Every year during the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday season, my custom is to meditate and reflect upon a message or sermon of Dr. King. This year I have focused on his message, delivered April 3, 1968, the day before his assassination, “I see the Promised Land.”
Allow me to share a few thoughts from this apocalyptic message which includes the famous quote, “And I have seen the Promised Land, I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the ‘Promised Land.’” With the election of Barack Obama, many think King’s vision is becoming reality.
As a child, God spoke to me, through King, awakening me to my people’s struggle for justice and peace. Just as God spoke to Moses in the wilderness, His voice spoke to me, “And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:17).
In 1979, while attending seminary, I learned about Liberation Theology through the monumental works of the imminent black theologian, Dr. James Cone. The call of Moses served as a backdrop for the account.
I later learned of Emancipation Theology from my Systematic Theology Professor, Dr. Kartwright Davis. Liberation Theology rests upon the physical freedom of a people; Emancipation Theology rests upon psychological freedom. In the wilderness, the people of Israel were free, but the fear and responsibility of independence caused them to cry out for a return to Egypt and the slavery to which they were mentally shackled (Numbers 14:4).
During a recent study of Beth Moore’s Believing God, I learned of a third freedom theology, “Promised Land Theology.” Moore posits that Israel is more than a physical location. It is a spiritual location and a place of promised blessings to those following the precepts of a loving God. Moore states, “Promised Land Theology becomes an earth bound reality only to those who cash in their fear and complacency for the one ticket out of their long-awaited wilderness.” She asserts, “Faith is the only thing that will ever close the gap between our theology and our reality.”
Dr. King’s Promised Land message has a particularly intriguing sentence, “I know, some how that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.” In the past year, it grew dark in the world, but with the election of Barack Obama, people everywhere, of all skin colors, are noticing the stars.
King goes on to say that, “For many years now men have been talking about ‘war and peace.’ But now no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s non-violence or nonexistence.”
Promised Land Theology teaches us that, although the journey may be difficult, the Promised Land is attainable with God’s help and through obedience to His precepts. This theology demands that we refuse to die in the spiritual wilderness of racism, hatred or economic bigotry.
We describe life as a “race,” an appropriate metaphor. Each of us would consider ourselves winners upon crossing the finish line into the Promised Land, instead of submitting to spiritual exhaustion. The Promised Land is an abiding place where God’s people “lack nothing.” It is a place of blessing, where we can live together in peace. It is a place where God will bring forth a great harvest for all of His children.
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.