He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
In our adult Sunday school class yesterday I showed a clip from the PBS series “God in America” that focused on the civil rights movement. It was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and I had earlier made reference to the slain civil rights leader in my sermon that morning.
I had preached on God’s call to Samuel [1 Samuel 3:1–10] and related it to King’s experience in Montgomery, Alabama, that catapulted him into national prominence after Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus. We had an interesting follow-up discussion, perhaps one of the better ones in recent months.
It is important to mention that the overwhelming majority of our class members are in their 70’s, so many of them were well into their adult years when the most important civil rights demonstrations took place and subsequent legislation was enacted. Yet for many of them, the information presented was new. They were unaffected directly by the historic events, although they were aware that they had taken place. It became a marvelous teaching opportunity for me and hopefully, the experience will whet their appetite for social justice.
This morning I re-read King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and was struck by these prophetic words: “If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”
I have long been troubled with the apparent apathy of the Lutheran Church in general, and my denomination (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) in particular, when it comes to issues of social justice. One reads and hears of leaders of other denominations taking proactive stances when it comes to expressions of concern for the “least among us,” but Lutheran leaders for the most part remain conspicuously silent. Silence seems inherent in the ethnic roots of Lutheran culture historically. I would submit that is one of the many reasons for the numeric decline of membership, a tangible indicator of its seeming irrelevance.
I admit that my passion may not have been so profoundly provoked had it not been for my experience in doing outreach to the emerging Latino population of Canton, Ohio, during my years as a mission developer. Had I been initially assigned to an established, mature parish such as the one I serve now, my outlook may have been different. I don’t honestly know.
But, by the same token, I feel that the Holy Spirit had a hand in opening my eyes and making me aware of the needs of marginalized people, and guiding me to act and advocate on behalf of those whose fear, sorrow and pain I witnessed firsthand. God’s call comes to us in many and various ways.
I live in hope that my church will be awakened, that it will hear God’s call and reclaim that spirit of restlessness that will stir us from placidness and cause us to be a voice of justice. May we recapture that vision of the Kingdom that, through us, others may see the light of Christ in a world of darkness.