Fifty years ago yesterday, Martin Luther King was assassinated. Not surprisingly there has been a lot of media coverage on this; considering his life, the wider Civil Rights Movement and the legacy through to today and what still needs to be done in terms of equality.
In the past few days, I have read and reflected on three different articles about Martin Luther King. Also a couple of months ago I went to an exhibition in the Nieuw Kerk, Amsterdam which was called “We have a dream”. It was about the context of his life and those of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
Both the articles and the exhibition were thought provoking in all kinds of ways – issues of prejudice, racism, justice, standing up for the marginalised and oppressed. Yet also it made me think again about how as a follower of Jesus do I walk out faith in a way that interacts with such matters? How does my faith inform the way I respond? (Noting of course that different Christians will have different views on social matters).
In my read through of the Old Testament, I have been in the book of Micah. Some words there stood out to me afresh as I was considering the above:
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly before your God. (Micah 6:8)
Micah was from a small town in southern Judah and his words are from the period 740 to 710BC. He spoke out about sins of injustice, corrupt leaders, oppression of people, greed, immorality and idolatry. I am sure that he was not very popular with those in power!! Also Micah, like MLK was probably a figure that caused debate and controversy among people due to what he said.
So what about us? How can we respond to the world around us? A few thoughts I have been thinking over…
- Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Christ is to be our focus and our reference point. He is the centre for whom we are as a community and is the One who unites Christians (even where they differ on how to respond to different issues)
- Be prayerful – whether this be for your family, neighbourhood, work place, fellow students, friends or issues in society/things seen on the news.
- Ask for guidance – there are all kinds of issues in the world. No one person can be involved with them all! Yes as believers, we are all called to go and make disciples, so let’s be actively open to our part in that.
- Asking for guidance includes taking time to be still. Are we willing to be still or do we just rush in? There are plenty of people in our networks we can possibly help in all kinds of ways, but let’s ask the Lord for guidance. Also when it comes to matters like human trafficking, refugees, the environment, political involvement, we cannot do everything. So once more, ask for guidance from the Lord, see what stirs within you and explore that more.
- Get informed – whatever the Lord stirs within you, find out more. Nehemiah when he came to Jerusalem carried out research first to see what the state of the city was. He did not just start doing things as soon as he arrived.
- Be Biblical in our expression. For instance, in the congregation we may have different views politically. That can be fine. Yet are we asking the Holy Spirit as the ‘Spirit of Truth’ to help shape our views as we not only consider political matters but read the Bible and allow God’s word to guide us?
- Act – with the Lord’s guidance and leading, act! “Faith without deeds is dead”, James declared. The context is that James gives a very real example, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food?” (James 2:15)
I think within Christian circles there can be two opposite dangers to fall into.
One extreme is that we have just got to ‘preach the Gospel’, nothing else matters. Now of course, sharing about the gift of salvation with others is vital. Yet when I read the whole counsel of the Bible, personally I see that the message of salvation is supposed to impact those around us in all kinds of ways.
The other extreme is where the life of Jesus for example is reduced to that of social activist and the Gospel becomes a message only of social reform. Yet that is not the Gospel. People need to come to know Christ – that is part of our prayer for others. Let’s live in such a way that is expectant to have opportunities to share about the Lord (without forcing anything on anyone and seeking to understand where others are coming from).
Fifty years on, people debate about Martin Luther King’s public and private life and his impact. There is also on-going debate about inequality and related issues that MLK and others raised.
What about us as followers of Jesus? What impact are we having both now and for the future?
Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly…