The holiday to honor MLK is almost upon us. I’m listening to the service in his honor led by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II and also thinking of a book I recently read, “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” about another martyr to justice whose courage was instructed by God’s love. The book I read, about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is about what it means to be a Christian in the face of evil. Both Dr. King and Bonhoeffer offered up their lives to act in the name of justice and God’s love, confronting evil head on. For both those men, silence was betrayal to God’s love and grace.
Hoping and believing is a choice, sometimes difficult. Dietrich Bonhoeffer deeply believed in God’s justice and love, and His embrace. He was an intellectually demanding man, and morally upright. His life story is dazzling- he was a pastor, vocal opponent of the Nazi regime, double agent, and finally, martyr. I can’t begin to aspire to live that righteously in my life, to brave as Dietrich was in helping to plot against the demonic Fuhrer’s life. In the book, Metaxas quotes extensively from Bonhoeffer’s academic writings, his sermons, and private letters. This particularly touches me:
Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God—the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God. Where are these responsible people?
Bonhoeffer believed very strongly that the church should speak truth to power, that the ugliness of the government’s actions must be confronted head-on. He mobilized from the very first days of Hitler’s rise to power. Reading this book, I was struck by how passive most human beings are in the face of evil. Average people do not want to believe in evil, that people can willfully hurt others. Bonhoeffer saw evil, recognized it, and moved to overcome the enemies of the suffering.
We are called to stand with the suffering in the same way. As Metaxas translates, ‘The third way the church can act toward the state, he said is, not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to out a spoke in the wheel itself.’
Obedience to God’s Direction
Obedience to God’s will is hard. We may hear the Word of the Lord, but without acting on it, what is the point? Both Bonhoeffer and King listened, obeyed, acted. Bonhoeffer preached and acted against the most venomous regime this world has known. He knew that the German people must stand on the side of those victimized by the Nazi government, especially the Jewish people. His Lutheran faith was not one of bowing to human authority, but of standing up for natural law, and God’s law.
Likewise, Dr. King’s faith motivated his every action in the fight for equality and civil rights on obedience to God’s will for justice. And lest we forget, he broadened his viewpoint to stress the importance of economic justice, and became an anti-war voice when most Americans supported the Vietnam War.
Both these men chose obedience to God in standing with the most oppressed in their respective societies. They acted in Gods love.
Drum Major for Justice
MLK talked about the sins of our country- slavery and genocide. How much of our personal work is based on recognition or status. He also looked at the problems between countries:
And I would submit to you this morning that what is wrong in the world today is that the nations of the world are engaged in a bitter, colossal contest for supremacy. And if something doesn’t happen to stop this trend, I’m sorely afraid that we won’t be here to talk about Jesus Christ and about God and about brotherhood too many more years.
That quest for supremacy, like Germany’s quest for racial supremacy in the 30’s and 40s, continues on today. The Nazis and the American slaveholders shared an outlook and sickness of soul that still exists today. Most people, historically, go along to get along. Bonhoeffer and MLK were not those people. The former died after being held in German camps, the latter killed just as he was becoming more zealous for attacking our American economic system. Their sacrifice was part and parcel of God’s love for justice and mercy.
Instead of obeying the need to fit and be quiet and ‘get along’ Dr. King chose instead to be a drum major for justice and call out American injustice:
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say.
How to Walk In God’s Love Today
There are many people suffering in our world, in our country. Ugly voices call for us to be determined, obey Gods will and act to do the right thing for our country and ultimately, the world. Baby steps are fine- join a local group, get involved, speak out. We can collectively change things- act with the same faith that guided the two heroes I’ve spoken about here today.
Stand with the poor.
Stand with the oppressed.
Stand with the displaced.
Stand with the broken.
Stand for our planet.
Stand with the violated person.
Stand with children.
Keep caring, and loving.
If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong,
Then my living will not be in vain.
If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,
If I can spread the message as the master taught,
Then my living will not be in vain. Drum Major for Justice