It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.
– Martin Luther King Jr.
On the night before he was assassinated, Dr. King stood up and preached the Gospel.
It might sound strange to Americans living in 2015 that Dr. King didn’t see himself first as a catalyst for political change, but that he thought talking about Jesus and the Kingdom of God was his highest calling.
In his own words:
“Before I was a civil rights leader, I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. I don’t plan to run for any political office. I don’t plan to do anything but remain a preacher. And what I’m doing in this struggle, along with many others, grows out of my feeling that the preacher must be concerned about the whole man.”
Dr. King knows what many Christians today have forgotten. The Gospel is the best news the world has ever heard, and the reason someone like Dr. King would devote himself to achieving excellence in Christian ministry is because he knows the Church isn’t just supposed to tell good news, She’s supposed to be good news.
And last week, in the middle of all the tragic, bad news, She was again.
Last Wednesday night Dylann Roof walked into the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in
Charleston and murdered 9 devoted disciples of Jesus in cold blood. Roof would later say he was hoping to make a symbolic statement to spread his hate, and bring division. He wanted to start a race war.
In many ways, Roof got what he wanted, but he has no idea how foolish his actions were.
Roof gave the world a symbol, but not the one he was hoping for. He started a war, but not the one he was expecting.
See, in the Bible, murder doesn’t silence the voices of the murdered. In the Bible, their blood cries out to God, in the Bible murder only amplifies the sound to God, and I’ll bet that God’s ears are ringing.
In the Bible, war isn’t murdering people, according to the New Testament God’s kind of war operates at a level of attack on the principalities and powers of our world.
Reverend Goff, a pastor at Emmanuel Church, said that by how the Christians respond to these evil acts will “serve as a witness to every demon in Hell and on earth,” I think he’s exactly right.
For the past few days, every news source has been flooded with stories of family members going to Dylann Roof’s arraignment and confronting him by saying the most radical things, things like “We forgive you”
That’s a holy war according to Jesus.
That’s the war that Dylann Roof started and lost.
In the words of the Charleston Mayor:
“This hateful person came to this community with some crazy idea that he would be able to divide, And all he did was make us more united, and love each other even more.”
I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the Church shines in moments like these. This is when we put the Gospel on display. And so the Emmanuel Church re-opened it doors on Sunday with both tears and laughter. They began their service with a standing ovation as the pastor read “This is the day the LORD has made let us Rejoice and be glad in it.’
They clapped and celebrated as a way of protest in the face of death… because that’s what Jesus people do.
A Baptized People
On the night before he was assassinated, Dr King said that the one mistake Bull Conner made when he released the water hoses on those unarmed church members marching in Selma was that he forgot that he was spraying people who had been baptized.
“We were people who weren’t afraid of water, because we know water is something you pass through…we know that there is a certain kind of fire that no water hoses can put out.”
There is a certain kind of love, a Gospel kind of love, that no hate can put out. There is a certain kind of person who you just can’t kill, because they’ve already died. There is a certain kind of community that you can’t divide with a race war because they belong to a New Humanity.
And on some days we forget that, to be sure there are days that the Church forgets the Gospel.
But not today and not now.
Today we are reminded that we are a baptized people, and so there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Slave or free, Male or Female, Black or White, Southern or Northern, we are all a part of the body of Christ.
And when one part of the body is hurting, we all hurt with them.
You know what I find so inspiring about all this? Last Wednesday night, when these Christians were gunned down, they had gathered around to study Mark 4:16-20, the parable of the Sower. The story where Jesus talks about the God the Farmer, who generously is planting seeds everywhere.
And some of those seeds fall on concrete, some of them fall on shallow soil, and some of them fall on ground that produces a harvest of 30, or 60, or 100 times.
I wonder if as these faithful Christians were dying, if it crossed their mind how much they were acting like the God they had just read about?
I wonder if they realized that by inviting this disturbed young man into their fellowship and praying and spending time with him they were being exactly what Jesus pictures God like…throwing seed carelessly even on the concrete, even in places that look hopeless.
I wonder if as these faithful Christians were dying, if it crossed their mind that they were the seed? That what Satan would use for evil, God was going to use for good.
I wonder if they had any idea that people all over the world were going to revisit the Gospel because of them. I wonder if they had any idea how many people would be blessed by their faithful lives, and deaths?
I wonder if they knew that their blood, like the martyr’s before them would be once again the seed of Christianity.
I wonder if they knew that in the very place where evil would do it’s worst to them, hope would begin it’s good work.
I have no idea how God is going to use the tragic events of last week, but I don’t doubt that He will, I believe He is already using them.
I believe wholeheartedly that God calls us to be people who are not overcome with evil, but who overcome evil with good.
I mourn the victims of evil attack. but I don’t pity them. I greatly admire them. They followed a man who called them to pick up a Cross and they followed Him well.
So this Wednesday night, at the Highland Church of Christ, we, along with the Southern Hills Church of Christ and several other churches in town are hosting a city wide prayer meeting for the Christian brothers and sisters who have suffered loss in Charleston.
We will be praying for the exact opposite of what Dylann Roof was trying to accomplish. We will pray for God to bring racial reconciliation to the world, specifically by bringing it to His Church. We will be praying for the Church to live out the Gospel and to be the good news in the world and for the world.
If you are in Abilene, we invite to join with us, on Wednesday from 7:30-8:30 (the time of the attack last week) as we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across this city, country and world.
Because their story is our story. And it’s a good story.