Yesterday I attended a service at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. On the eve of Martin Luther Kings birthday it felt significant to visit somewhere where I was the ‘other’, I think I thought that experience would be something I was there to learn from, but we were met with a warmth and welcome that moved me in a way that is hard to express in words… “there is no such thing as a visitor in the house of God because we are all one body are we not?” and then hugged by almost everyone there – and not a formal, awkward or side-on hug – but a proper drawing in to the warmth of another person and being held in their arms. How can anyone doubt their welcome in the face of such hospitality?

The service started with a responsive litany:

Pastor: A child once dreamed the Voice was calling his name Samuel; fishermen once heard the Voice when a young man bid them follow; And still the Voice beckons today… can you hear?

Congregation: Here I am. Send me

Pastor: Moses protested vehemently as the Voice spoke at the burning bush; Mary stood amazed as the Voice proclaimed impending birth; And still the Voice beckons today… can you hear?

Congregation: Here I am. Send me

Rosa Parks followed the Voice to the front of the bus; Martin Luther King Jr. Heard the Voice as the bullet shattered; And still the Voice beckons today… can you hear?

Congregation: Here I am. Send me

The Voice beckons from humble places… in the tears of hungry children, in the cries of the frail and frightened elderly, in the pleas of those whose dreams have been too long deferred; and still the Voice beckons today… can you hear?

Congregation: Here I am. Send me

All: A timid believer pauses to listen to the Voice; a struggling church hears the Voice and turns; And the voice still beckons today… can you hear?

Psalm 37:23-26
The LORD makes firm the steps  of the one who delights in him;
though he may stumble, he will not fall,  for the LORD upholds him with his hand.
I was young and now I am old,  yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.
They are always generous and lend freely;  their children will be a blessing

Rev Dr Martin Luther King was a compelling orator and a good man. God works through good people – not perfect people.  He once said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, we know his legacy in the civil rights movement in America, but did you know he advocated for South Africans in the struggle against apartheid, was an anti-war activist of the Vietnam war – he didn’t only care about desegregation, but voter registration, education and housing…?

“Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?” saith the Lord (Mk 8:17-18)

Martin Luther King said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” A strong representative for Black civil rights, many advisors thought it would dilute their agenda for King to advocate on other issues, but he believed so strongly in what was right, in all matters of justice being equal even as all people are created equal that he was willing to pay the cost of losing those friendships and in the end his life (King was shot while in Memphis speaking to the rights of the city sanitation workers).  He received threats against himself, his family, and his home but he kept doing the work he was called to.

“You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns. Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. ” saith the Lord  (Mk 8:33-36)

Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ “  Today at lunch we reflected on the life of Martin Niemoeller a German U-Boat commander, turned Lutheran pastor, prisoner then pacifist who said:

“First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out, because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

“But what about you? Who do you say I am?” saith the Lord (Mk 8:29)

What is God calling you to? What does the still small Voice say to you at night as you fall asleep? What does the Voice say to you in the rising and setting of the sun or the flight of a bird? What does the Voice say to you as you check on your sleeping children before finding your own rest? What does the Voice say to you when you are watching the news or reading the paper? “What is the essence of being a prophet? A prophet is a person who holds God and men in one thought at one time, at all times. Our tragedy begins with the segregation of God, with the bifurcation of the secular and sacred. We worry more about the purity of dogma than about the integrity of love. We think of God in the past tense and refuse to realize that God is always present and never, never past; that God may be more intimately present in slums than in mansions, with those who are smarting under the abuse of the callous.” From “Religion and Race,” in The Insecurity of Freedom, pp. 110-111.

“Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.”.” saith the Lord (Mk 6:50)

Martin Luther King is perhaps less well known for saying, “I don’t mind saying to you tonight that I’m tired of the tensions surrounding our days. I don’t mind saying to you tonight that I’m tired of living every day under the threat of death. I have no martyr complex. I want to live as long as anybody in this building tonight and sometimes I begin to doubt whether I’m going to make it through. I must confess I’m tired.”

Rev Dr Martin Luther King was a compelling orator and a good man, a prophet and a witness of our time and yet ‘just’ a human man.    Jesus said, “Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it”  (Luke 11.28) By Jesus’ definition, for women as well as men, biology is not destiny. Rather spiritual commitment is destiny. [An] internal willingness to cooperate with the larger plan of God.  The same kind of blessedness is available to every person, Jesus implies, whether that person happens to be male or female, healthy or crippled, old or young, single or married (Mollenkott, 1977) The pastor at Bethel said, “Do you have air in your lungs? Blood pumping through your heart? …then the Lord is not finished with you yet, the Lord is not finished with you yet.”

The Voice beckons today… can you hear it? The best thing we could do to honour this man and continue his legacy would be to listen to that Voice and answer “Here I am Lord, send me.”