Rev. Maria Mallory White and Rev. John F. White II
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE WHITES
By REV. MARIA MALLORY WHITE AND REV. JOHN F. WHITE II
We often hear the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described as “The Dreamer,” but during this week marking the 50th anniversary of his assassination, we want us to remember him as a preacher, pastor and prophet in the church of Jesus Christ.
We often hear of King described as the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, but this morning we want to remember him as a Bible teacher and gospel preacher, a disciple of Jesus Christ, seeking first His Kingdom and His righteousness.
We often hear King heralded as a Nobel Peace Prize winner and Drum Major for Justice, but we’re remembering him now as a son of the Living God, a co-heir with Christ, one who preached pressing for the mark of the prize of the high calling, which is in Christ Jesus.
We believe this is the King we need to check in with now.
With the flood of publicly perpetrated police murders of black folk—modern-day lynchings—all the racist and white supremacy propaganda, and the governmentsanctioned injustices, there’s no denying it:
We’ve been here before. the Word of God is still true. There is NOTHING new under the sun. Today’s America isn’t much different from the one in King’s day; which makes his November 17, 1957 sermon at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama as timely today as it was then.
King was so determined to share this message that he reached a compromise with his doctor, who wanted him to remain on bed rest. He promised his doctors he would only enter the pulpit to preach and then immediately after, return home and to his bed.
At the start, he cited his text, a passage from Matthew about loving your neighbor, which he described as “these very arresting words flowing from the lips of our Lord and Master.” King admitted it would not let him go and shaped so much of who he was, who he would become, who he knew Jesus to be and what Jesus was about.
He told the church, “Now let me hasten to say that Jesus was very serious when he gave this command; He wasn’t playing. He realized that it’s hard to love your enemies. He realized that it’s difficult to love those persons who seek to defeat you, those persons who say evil things about you. He realized that it was painfully hard, pressingly hard. But he wasn’t playing.”
That same year King, C. K. Steele, and Fred L. Shuttlesworth established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and King became its first president. That was the year the “Little Rock Nine” put their lives on the line, integrating all-white Central High School with federal troops and the National Guard as escorts.
And 1957 was also the year that racial hatred and violence snatched the lives of black men without any recourse or justice: Charles Brown; 19-year-old Rogers Hamilton; C.H. Pickett, a part-time minister who was beaten to death while in police custody; Willie Joe Sanford; and W.G. Singleton.
And as those names were added to the already tragically too-long list that included 14-year-old Emmett Till, King reminded the congregation of sun-kissed children of the Most High God that even though they were in the world, they were not to be of the world—Jesus wasn’t playing.
Then King continued, “And we cannot dismiss this passage as just another example of [Ancient Near Eastern] hyperbole, just a sort of exaggeration to get over the point. This is a basic philosophy of all that we hear coming from the lips of our Master. Because Jesus wasn’t playing; because he was serious.”
In other words, King is pressing his claim that Jesus meant exactly what Jesus said. No, Jesus wasn’t dreaming. No, Jesus wasn’t taking the high road. And no, Jesus didn’t stutter. Jesus actually, really and definitely wants His disciples to the love the lynch mob members. He wants us to love the killer cops. He wants us to love the ones who can sit through Bible Study and then murder its attendees. Jesus wants us to love the wannabe cop who shoots down a child in a hoodie and walks away scott-free. Jesus wants us to love the hate-mongering, misogynist President, and Jesus wants us to love the ones who personally attacked, molested, betrayed and abandoned us—Jesus wasn’t playing!
Can today’s believers handle that?