For the first time since I have been at Legacy, we have closed the offices to observer Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This decision came out of some conversations we had as a staff last year about the growing diversity of our neighborhood, staff and congregation and why we had not stopped and observed the significance of the day. It also followed Markus Lloyd and my experience at the DEEP Conference a year ago in Nashville. I have begun my day remembering the impact of this preacher on our society and the resulting possibilities that will be realized tomorrow with the inauguration of our first African-American President, Barak H. Obama.
Yesterday, I reminded Legacy that King was first a Baptist preacher, who used his pulpit to mobilize his congregation to action. Popular historians forget this. The civil rights movement was first a faith-based movement that addressed local social and racial injustices in the name of Jesus. The King-led Civil Rights Movement rode on the back of Christ followers who followed Jesus' example of addressing injustice with non-violence and receiving whatever consequence the ruling authorities dished out. This movement did not originate in the halls of Congress or universities or think-tanks. This movement began in churches.
When I was asked at my Ph.D. orals who I thought was the most influential preacher in the 20th century (one of my minors was preaching), I told the examining board, Martin Luther King, Jr. When asked why I told them the goal of a preacher is that his words grounded in the message and actions of Jesus is to inspire people to action, and that action is to change the world around them to be more like Christ's kingdom. The preacher is to embody his message and lead as he wants his people to lead where they live. King did that. He also was a gifted orater who inspired many with his well-spoken images and phraces. We have few oraters like him today.
Last year I met Mervyn A. Warren, professor of preaching at Oakwood University, at the DEEP conference in Nashville. He is the author of King Came Preaching: The Pulpit Power of Martin Luther King, Jr.. He gave me a signed copy, and it is worth the read for those who have forgotten King's preaching legacy. My favorite sermon by King? "The Drum Major Instinct," preached a few months before his assassination. It is from James and John's request for high positions in Jesus' kingdom. It is essentially about servant leadership, my heart message.
If you have time, read the entire sermon here. Let it challenge our lazy faith again.
Kim and I saw Slumdog Millionaire last night. Tough viewing because of the setting of the story, but a fairy-tale ending. I can recommend it to you.