"“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” -- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1955, Dr. King was not yet the strong, charismatic figure we know from history. He was a young man, age 26, only a year into his first pastorate. In later years, he would say that he never set out to be a civil rights leader, and if he had known what it would entail, he might have turned down the job. In 1955, all he knew was that he was being asked to organize a boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama.
During the year-long boycott, Dr. King was assaulted, arrested, and his home was bombed. He had many doubts along the way about his ability to be a leader, whether he wanted to or was capable of leading a movement like this was becoming. But somewhere along the way, Dr. King decided that the movement needed him, that God had chosen him for leadership whether he felt like a leader or not. He realized that he was part of something much bigger than himself, and eventually, he was able to embrace the burden of leadership. There is no way to know what the state of civil rights would be in this country if he had made a different choice. Without his commitment to non-violent resistance, would the nation have had to endure an even longer and much bloodier battle for civil rights? We can only wonder.
What we do know is that race relations in this country are far improved from what they were in 1955, and that Dr. King’s leadership played an integral part in getting us here. If he had decided to stay out of the fray, to remain in situations where he felt comfortable and safe, he may have lived to a ripe old age, but he would not have fulfilled his calling for the greater good. He would not have been obedient to God, and we would not commemorate a holiday in his honor. The reality is that living out our highest callings often involves sacrifice. Fortunately, it will almost certainly not cost us as much as it ultimately cost Dr. King. But we may have to give up some comfort, some pleasure, the approval of certain people in our lives, material wealth we hoped to have, or other things. We may have to overcome our fears that we are not good enough or cannot do it. Our individual needs sometimes have to take a back seat to the needs of others. If Dr. King had not heeded God’s calling to do what he felt inadequate to do, where would we be today?
God, thank you for the sacrifices of those who came before us so that we might have a better life. We are still not fully living the dream you gave Dr. King, but we have come a long way. Help us to continue to pursue freedom, dignity, and justice for all of your children, no matter how different they may look from us. And give us the strength to live out the often difficult callings you have placed on our lives, so that we, like Dr. King, might impact the world with love. Amen.-- Chaplain Stacy N. Sergent