Monday, January 16, 2017


This sermon was originally preached on January 15, 2017 at the Keysville Grace United Church of Christ, Keymar, MD. The audio can be heard here.

On this day 88 years ago in Atlanta, GA, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Junior was born to Reverend Martin Luther King, Senior and Mrs. Alberta Williams King. The middle child, but the oldest son, his father changed both their names from Michael to Martin, in honor of the famed German theologian Martin Luther, following a 1934 trip to the Fifth Baptist World Alliance Congress in Berlin.

A graduate from Morehouse College, the Crozier Theological Seminary and Boston University, he served as the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and in 1963, gave his most famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, “I Have A Dream.”

His life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet on Friday, April 4, 1963 while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis Tennessee. Survived by his wife, the former Coretta Scott, and their four children, Yolanda, Martin Luther III, Dexter, and Bernice, as well as his parents and siblings, he was 39 years old at the time of his death.

I have, in the interest of time, reduced one of the most influential men in the history of this nation down two three paragraphs, sort of like people who reduce Dr. King down to the punch line “I Have A Dream” or call him “The Drum Major of Justice”, and that’s all. Many of these people enjoy the day off work that is supposed to honor this hero, but in all honesty, act in ways that are completely opposite to everything that Dr. King believed in.

As I have stated in the past, I believe that one cannot effectively speak to the church or the world with just the Bible or the newspaper – we are required to prepare sermons with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, and these days, that axiom certainly applies. In less than seven days, we will inaugurate a new president in this country, and while many people do not agree with the manner in which he was elected, the process, as established, was followed.

In the midst of that, however, there has been a turn to inflame our basest, and if we are honest, nasty traits. There has been a rise in hate crimes against minorities, whether we want to call them hate crimes or not. There has been a rise in substance abuse cases, whether we want to admit it or not. And just this week, what I consider to be a crime occurred on Capital Hill – the United States Congress has begun moving to repeal the Affordable Care Act, potentially cancelling health care for millions of citizens. There has been a decline in civility, especially when the powerful mock the powerless from their bully pulpits, and using coded language that most decent people would consider shameful.

So, on this anniversary of the birth of Dr. King, I pose the following question: What would Martin do? We know that “What Would Jesus Do” is a popular question and marketing strategy, and let me be clear, I am not elevating Martin to be equal with Jesus, but as a hero to many people, I think that is a fair question to ask. What WOULD Martin do if he were faced with the political, economic, and social landscape we face today? WWMD? I believe Martin would say, “Look to the prophet Micah”.

Now we don’t know much about this prophet, but in his introduction to the book that carries his name, Dr. Gregory Mobley of Andover Newton Theological School, tells us that he was from a small town southwest of Jerusalem called More-sheth-gath, and he had a populist message. Micah expressed disdain for the corruptions and pretensions of Jerusalem and its leaders. He recalled the traditions of early Israel and condemned religious practices unaccompanied by ethical performance.

I asked the question “What Would Martin Do?” and I believe that, if Martin King were alive today, he would say, “There is precedent. Look at Micah!”

Micah makes is very clear:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to live kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

The Lord has told us what is good: the Lord requires us to do justice, not just talk about it. I’m sure if we asked Martin “What does doing justice look like?” I would like to think that Martin would show us by:

  • speaking out against income inequality, and how the top 1% of people in this country control 90% of the wealth;
  • talking about how, in some inner city communities, food deserts exist, and you can get access to grease laden and unhealthy fast foods, but not be able to purchase a fresh tomato or fresh chicken. I would hope he would declare that people deserve to shop in stores that should not be condemned;
  • informing the people the fact that people in major cities in the United States don’t have access to clean water, which is a sin and a shame before God almighty herself; and
  • declaring that the lack of healthcare to the least of these truly is an example of not loving your neighbor as yourself;
  • standing up with ALL disenfranchised people: the poor, the underclass, the underemployed, racial minorities, women, the LGBT community, immigrants, and yes, even Muslims. He would model loving your neighbor as yourself.

Let me put a pin here for a minute – so many people have attempted to neuter Dr. King, like they have Jesus, by making him this soft, ethereal, passive doormat. While Martin believed in non-violence as a tactic, that does NOT mean he was weak by any means. It takes strength to turn the other cheek. It takes strength to be called everything but a child of God. It takes strength to remain strong when the people who have claimed to be in your corner desert you in jail. It takes strength to forgive people who try and kill you, for racists who bomb your house, and who kill four little black girls on a Sunday morning.

I am sure that if we asked Martin “How does one live kindness?” he would show us by:

  • calling out our behaviors of treating the disabled as less than people,
  • calling us out for not following the biblical mandate to take care of the widows and orphans;
  • taking us to task for sending soldiers off to war, and not providing them with adequate physical AND mental health care when they return home; and
  • not cutting holes in the social safety net that many of us might have to depend on should we fall on hard times. 

I am sure that if we ask Martin, “How does one walk humbly with your God?”, he would show us by:

  • crying out against religious institutions that are more concerned with piety than providing assistance, more concerned with buildings and business than building disciples and loving communities, and more concerned with fame than faith;
  • explaining that you can’t claim to love God and hate ANY of God’s people, that are made in God’s image; and
  • reminding us that we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.

So, before I take my seat, if you want to know “What would Martin do?” the answer is simple: he would live the words of Micah 6.8.  Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. He would, and we should as well. That, my friends, is something worth celebrating.


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