Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. closed his “I Have a Dream” speech with the words, “Free at Last.”
Preceding these words were verses about ringing the bells of freedom from the mountain tops. Dr. King gave voice to his views on freedom: With this faith we are all supposed to be able to work together, pray together, and struggle together in order to stand up for the cause of freedom.
We are often unable to work together because we do not know how to give. Jesus said, in Matthew (5:40), “if a man takes your tunic give him your cloak also.” A tunic served as a man’s shirt; a cloak was an overcoat and, if needed, a blanket at night. What would Christ ask of us today, after Haiti’s devastating earthquake? To give, and to work together.
Dr. King was a giving man. He knew how to encourage people, to help them work together. Dr. King understood Christ’s love ethic and its power to bring peace.
Christ reminded us not to think of our rights, but of our duty. He reminded us that we have no privileges, but many responsibilities. Dr. King understood these truths; they helped him to give of himself for the cause of freedom, and to free others to continue his example.
Praying together helps us to heal. In Matthew (5:44-45), Christ said, “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your father in heaven.” Dr. King, like Christ, bid us to pray for our enemies. Why? Because no person can pray for another and still hate him. Our love is perfected by expressing our love for others through prayer.
Dr. King’s love ethic anchored his strategy of peaceful non-violence. Prayers offered for his enemies demonstrated King’s character and strength.
When Christ lives in our hearts, bitterness dies, and Agape love springs within us. We are transformed by bringing forth to God, in prayer, the person we are tempted to hate.
When we struggle together, we realize our purpose in life. Christ, in Matthew (5:48), says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Christ knew that perfection for mankind was found in loving, and in being godlike. In Greek, the word for “perfect” (teleios), describes the functional fulfillment of purpose for which a thing is made. We become functional and godlike only through love.
The perfect person is one who loves and cares for all, who fulfills the purpose of his creation, as did Dr. King. When we care for people, even for our enemies, we become godlike servants, able to act in disasters, such as that which occurred in Haiti, with clarity of purpose.
Dr. King said that with this faith, freedom would ring from every mountain top. Dr. King spoke of physical freedom then. Today, God is ringing the bell of spiritual freedom. We must let it ring in our hearts, souls, and minds, to allow ourselves to be all that God has designed us to be.
When we begin working together, praying together, and struggling together, then we will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at last; thank God almighty, we are free at last!”
The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door at 6001 NW 8th Ave., Miami. To contact the church, call 305-759-0373 or email the pastor at firstname.lastname@example.org.