Today, we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was a visionary man who eloquently gave voice to hopes and dreams common to Americans but often denied people because of race and/or economic status. He pushed the system to acknowledge the ugly truth so often denied: that white folks – especially the wealthy and the middle class – enjoy privileges and rights denied to others because of color or earning power. He challenged us to work together to challenge systems that worked in the favor of some, but denied basic rights to others.
I sat in a pew in Ebenezer Baptist church several years ago reflecting on books I had been reading about Dr. King’s life, Brown vs. Board of Education, biographies on presidents and more. Anticipating my time there, I thought about the prayer I’d pray, long before heading south. So, I prayed that I’d let awareness of my racism prompt me toward action in my life. I asked the God to keep me from denying the witness of those who live realities foreign to me. I also asked the Holy Spirit to strengthen me to be a pastor who encourages relationships
I serve in a Lutheran denomination that says it is committed to working against racism. “Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture” gives voice to this commitment. We don’t live it out very well. I haven’t seen many changes to the makeup of the ELCA in the twenty-seven years I’ve been serving congregations in the ELCA. My local synod of the church, The Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA, lists anti-racism work as a priority. I see the synod engaging in action. It is the most diverse synod I’ve been a part of. Yet, at leadership tables, we aren’t asking questions about how synodical systems and decisions impact people of color.
I wish that the problems of racism were easy to fix. They’re not. You can’t change a system like you do a light bulb: a decision, a declaration, a single action won’t right the wrongs deep within us.
Yet, we know that God’s future holds a day when all will be made as God intends it to be. There will be a day when all that is wrong will be made right. God will make this happen. Only God can make this world to be finally and fully as God intends it.
But that doesn’t let us off. Waiting for God to make it happen, doesn’t excuse us from action and engagement, today. God calls the church to hold God’s vision of what God is trying to accomplish in the world and to tend this vision into being wherever we can. Knowing that God yearns for the day when all will be made new, we are called to ministries where God’s newness takes root and grows.
God’s vision for the future, calls us into action today. We are to be a sign of hope and reconciliation. So, we work toward the new city that is to come: A city that embodies the presence of God, a community where the waters of life flow and bringing nourishment to a tree of life whose leaves are for the “healing of the nations.” (Revelation 21-22).
In other words, we are called to be the healing presence of God in the world: the body of Christ. We are called to be the church a people sent into the brokenness of this world, to be Jesus. The healing ministry of reconciliation is given us to do until that day when God finally and fully brings it to completion. The Holy Spirit strengthens us for this world and sends us into action.