The following is written with thanks to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
One hundred score years ago, a great servant, in whose sacrficial life we now stand, died on the cross and rose again from the dead. This momentous event came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of enslaved humans who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But two thousand years later, humanity still is not free. Two thousand years later, the lives of most people are still sadly crippled by the manacles of religion and the chains of spiritual blindness. Two thousand years later, the average person lives on a lonely island of separation in the midst of a vast ocean of the divine offer of community. Two thousand years later, the average person still languished in the corners of dark despair and finds himself an exile in his own mind and home and neighborhood. And so we’ve come here today to imagine a way out of this shameful condition.
In a sense we’ve come to hold God true to His promises in Scripture. When the architects of Christianity wrote the magnificent words of the Gospels and the Letters to the Early Churches, they were giving evidence to a promissory note to which every person in the world is heir. This note was a promise that all people, yes, men as well as women, of any race, and tribe, and tongue, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Faith, Hope, and Love” in a community of other believers. It is obvious today that the church has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as most of her members are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, the church has given the people s cheap substitute, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
But we refuse to believe that the bank of true community is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity for the church. And so, we’ve come to pursue change, a change that will release the riches of freedom and the security of righteousness.
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind the church of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of God’s Kingdom. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of church as usual to the sunlit path of loving community. Now is the time to lift the church from the quicksands of apathy and boredom to the solid rock of the way of Jesus Christ in this world. Now is the time to make true community a reality for all of God’s children.
It would be fatal for the church to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the emerging church’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of love and faithfulness. Two thousand eleven is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the young and ignorant new believers needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the church returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in the church until we see the church become what Jesus intended. The whirlwinds of spiritual revolution will continue to shake the foundations of the church until the bright day of God’s kingdom on earth emerges for all to see.
But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of faith: In the process of growing God’s reign upon the earth, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for righteousness and justice by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative ideas for a new way to degenerate into slander and condemnation of others. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting resistance from the powers that be with the unassailable powers of love and service.
The marvelous new creativity which has sent the church in new directions must not lead us to a distrust those who hold to the old patterns, for many of our brothers and sisters in Christ have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their expression within the Body of Christ is inextricably bound to ours.
We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.
We cannot turn back.
There are those who are asking the devotees of organic and missional church, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as some believers fall victim of the unspeakable horrors of spiritual abuse. We can never be satisfied as long as our spirits, heavy with the fatigue of life’s trials, cannot gain peace in a community of others. We cannot be satisfied as long as the believer’s basic Christian life is from a life of visible despair to a life of hidden despair. We can never be satisfied as long as our people are stripped of their personalities and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “We only welcome people who dress like us, talk like us, and act like us.” We cannot be satisfied as long as a Christian in a Baptist Church cannot share a meal with a Christian from a Pentecostal church, and while neither one feels free to hang out with drug addicts, prostitutes, and people of other religions. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow churches. And some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of slander and staggered by the winds of condemnation. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Christ. Do not neglect Scripture. If possible return to your churches from whence you came, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the dream of Jesus Christ.
I have a dream that one day this church will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
I have a dream that one day in the welcoming dining rooms of American families, the sons of outcast sinners and the sons of self-righteous pastors will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the church buildings of corporate Christianity, buildings constructed on the backs of tithing families to support the denominational ego, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice and service to others.
I have a dream that the people of our splintering denominations will one day serve as a unified church where they will not be judged by the adherence to a doctrinal statement but by the content of their character and their conformity to the love of Jesus.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in our Bible Colleges and Seminaries, Calvinists will be able to join hands with Arminians, and Lutherans and Catholics will view each other as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
This is our hope, and this is the faith we go forward in.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of tradition a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of the church into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to serve together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
And if the church is to fill the earth with peace and love, this must become true.
And so let love ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let love ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let love ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let love ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let love ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that:
Let love ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let love ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let love ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let love ring.
And when this happens, when we allow love to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, men and women, straight and gay, bankers and homeless, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual:
By our love, by our love!
Yes, they will know that we are Christians by our love!
This post is part of the November Synchroblog in which we write about how we are being challenged by some kind of prophetic voice.
Here is a list of the other contributors:
- Joy Wilson at Solacetree- The Blessing of Losing Your Faith
- Glenn Hager at Breathe – Uncomfortably Numb
- Linda at Kingdom Grace – On Earth as it is in Heaven
- Sally at Eternal Echoes – Where are the True Prophets?
- Tammy Carter at Blessing the Beloved – No Compromise
- Alan Knox at The Assembling of Church – My Word of Prophecy: Quit Listening to Prophetic Voices
- Liz at Gracerules – Listen
- Christine Sine at Godspace – Surrounded by Prophetic Voices: Clouds of Witnesses That Call Us Out of Numbness
- Amy Martin – The Window of Suffering, the Beginning of Hope
- Kathy Escobar at The Carnival in My Head- Rising Up From Below
- K.W. Leslie at More Christ – What is God Challenging You to Do?
- Katherine Gunn at Truth Makes Freedom – Where is Your Heart?
- Steve Hayes at Khanya – Murder of the Cathedral
- Leah Chang at desertsspiritsfire – Wall Street, Our Street
- Bobby Auner at Deconstructing Neverland – Shift Happens