I have a lot of friends that speak of culture wars and justice. It’s a language developed to answer a perceived darkness within and without. There is proof to prime their tongues. We read daily of beheadings, beatings, bullying, and burdens to bear. Intentions are questioned. Motives are projected. Wars are fought. Battle lines are drawn. What are the motivations? Why do we strive after fairness, justice, safety, and ‘good’? Do our intentions make us alive?
Yesterday our congregation read through John chapter 11. We came across the story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus. Martha was coming out to meet Jesus to tell him that her brother was dead. Martha pronounced her trust in Christ’s abilities by suggesting that if he had been there a few days earlier Lazarus would not have died. At this point Jesus drives home a deep truth; the sort of truth that should change everything. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” Jesus wanted to teach Martha a lesson about dead men, and true life. Paul tries to help the Galatians understand this same concept when he says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
Dead men scare the world. Jesus was scary to the Pharisees in part because he was willing to die to accomplish what he came to accomplish. What they did not yet understand was that he was already dead. Not every person that is willing to die bears resemblance to Christ. In other words, not every death makes you alive. Not every cause empowers the life of a dead man. Everyone wants God on his or her side. Everyone wants to use the life and legacy of a dead man when it suits their purpose, but a dead man is dangerous on this earth precisely because they don’t answer to the agendas of anxious men, men that don’t want to die. Martin Luther was one of those dangerous men. He stood before those who had called him to the Diet of Worms so that they might kill him, and he spoke like one who had already felt the pain of the martyr’s fire. I could fill pages and pages with the names of men and women who lived as those who had already died. I believe Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of those men.
There is no way I can put myself in the position that Dr. King found himself in. I don’t know his trials, or the trials of those who don’t have the same skin color as the majority of people in America. I don’t know the trials of those who have felt a billy club against their ribs or head. I have not yet shed blood for my faith or the color of my skin. However, what I can relate with is that fact that Dr. King saw life on the other side of death. MLK’s last sermon was preached at the headquarters of the Church of God in Christ in Memphis, TN on April 3, 1968. Much like the apostle Paul’s assessment of his own life, Dr. King outlined the hope he had beyond death in his last sermon:
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!
In the midst of all the uses of the heritage of Dr. King today, remember that his strength does not validate ours. Remember that the justice he fought for did not bring him life. Remember that your political agenda, social agenda, racial agenda, or economic agenda does not give you life beyond death. Dr. King’s eyes had seen the glory of the death, resurrection, and return of Christ. He could walk boldly as one who had already been killed. He could stand as a drink offering in his age, poured ought to the glory of the Father. Dead men spend time and energy on noble causes that correspond to the loving intentions of our Creator, but our efforts do not put us in right relationship with our creator. I cannot, and will not, seek to reproduce the nuanced life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but I will seek to live each day as one who has been crucified with Christ, and yet lives. As the dying write their pronouncements, fight their political wars, and claim their moral high ground, let the dead men speak.