Short Homily on the Legacy of
the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Delivered by the Rev. Rhonda J. Rubinson
January 15, 2017
Church of the Intercession, NYC
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today in church we honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we celebrate in our national holiday tomorrow. We know that Dr. King was a very important figure in politics, but we sometimes we forget that he was first and foremost a preacher. In the timeless biblical language written for the political, cultural, and spiritual situations of ancient times, King discovered a way to communicate a similarly powerful yet fresh and timely message to our nation during his lifetime. Now, nearly 50 years after his death that we can turn to King’s words as we face the political, cultural, and spiritual crises of our own day. If words are divinely inspired, they never grow old – the truths that they express are, like God, eternal, so by very definition cannot suffer from deterioration or old age.
So it is that we can search Rev. King’s writings for help in our own very dangerous moment in history. I’d like to highlight some of the ways that he addressed hatred, bigotry and violence in words that we can apply to our angry and tense country today.
First, there is the matter of anti-immigrant xenophobia and racism: the denigration of those who were not born in this country or who are – to put it simply – not white. King pointed out how baseless such hatred is as he pointed out how deeply connected all human beings across the world are:
We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny . . . Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach for a sponge that’s handed to you by a Pacific Islander. You reach for a bar of soap and that’s given to you by a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee. . . and that’s poured into your cup by a South American . . . Or maybe you’re desirous of having tea which comes from China or cocoa from West Africa . . . Before you finish breakfast, you’ve depended on more than half of the world.
Clearly, there is no way on God’s green earth that we can ever be cut off from the rest of humanity, so it is nonsensical to even pretend to try, let alone to try to apply some sort of standard of who is acceptable and who isn’t based on utterly incoherent categories like race and ethnicity.
Speaking of standards, King has very strong words for those who seek to impose their will upon others by calling dissenting opinions “abnormal.” Listen to this:
Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word: it is the word “maladjusted.” Now we should all seek to live a well-adjusted life . . . but there are some things within our social order to which I am maladjusted and to which I call you to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to mob rule. I never intend to adjust myself to physical violence and to tragic militarism. I call upon you to be maladjusted to such things.
Here is one more example that is particular pertinent to our vicious political climate today, in which insult, mockery, and shaming of our opponents has become all too commonplace. King, of course, used non-violent resistance to fight for civil rights – here he speaks of the ultimate objective of non-violence:
. . . non-violent resistance does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, it is our objective to bring healing and reconciliation to the world. It is the church’s task in dark times to help every child of God reach his or her full potential while connecting all of us through God’s love. All cultures shift and change over time – we would barely recognize the way of life in Jesus’ time if we were beamed back to the first century by a time machine. But we would recognize the common human nature of the people of that time: their fears, anxieties, hopes and dreams. All people in all times and places want physical health and the necessities of life, all people want to be valued, respected; all people want to see the best for their children and families; and especially all people want to be loved.
On this day when we celebrate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. let us try to emulate him in our own time and place, and build up others when some try to tear down, and to love others when some would hate. That is the legacy of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and that is the true legacy of Dr. King.