As Martin Luther King Jr. day is fast approaching, it is amazing to realize that it was 50 years ago that he offered a prophetic vision of a “day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!” Martin Luther King Jr, like other prophetic people share with us visions of a preferable future. They inspire us to pursue God’s shalom, to take a hold of God’s dream for this world.
We see pictures of God’s dream through prophets like Isaiah, seers like John, where peace and justice flourish and the wolf and the lamb lie side by side. Prophets call the people of God to live in God’s new social order and stand with the poor and oppressed.
I want to share some of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. to inspire prophetic people today to continue to dream God’s future, and call others to live into that future.
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
“All too many of those who live in affluent America ignore those who exist in poor America; in doing so, the affluent Americans will eventually have to face themselves with the question Eichmann chose to ignore: How responsible am I for the well being of my fellows? To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“It is still one of the tragedies of human history that the ‘children of darkness’ are frequently more determined and zealous that the ‘children of light.’
As I contemplate on these words, I’m reminded of the vision that John the seer gives us in regard to new creation – where God makes all things new. It doesn’t say he makes all new things, but rather that he makes all things new. This is an important distinction. In other words, God redeems this world of ours. N.T. Wright puts it this way, “God does for the world what he did for Jesus at Easter – a re-embodiment, a new vibrant life which does not decay or corrupt, a world in which justice and peace overflow like milk and honey in the promised land, where all of creation is renewed.”
Prophetic people inspire us to be people of hope. Biblical hope is not positive thinking, it is about having a stubborn hope that has the capacity to be embodied in people’s and communities in such a way that it spreads quickly to other people and communities around the world, a hope based on the love of the Father, the faithfulness of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Prophets encourage people to put their hope in the Triune God’s ability to bring about new creation – the redemption of our bodies and the redemption of the world. Like Martin Luther King Jr. they exude a confidence, because they base it on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Prophets help us to reflect on God’s future and let that shape our sense of calling so that we can join God in writing a new future for our cities and for the world – by anticipating His future in the present. What do I mean by that?
Since God’s future is the elimination of weapons and war, where people live peacefully with each other, how should we treat our enemies at this present moment? Since God’s future is the elimination of hunger and thirst, how are our economic practices at this moment anticipating the reality of abundance? Since God’s future is a renewed creation with clean air, fresh water and beauty, how do we approach living a sustainable life in the present?
God’s spirit has been given to us to being the work of making God’s future real in the present. As we chew and digest God’s words about the future, he will give us a dream worth dying for. For you haven’t started to live until you have found something worth dying for. You can see in this short video of Martin Luther King Jr’s last words (given one day before he was assassinated), that he knew his time was short. And while he didn’t see his dream come to fruition before his death, he clearly saw it by faith.
What are you seeing by faith?
If we are to exercise our prophetic gifts, we need to allow Martin Luther King Jr’s example of dreaming 50 years ago to spur us on to continue continue to dream God’s dream, and share it with others in such a way that people will join God in the renewal of all things.