Seven days of listening to anointed preaching is good for the soul. Martin Luther King was a pastor before he was famous and he pastored at the height of his fame. The civil war that raged within him found hope and some peace in the resilient faith of the African-American church. His fight against external evils, social and political, constantly was guided by the faith of his father and mother, a faith he made his own during the Memphis bus boycott.
Like many pastors, Reverend Doctor King preached some sermons many times. They would improve as he reflected on the theme or he would find new applications. The text was from Saint Luke:
Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him”? LUKE 11:5–6 (RSV)
Although this parable is concerned with the power of persistent prayer, it may also serve as a basis for our thought concerning many contemporary problems and the role of the church in grappling with them. It is midnight in the parable; it is also midnight in our world, and the darkness is so deep that we can hardly see which way to turn. It is midnight within the social order.
Persistent prayer a midnight in the social order go together naturally. We pray, we cry out to God, not to let God know the social situation. God knows. We pray because the act of formulating our concerns, our fears, and our hopes makes a miracle possible. In part, the process of prayer transforms us supernaturally.
King notes that some problems are the sort that science can solve: material needs, disease, hunger. Science cannot save us in this present crisis, because it is ethical. Science has given humankind tools that humankind is not using well. We are armed to the teeth with weapons that could destroy life on Earth and we are degrading the environment. There is no Christian politics, left or right, that justifies the use of weapons of universal annihilation or the destruction of the ecosphere!
Some try to calm us down as if what we need is “there, there” instead of “thus sayeth the Lord.”
Some have been tempted to revise Jesus’ command to read, “Go ye into all the world, keep your blood pressure down, and lo, I will make you a well-adjusted personality.” All of this is indicative that it is midnight within the inner lives of men and women.
King admitted he was no saint, but he knew he was no saint, because he supported the ancient Christian moral order. One reason it was midnight was a breach of that order in favor of moral relativism:
For modern man, absolute right and wrong are a matter of what the majority is doing. Right and wrong are relative to likes and dislikes and the customs of a particular community. We have unconsciously applied Einstein’s theory of relativity, which properly described the physical universe, to the moral and ethical realm.
This is not the King that moderns like to quote. King believes that people need the church to provide faith, hope, and love. We must not be suck-ups to power, but prophetic.
The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.
Many of us will not agree with every application that King makes regarding this truth, but this must not obscure the truth. Merely agreeing on the principle will exclude many a temptation to sycophancy and allow may different attempts to helping our neighbor!
King points out that the “knock at midnight” is seeking a dawn and that the dawn will come!
Faith in the dawn arises from the faith that God is good and just. When one believes this, he knows that the contradictions of life are neither final nor ultimate. He can walk through the dark night with the radiant conviction that all things work together for good for those that love God. Even the most starless midnight may herald the dawn of some great fulfillment.
King was, despite all the civil war outside and inside his own soul, a man of hope, faith, and love. He wanted to be a good man and in every midnight turned to God. He has gone ahead of us to the morning.
As always with great books and leaders, especially on authors or topics on which I lack training, I begin as a student. First, I learn. Second, I apply what is true. Third, I consider what seems wrong. Fourth, I assume I am wrong for a goodly bit. Fifth, if I still think I am right, I express my ideas to a community to see!