“God is at work in his universe. He is not outside the world looking on with a sort of cold indifference. Here on all the roads of life, he is striving in our striving. Like an ever-loving Father, he is working through history for the salvation of his children. As we struggle to defeat the forces of evil, we have cosmic companionship; the God of the universe struggles with us. Evil dies on the seashore, not merely because of man’s endless struggle against it, but because of God’s power to defeat it.”
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
from a 1962 sermon on the Exodus
ML King Day Quiz from the Children’s Sermon – Pastor Goede
Today is Martin Luther King Jr,’s birthday!
How much do you know about this saint of the church?
#1 True or False: Martin was proud to be the first person in his family to be ordained as a minister.
False. Martin’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all ministers.
#2 Martin Luther King, Jr. was
- named Michael as a baby, but changed his name as a teenager
- named after the famous Lutheran reformer, Martin Luther
- named for his father
- All of the above
All of the above. Martin’s father changed his own name later in his life to reflect his interest in the sixteenth- century German reformer, and his son Michael changed his name at the same time.
#3 Which is true?
- Martin began to study at Morehouse College in Atlanta when he was just 15 years old.
- Martin left home to study at Harvard University in Boston when he was 18 years old.
- Martin stayed home in Atlanta and started at Emory University when he was 17 years old.
Like a lot of kids at the time, Martin skipped a couple of grades of school, and so graduated from high school at 15. In 1944, he enrolled Morehouse, a historic black college for men, in his hometown of Atlanta.
#4 True or False: Martin always wanted to be a pastor like his father.
False. Martin had a lot of doubts and questions about God as a teenager. When he went to Morehouse, the president, Benjamin Mays, became a mentor to him, and he showed Martin how Christianity could be a powerful tool for progressive social change. That’s when Martin decided that he would carry on his family business of ministry.
#5 True or False: Martin was very interested in the theology, or thinking about God, of Lutherans and other white evangelicals.
True. Right after he graduated from Morehouse, Martin started at Crozer Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in 1948, just at the end of World War II, where he became interested in theologians like Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr was an Evangelical pastor who had lived through both world wars. After seeing so much violence, death and destruction around him, Niebuhr began to doubt what most people of his generation had always believed, that humankind continued to become more and better all the time. Niebuhr thought about how God dealt with the reality of sin and evil. Martin was interested in how God was at work among African American people who had suffered so much from slavery and were fighting hard against white racism in their country. So he was very interested in the theologians like Niebuhr.
#6 In 1957, Martin went to this African country as they celebrated their new independence.
- South Africa
Ghana. After almost 500 years of domination by several different European countries, Ghana broke from British rule in 1957. It was the first of many African countries to do this. Martin thought that European colonialism and African slavery were closely tied, so he thought that African independence and African-American civil rights should also be tied together. Martin said, “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.”
#7 A couple of years later, in 1959, Martin went to India to study the political strategy of non-violent resistance that was used to free India from Britain by:
- Mohandas Gandhi
- Jawaharlal Nehru
- Nelson Mandela
Mahondas Gandhi. Gandhi was a Hindu lawyer who led the long fight to independence through non-violent resistance by the masses. When Britain finally granted independence in 1947, Gandhi was assassinated just a few months later. But he remained an important spiritual inspiration for people like Martin, who said, “I left India more convinced than ever before that non-violent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”
Sermon, Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2017 – Pastor Goede
All of these events on the quiz were from Martin’s early life, or from parts of his life that you wouldn’t know from just reading a couple of paragraphs about his life. One of the things that made Martin into the man who we revere today was the way in which he formed himself. His father wanted him to go to his alma mater, Morehouse, which Martin did, and his father wanted Martin to follow him into ministry and become the next pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Martin eventually did that. But he formed himself in a way that was different from his father, who had taken over for his father-in-law at Ebenezer. Martin made some important choices that made him the prophet and the saint that he became.
Martin was upfront about his doubts about Christianity, and so at first, he resisted following his father into ministry. He could have had an easy path into a sure, comfortable job for life. But instead, Martin asked hard questions about life. The United States had hardly taken any steps since the Civil War to deal with the legacy of slavery. Life for African-Americans in the United States when Martin was young was not so different from a hundred years before. Slavery was outlawed, but blacks were still enslaved in almost every area of life. What was God doing to redeem the situation? Martin asked. It wasn’t enough for black people to hope for heaven after they died; Martin wanted to know, what was God doing to redeem life at that moment?
Benjamin Mays, the president of Morehouse, listened to Martin’s questions and doubts. He told him that he believed that God was just and righteous. He told Martin that for him, Christianity wasn’t just a fairytale to comfort oppressed people, but a tool that could be used to fight oppression.
Once Martin thought about Christianity as a path to justice, he began to actively gather for himself tools for formation. He began to read Niebuhr and other theologians who had been influenced by the death and violence and destruction of the world wars. Martin had the courage and insight to see how these ideas put forward by white men responding to European wars could apply to his own situation as an African-American man living in the United States in the midst of segregation and racial violence.
Martin didn’t allow himself to be stopped by conventional barriers. Indeed, a lot of his life was about transcending barriers and making connections. He was interested in what was happening in Africa, with many societies there working hard to break free from centuries of colonial domination. Where other people saw barriers, Martin saw connections. That’s why he went to Ghana, and other African countries after that. He looked at India, and rather than see a faraway country that had little to do with him, he saw a model for all oppressed people in the independence campaigns led by Mohandas Gandhi. There were not so many African Americans who were travelling to India in the 1950s, but Martin did. To say that “we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality” was an extraordinary statement for an African American preacher to make in the 1950s, but it was an insight that’s still important today.
Right now, in Epiphany, we’re hearing about the first events in Jesus’ ministry, and seeing how he forms himself. Like Martin, Jesus faces his doubts and fears head on. He walks out into the wilderness for forty days, where he comes face-to-face with Satan and temptation. Jesus is baptized right after that by John the Baptist. In the gospel of John, we see that John doesn’t just baptize Jesus, he helps him and everyone around him understand just who he is. As Jesus starts out, he gathers a few disciples, like-minded people to share the journey.
Today, we heard beautiful words from Isaiah:
The Lord called me before I was born,
while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me away.
Israel is speaking in this poetry. But the words also fit so beautifully with Martin Luther, Jr. God called him, and Martin responded by offering his life to be formed for ministry and leadership. That’s what it’s like for the people of God, for us. God calls us, and we respond. We form ourselves to do God’s work. Worship and praise together is part of it. Learning about the Word of God and the saints of God, that’s another part of it. Prayerfully making decisions about our lives that will send us out to who knows where, that’s part of it.
Martin life leads us today to look fearlessly at our own lives, to confront our own doubts, and to put ourselves forward for God to use. “Here I am” is one of my favorite phrases in the Bible. Today, we listen for God’s call in our lives, ready to say, “Send me.” Today we consider how we can form ourselves so that we’re ready to live a life of purpose and obedience. We can’t all be Martin Luther King, Jr. But we can all aspire to be a polished arrow, hidden away in God’s quiver, ready to be sent.