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Dr. King and the Courage to Fully Live

One of the most courageous Freedom Fighters, the late Fred Shuttlesworth, once said, “You have to be prepared to die before you can begin to fully live.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 48 years ago today. He grew up in the African-American church where preaching was a steady diet of the cross. Daddy King preached about Calvary, and his mother, Alberta King, played hymns like “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross” on the organ at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Songs and sermons were frequently about the suffering of Jesus as the means by which God’s saving love came to us all.

Instead of trying to explain the theology of redemption, many African-American preachers embraced the mystery and invited suffering people to trust the wounded savior to be present with them in their own suffering in a redemptive way.

cross and the lynching treeIf I could require every white person to read one book it would be Dr. James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree. In it, he writes:

When (Martin) King agreed to act as the most visible leader in the civil rights movement, he recognized what was at stake. In taking up the cross of black leadership, he was nearly overwhelmed with fear. This fear reached a climax on a particular night, January 27, 1956 in the early weeks of the Montgomery bus boycott, when he received a midnight telephone call threatening to blow up his house if he did not leave Montgomery in three days …

He goes on to tell a story that Dr. King often told about what he called his “spiritual midnight,” when he struggled with what could happen to him, his wife, and newborn baby girl. That night, after receiving the threat, Dr. King heard God say to him, “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you, even to the end of the world.”

Three nights later, while Dr. King was at a bus boycott meeting, his house was bombed. Fortunately, his family escaped harm, having moved to the back of the house when they heard something land on the porch. When Dr. King was told at the meeting that his home had been bombed, he calmly asked about his family and then went home to comfort them.

“Strangely enough,” he said later, “I accepted the word of the bombing calmly. My religious experience a few nights before had given me the strength to face it.”

He had been to Calvary; had touched the nail scarred hands of Jesus; had made his peace with death; and believed in Easters he had not yet seen, and it gave him the courage to fully live.


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Rev. Michael Piazza

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