the significance of the legacy of Dr., King and to feel how much still remains to be done. I am praying that such talking will lead to walking with one another into places where there is need for witness and work in the cause of human rights and freedom. And, I am praying that the day will soon come when there is as much passion and energy for this part of God’s ongoing freedom agenda as there is for ending human trafficking. (Both are worthy of our passionate support and both must have it!) And, I am praying that the legacy of Dr. King finds new traction, and perhaps especially among Christ-followers, who join Jesus until the day comes when it seems like a “Dream” come true.