Did you know that Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth name was Michael, not Martin? He was born Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929. In 1934, however, his father, a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, traveled to Germany and became inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther and renamed himself and his young son after him.
It seems appropriate to recognize this link on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in the 500th anniversary year of Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral. The following is my conclusion to a sermon on Ephesians 2:11-22 that reflects on both of the above.
What are the differences and barriers that separate us today?
In the day of Paul it was the Jew Gentile division; then it was the barrier between Roman and barbarian. In the sixteenth century it was Protestants and Catholics.
If we jump ahead few centuries it was the barrier between black and white in the USA, between settlers and indigenous in Canada, or the German and English division in Mennonite churches. We have had many other human differences that have divided us.
In the church we have wrestled with the differences between men and women and the generation gap between the old and the young. Today our denomination is struggling with the division of heterosexual and homosexual orientation.
But as Paul says in another text in Galatians, “In Christ there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, man or woman. We are all one in Christ Jesus.” What are the walls that separate us today? What are the barriers that keep us from relationships of respect and dignity? What are the barriers that create suspicion between us and those different from us? We are assured that even these Christ has removed and made into one.
One of the most poignant movements toward oneness in Christ was the civil rights movement in the USA in the 1960’s. I would like to close with some excerpts from one of Martin Luther King Junior’s speeches. It speaks specifically of the division between blacks and whites but we could insert any division that we wrestle with today. Insert any barrier that keeps us from friendship in our neighborhoods. Insert any walls that create suspicion in our communities. Insert any differences that keep us from unity in our denomination. Insert anything that causes enmity in our world. We are assured that all these Christ has removed and made into one.
I have a dream that one day little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is our faith. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.”