The Rare Word

In our life, we are constantly in conversation with something; whether we like it or not, we hear the voices of the world calling to us all the time; we see people talking on the phone while walking on the streets; some people leave their television on even when they take a nap; people watch their phones checking emails and text messages even at work places.

Yes, words are all over. We live in a flood of words.

We are tuned into the world and constantly in conversation with what is going on around us.

1 Samuel 3 describes the dramatic scene of Samuel’s call to ministry and it says that the word was rare and there were not many visions in those days. I am sure that there must have been a flood of words of all sorts in Samuel’s time just like today. But the word was rare; the word that cuts deep into people’s hearts; the word that gave people the ultimate hope.

As we as a nation are celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this month, I think of him as one of the most important persons who had the word for us; he had the vision for our nation and his vision is still making our eyes open.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal…I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”

What can be better words than these that really help us to envision a world and work together for the ideals this country stands for?

Dr. King may not have been a genius or a supernatural person. According to his biography, he never experienced a dramatic call to ministry as Samuel did. He said, ‘I’m the son of a preacher . . . my grandfather was a preacher, my great-grandfather was a preacher, my only brother is a preacher, my daddy’s brother is a preacher, so I didn’t have much choice.’ His call to ministry was rather a gradual one; along the way of his life, he had sensed the inner urge calling him to ministry.

Richard Lischer writes that when he reached 18, his father made an arrangement for his trial sermon in his church. And in the sermon the 18 year old youngster ‘spoke almost nothing of Jesus;’ and ‘the very fancy words’ he spoke that evening were borrowed from Harry Emerson Fosdick. But God gave him this courage to preach the Gospel and passion for justice and he later became one of the best preachers in the world.

What impressed me the most in the movie Selma was this: when Dr. King led the second march two days after the Bloody Sunday, the police and state troopers were on the other side of the Edmund Pette Bridge waiting for them to cross over and the marchers were standing in a distance quietly. In that eerie-felt-moment of standoff, Dr. King came down on his knees on the bridge for a short prayer and he decided to take the marchers back to the church. And one of the reviewers on the movie said online, “The measure of King’s greatness came not when he pushed forward but when he retreated…” And I agree. And later that evening, people got upset and tried to throw a fit at him asking why he did not move forward. And this is what Dr. King said to them, “What I want is people getting to vote, not getting them killed.”

He did not lose his focus even in that difficult moment; and his focus was peace and justice through non-violence. And he continued to call and convince President Johnson to help. Eventually, Johnson decided to allow the peaceful march toward Montgomery and The Voting Rights Act of 1965 came along.

God used Dr. King to speak the word and showed the vision in the time when the word was rare and vision was dim. God gave Dr. King the wisdom and leadership skill in that critical moment of our nation’s history that we all need to follow his legacy even today to build a society in which all God’s people can live a life of full capacity. And his word and life legacy still speak loudly in our ears. And now, God calls you and me to listen to his word in our own unique way so that your life and my life can be the continuation of Dr. King’s vision and legacy.

Remembrance of a King

My life and involvement began with Martin King in 1957 and lasted until his death on April 4, 1968 when on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis Tennessee his journey was ended by an assassin’s bullet.

As a seminarian studying at the School of Theology at Virginia Union University, now the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology, Martin, and his cohorts, Wyatt T. Walker, Andy Young, Walt Fauntleroy, Ralph Abernathy and my roommate Charles Sherrod met regularly in what we called at that time the BD Dorm to plan and strategize against the discrimination and oppression of segregation in the south. Martin was an incredible visionary and Ralph was an incredible strategist.  The expertise of Wyatt and Andy helped to develop systems of nonviolent reactions to segregation, separate but equal, and discriminatory practices throughout the south.

When I graduated from Seminary and returned to Los Angeles my home, to be the Associate Pastor of the Victory Baptist Church of Los Angeles, connections were still in place with the team in the South. Victory bought a brand new Buick car and gave it to Ralph Abernathy when his car was destroyed in Montgomery Alabama. Martin came many times to Victory and other Los Angeles churches to raise money for the efforts of SCLC.

When the March on Washington occurred the plans for that experience were develop between the head quarters of SCLC in Atlanta, the campus of Virginia Union and representatives of the Unions in Washington D.C. I was privileged to be among those who were present at the March on Washington and recently the Inauguration of the First African American President of the most powerful country in the world President Barak H. Obama.

As I remember my time with the King, I am reminded of the following that I believe formed me into who I am today. From Martin and those who associated with him I learned the following: patience, love, integrity/honesty, stop rapping, start mapping, good followers make good leaders, trust and prayer which leads to change by non-violent means.  This is the legacy that I personally claim from my years of association with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Had Martin lived he would be 81 years old on January 15th.

I remain friends with Andy Young, Walter Faunteroy, Wyatt T. Walker, John Lewis and Charles Sherrod all of whom have made tremendous contributions to the human agenda.

God bless the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 to April 4, 1968)

Dr. Paul M. Martin
American Baptist Seminary of the West