An Invitation to Join Dr. King
January 1, 2013
On Saturday, January 20, NBTS President Gregg Mast joined the celebration at Cathedral International in Perth Amboy and reflected on the same day in 1986 when he joined the people in the Ebenezer Baptist Church of Atlanta Georgia to inaugurate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a national holiday.
Remarks (as prepared in advance) of Dr. Gregg Mast, President of New Brunswick Theological Seminary
Please allow me to express my appreciation to Bishop Hilliard, Minister Danielle Brown and Cathedral International in inviting me to offer a few words about Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community.
Twenty-seven years ago this evening I found myself in the fourth pew from the front of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. The chancel was filled with dignitaries–to name just a few, Coretta Scott King, Bishop Desmond Tutu, The Reverend Jesse Jackson and then Vice President George Bush. We had gathered for the inauguration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday. The year was 1986. Eighteen years had passed since Dr. King’s assassination in 1968.
I hope we will always remember that this holiday did not come easily. Eighteen years after his assassination there were still many who found Dr. King’s vision threatening. When he envisioned a beloved community, they imagined a time when all would be equal, and they shuddered. It would take another 14 years, in the year 2000, until Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday was celebrated in all 50 states.
In retrospect, I am grateful that the birth pangs of this holiday were difficult, because Dr. King’s vision was an enormous challenge, not to be taken lightly. I have been asked to offer a few words about one aspect of Dr. King’s vision of the beloved community. I have chosen the command of Jesus, “love your enemies.” I have done so not because I think it is easy- I think it is impossible without the help of God. I have chosen the call to love our enemies because each and every year since the founding of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, I have read the following words of Dr. King which I count to be some of the most powerful ever spoken.
From a sermon entitled “Loving your Enemies”:
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 good conscience obey your unjust laws, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us for half dead, and we shall still love you. But be 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.”
Dr. King was filled with the spirit of Jesus who had preached:
“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you&”
The words of both Kings, Jesus and Martin, would have been piously hollow if it were not for their lives. On the cross, Jesus looked at his enemies and whispered: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The words of Jesus were reflected in his living, in his dying, and in his rising.
And for Martin–his words were a prelude to his entire life and ministry. His Letters from a Birmingham Jail and his many sermons and deep sacrifices speak eloquently of his passionate belief in love being the strongest force in the entire universe. His own dying, an assassination by an invisible and cowardly gunman, could not extinguish his light and vision
It was T. E. Lawrence who once wrote these words:
All people dream, but not equally. Those who dream in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a dangerous person–not because he commanded powerful armies nor did he have access to enormous political influence. He was dangerous because he dreamt with his eyes open.
On this very important weekend, when our nation pauses to commemorate Dr. King’s vision, let us dream with Dr. King with our eyes open in the daytime, and take up his challenge in our own lives and communities.