READING from Strength to Love by Martin Luther King, Jr. (Forward 1981 by Coretta Scott King) Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963.
If there is one book Martin Luther King, Jr. has written that people consistently tell me has changes their lives, it is Strength to Love. I believe it is because this book best explains the central element of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence: His belief in a divine, loving presence that binds all life.
This morning we find ourselves caught in a moment of time between the birthday of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Inauguration of Donald J. Trump as our 45th President of the United States of America. These two American men could not be more different. The contrast between the two is excruciating for many people – both here in the USA and in other places around the world. I will not directly speak about our President-Elect. I will speak about, remember, and celebrate the life of Dr. King. Through our celebration of Dr. King, and recogniton of those who follow his lead, I will attempt to provide encouragement to each of us as we continue our journey toward freedom, justice and peace – for our inevitable and eventual arrival at that place is the dream that Martin Luther King, Jr. never abandoned and to which he gave his life.
I want to draw from the powerful words and witness of two other great black leaders of deep faith this morning. Two who are proud to follow in the giant footsteps of Dr. King: President Barack Obama and The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber, II.
I could augment, reconstruct, paraphrase and edit their words to make them more like my own. But not today. Today is a time to listen to and hear clearly with our own strong minds and soft hearts the words spoken by these great men. I in no way impy or suggest that we do not have suitable words for our time from our female leaders and foremothers. We’ll get to their words too – just not today. So please forgive and undersand my sexism this morning as I draw from three great men; two pastors and one national moral leader.
Dr. King delivered a sermon titled “Loving Your Enemies” to the congregation of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama in 1962. He wrote this sermon while serving a jail sentence for civil disobedience.
Probably no admonition of Jesus has been more difficult to follow than the command to “love your enemies.” Some men have felt that its actual practice is not possible. It is easy, they say, to love those who love you, but how can one love those who openly and insidiously seek to defeat you? …
In spite of these insistent questions and persistent objections, this command of Jesus challenges us with new urgency. Upheaval after upheaval has reminded us that modern man is travelling along a road called hate, in a journey that will bring us to destruction and damnation. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival.
A third reason why we should love our enemies is that love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power.
To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”
Love is the most durable power in the world.
President Obama delivered his farewell address to our nation from Chicago on Tuesday. Here is just a small bit of what he said.
It was in neighborhoods not far from here where I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills. It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss. This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it.
It's the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It's the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.
This is the great gift our Founders gave us. The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, toil, and imagination - and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a greater good.
After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. For race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. I've lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were ten, or twenty, or thirty years ago - you can see it not just in statistics, but in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.
We have what we need to do so. After all, we remain the wealthiest, most powerful, and most respected nation on Earth. Our youth and drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention mean that the future should be ours.
Ultimately, that's what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there's an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you're tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life. If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you're disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Persevere. Sometimes you'll win. Sometimes you'll lose. Presuming a reservoir of goodness in others can be a risk, and there will be times when the process disappoints you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America - and in Americans - will be confirmed.
Orlando Massacre: We Cannot Let Hate Have the Last Word
By Rev. William J. Barber II 06-14-2016
I have chosen selected passages from a sermon Rev. Barber delivered following the terrorism at The Pulse in Orlando last June. His words are just as relevant today. Barber’s call to people of faith to work for a moral agenda that might bring this nation and the world closer to the vision of justice and peace are challenging and energizing.
Tears are the order of the day. We mourn the loss of life. We grieve the destruction and the hurt and pain of so many in Orlando and across the nation.
But while we cry, we must also gain our composure and not allow hate or cynicism to have the first, the loudest, or the last word.
We cannot use hate as the path through our pain into our tomorrow. Hate fuels hate: racial hate, homophobic hate, religious hate, class hate, and the rhetoric of hate that drives the terrorist and the mob. The culture of hate creates the actions of hate. It is and always has been a recipe for murder.
Hate always reacts. But hate is not the answer.
Down through the years, many who have experienced hate-driven suffering have still refused to respond with hate; they have held to the faith that love was still greater.
Hate always reacts when love is taking hold, when it begins to conquer the fearful heart. Hate wants us to respond and react with hate. Hate seeks an unending circle of hate. But we cannot fall into hate’s trap. Not in our hearts. Not in our actions. Not in our politics. The people always lose in the politics of hate.
We cannot allow our hearts in this moment of hurt — born of hate — to succumb to the politics of cynicism. In the shadow of Lincoln, and the relentless suffering and death caused by slavery ended 98 years earlier, Dr. King at the March on Washington said:
The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people. For many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
Those who know the power of love need to speak up.
Let us choose to join those who lived before us, who in the face of hate chose community, who chose love, who chose nonviolence, who chose the way of justice.
So as we cry today, let our tears be a fresh baptism for a commitment to walk together, children, and not get weary, for the promise of love still holds, and love will have the last word.
William J. Barber, II
These faithful and prohetic people of faith call us forward. Not in fear, not in cynicism, not in hate, not in disregard, not in acquiesence, not in indifference to the crying injustices of the past and present, nor in denial of the strength of those who oppose us, are we lead. We are lead in Love – the power of Love that holds us in an embrace that will not let us go either in pain or in apathy. This is a Love that transcends all differences of belief. This is a Love that transcends all differences of our human situations. This is the Love our own faith invites and calls us to embody and live. We stand on the side of this Love. We go forth. The way is long, sometimes uncertain, often difficult. But, we are never alone. Together, we shall overcome the forces of injustice and fear.
Finally, these words from The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“I just want to do God's will. And he's allowed me to go to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the promised land! I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.”
We will get to the promised land. Maybe not this year. Maybe not this decade. But, we will get there. Love is the most durable power in the world. When we love truly and when we extend ourselves in a Love Beyond Belief to those whose truths are not our own and whose choices are different from ours and who may even seem at times to be enemies who are committed to building a world where justice does not roll down like waters nor righteousness like an ever flowing stream, then, dear friends and spiritual companions, we are living our faith in the world. May we ever be so bold and so loving.
Blessed Be. I Love You. Amen.