Can you believe that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be 89 years old today? I often wonder what his parents thought on January 15, 1929? I’m sure they didn’t think he would have a holiday named after him.
I am pretty sure (I asked SIRI!) that King is the first and only American to be honored with a national holiday because of his faith. Often described first as a Baptist minister and then an activist, he lived out the words of the prophet Amos: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (5:24).”
King preached (and later described in his book “Stride Toward Freedom”) about the time he was ready to give up out of fear of taking on the call as the leader of the Civil Rights movement. He recounted how he began to pray. He said God spoke clearly to him calling him to stand up for justice and truth and know that God would never leave him.
King said that, after praying, he no longer felt afraid or alone. And he knew he could now accomplish anything. He was a public disciple, and he was never shy about his faith and Who was driving his actions.
Some ask, “Why do we continue to celebrate or observe this national holiday?”
For people of faith, this holiday is important for practicing our faith out loud. Even more, we look to King’s life and legacy to regain our sense of beloved community and boldness to stand for justice and truth.
I think if King were alive today, he would still say, “The time is always right to do what is right.” And these words for sure he would repeat, “Yes, I see the Church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.” (Letter from Birmingham jail in “Why We Can’t Wait,” 1963)
April 4, 2018, will mark 50 years since his assassination. He often said, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.”
The dream is not dead, and we have work to do!
Valora K Starr is director for discipleship for Women of the ELCA.