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I See the Promised Land… Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

February 12, 2015

K2

On April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached what would be his last sermon. He was speaking at the Mason Temple, a church in Memphis, TN. He had been invited to help the predominantly African-American Memphis Sanitation Workers in their strike against unfair labor practices. He preached the sermon, “I See the Promised Land” on the eve of his assassination. Since picking up the book, “I Have A Dream: Writings & Speeches That Changed the World” at the King Center in Atlanta last month during our visit to Atlanta, I finally have been reading it over the past few days.

These words from his speech struck a chord deep within my soul and I wanted to share these prophetic words along with my reflections today. I did take the liberty of making his words inclusive, replacing “men” with “people” as I  believe he would agree with in today’s world. “People, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.”

That is where we are… he said that in 1968! What hit me hard was the fact that this is where we are today! Only by the grace of God this world has NOT blown itself up into smithereens with the atomic weapons he fought so hard against in his time. As he fought against the war in Vietnam, Dr. King knew that the path of violence (or even today’s euphemism, redemptive violence) would only lead to tragedy for all humankind, especially for the poor who see the only avenue for success for their children being the military.

Chemical

The Cold War and the Nuclear Arms Race which Dr. King spoke out against finally slowed down a bit in the 1980’s. However, the specter of rogue nukes is still a very present reality in parts of the world. In 2005, Uncle Sam gave me the opportunity to spend four months bouncing around between Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan with the Air Force. I ended up being based out of Karshi-Khanabad (K2) Air Base in Uzbekistan and racking up frequent flyer miles on the C-130 Hercules Transport aircraft.

Radiation

While in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan especially, I saw the remnants of the former Soviet Union’s Cold War “might” all around me. In Afghanistan, you had landmines literally popping up all over the place. A field could be cleared one day and after a heavy wind or rain, mines would come up to the surface.  At K2, the evidence was a bit more sinister. The two signs in pictures #2 & #3 were on the edges of the compound where the US Forces had been living since the early days following September 11, 2001. Between Chemical Warfare agents and Radiation, we saw just how lousy the Soviet Environmental  Agency was! And if that wasn’t bad enough, while I was there, they had to stop construction at the main gate when bulldozers uncovered buried containers of an unknown chemical substance.

While we were not getting shot at like they were in Afghanistan, the insidious risks associated with humanity’s seemingly insatiable appetite for war were all around us. I do remember each time I boarded a C-130 to fly around in order to provide ministry to our troops at various locations, wondering just how safe we were. It’s a bit unsettling when you are attending a pre-flight intelligence briefing and hear about SAF incidents (I asked what that was… It means Surface to Air Fire, Padre) and realize that you had been on that aircraft when they encountered SAF! Believe me, each time I heard the roar of the four engines of our C-130’s I would think of the aircrews and say a silent prayer for their safety.

Today, my sisters and brothers in uniform are still in harms way in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, other locations in the Middle East, and other locations around the world. And with the rise of groups like Islamic State with their vitriolic hatred of the West and especially the US, violence just keeps rolling and getting more and more sinister.

However, don’t think this is just an overseas phenomenon. Take a look around this country and you will see… Hatred… Violence in the name of God… Racism… Fanaticism… both inside the church which calls itself Christian and outside of that church! Seeing the hatred in words and deeds, especially done “in the name of God” truly does break my heart. I can only imagine how greatly it grieves the heart of the one who made humankind in the image of their creator, both male and female, in the image of their creator.

With all of this violence and hatred spewing around the world and people more likely to “kill with words” on Social Media or so-called 24-hour news outlets, it is difficult not to sink into the darkness of despair. From the perspective of a pastor, I see the church doing one of three things: 1) hunkering down inside of the sanctuary and ignoring the world while praying for Jesus to come again; 2) wringing their hands and crying out to God in prayer for an end to this madness; or 3) crying out to God in prayer and stepping boldly outside of the doors of the church to not only be Christ in the community, but to minister to Christ in the face of the other person.

I know how difficult it is to be in a situation where you feel like you have absolutely no control over your life or your situation. I know how difficult it is to keep a positive spirit when all you hear is hatred and vitriol spewed by so many people. I know how easy it is to want to just give up and lock yourself in your “sanctuary” or “sacred space” and hope it will all just go away. Yet I also know that is not what Christ calls us to do or to be. He calls us to be that example of love and justice tempered with love/mercy to others. For starters, he calls us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoners (Matthew 25:31-46). And doesn’t he also call us, with the Prophet Isaiah, to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free (Luke 4:18-19)?

It isn’t easy, but I do believe that the Lord does call us to have hope in the midst of despair and to be a light shining in the darkness. I take comfort as well from these words of Dr. King in the same speech, preached just hours before his death. Words from a Christ-Follower who struggled between the despair of the situation in the US and in the world and his own call to be a Christ light in the darkness.

“…the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around… I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that people, in some strange way, are responding–something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya;  Accra, Ghanna; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee–the cry is always the same–‘We want to be free.'”

This is my fervent prayer… that Christ-followers will rise up, not with banners promoting separation, hatred, and judgment; but with banners promoting love, justice, and peace. May God help us to stand up in the face of hatred and violence in our world and in our own backyard.

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2 Comments
  1. Thom Fultz permalink

    Wow – you have captured the calll to confront hatred and violence from Dr King’s messages – which he found guided by Holy Spirit power from the Word of God. May your ministry equip fellow Jesus followers to live according to His call to reject violence and hatred.

  2. Thanks, Thom!

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