Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Foley Beach’s Martin Luther King Day sermon

“Dr. King demonstrated that one man, devoted to Jesus Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, and obeying the call of God, can literally change a nation, and impact other nations throughout the world.”

Grace and Peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!!

As the Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in North America, I bring you greetings on this momentous occasion.

The Anglican Church in North America has over 80,000 people in church every Sunday in about 1000 congregations, and we are in communion with over 45 Million Anglicans throughout the world.  All of which have been impacted in some way by the ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have a childhood memory of my mother, who was a drug addict, sitting in front of the television crying on the day Dr. King was killed. I remember her saying that someone had killed a good and godly man.  I was nine years old.

As a child who spent much of his childhood on the streets of Atlanta, I had good friends who were African-American. I attended an integrated high school in the Atlanta Public Schools and some of my best friends were people of color. I did not really grasp the difficulties people of color had to encounter and overcome until years later when I read history and watched news accounts of Selma, Birmingham, Atlanta, Oxford, and places all across our nation.

When I look at how African-Americans were treated in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, the impact of Dr. King is even more amazing.  It is possible to forget what a different world it was in our communities just 50 years ago.

Noted African American Theologian Dr. Peter Paris says this about Dr. King – 
“Out of the segregated crucible of Atlanta’s black ghetto, a young man emerged with national and international visibility who was destined to lead his people and our nation out of the bitter experience of racial oppression into a new era of freedom.”

Earning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Dr. King demonstrated that one man, devoted to Jesus Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, and obeying the call of God, can literally change a nation, and impact other nations throughout the world. If you go to our nation’s capital in Washington D.C., you will find monuments to the greatest men our nation has produced. All of those honored were Presidents of the United States—- except one.

Martin Luther King, Jr., He was an ordinary citizen, who during his 13-year ministry as a pastor, changed our world. He was a powerful preacher who knew how to write sermons, to use his words, “directed toward the listening ear, not the reading eye.” He wrote:  “A sermon is not an essay to be read, but a discourse to be heard!” Some of us present day preachers should take some lessons!

A central theme of his preaching was making a difference by action which is non-violent. Dr. King gave us in his sermons the capacity to believe in the difference we can make together.  Especially together as believers in Jesus Christ armed only with the Spirit of the Living God – “We will meet your physical force with soul force.  We will not hate you, but we will not obey your evil laws.  We will soon wear you down by our capacity to suffer.”

“Christ gave us the goals,” he would often say.  “Mahatma Ghandi gave us the tactics.” Non-violence. No matter what they do to us. Non-violence. Amazing! Doing God’s work in God’s way always bears God’s fruit. Some of our leaders today need to revisit the teaching of Dr. King.

Violence is not the answer. Violence only leads to more violence. It is non-violence which brings lasting social change.

Coretta Scott King wrote about this theme of non-violence in her husband’s teaching: “His belief was in a divine, loving presence that binds all life.  This belief is behind all my husband’s quests to eliminate social evil, and what he referred to when he preached of ‘the interrelated structure of reality” in his sermon “The Man Who was a Fool.”

Dr. King was brilliant.  He took Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” and his teaching to “love your enemies” to a level so bold that most of us shallow Christians would think he might be out of his mind.

Listen to his words: “At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love.  The nonviolent resister would contend that in the struggle for human dignity, the oppressed people of the world must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or indulging in hate campaigns.  To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe.  Along the way of life, someone must have the sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives.”

Jesus said:  Greater love hath no man than this; that he lay down his life for his friends. (Jn.15:13).

Martin Luther King not only taught love, he lived it, and he ultimately died for it.

As we face the social evils of our day – not just in our nation, but in the global community of which we are now so intimately apart – let us recover the words and the actions of this man of God.

As he wrote in The Trumpet of Conscience, “In a world facing the revolt of ragged and hungry masses of God’s children; in a world torn between the tensions of East and West, white and colored, individualists and collectivists; in a world whose cultural and spiritual power lags so far behind the technological capabilities that we live each day on verge of nuclear co-annihilation; in this world, non-violence is no longer an option for intellectual analysis, it is an imperative for action.”

As we give thanks for Martin Luther King, Jr. this day, let us also seek to emulate his teaching and the example of how that teaching was to be lived.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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