Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We have come so far in fifty years, even as we have so very far to go. I am always moved by King and his message, and once again it strikes me as particularly relevant for us in the already/not yet experience of resurrection living.
Inspired by Jesus, King refused to be numb to the pain and suffering of his fellow human beings who were among those systematically pushed to the bottom of the pyramid of power. While highlighting the plight of black people in particular, he sought to address the problems of all disadvantaged people. Television brought the violence into the homes of the Americans as never before, increasing the sense of crisis and tension so necessary to create a desire for change, even if not universally embraced. Power does not relinquish its grip willingly nor easily.
Old Testament scholar and theologian, Walter Brueggemann, explores the power of prophetic imagination to dismantle the dominant community in order to allow God’s alternate community based on God’s freedom and the politics of justice and compassion to emerge. Moses’ new community was radically different from the power pyramid experienced in Egypt; over and over again the prophets challenged the royal consciousness that choked the new community:
“The dismantling begins in the groans and complaints of his people; the energizing begins in the doxology of the new community…but the monarchy, with its interest in self-securing, is effective in silencing the criticism and denying the energizing; but the kings never seem able to silence the prophets for long.”
Of course, Jesus’ life and crucifixion were the ultimate criticism on the death-dealing nature of the dominate community, and his resurrection unleashed the energizing power of his message through the centuries – even to our own day. The degree to which the world doesn’t yet reflect God’s dream is the degree to which we continue to give power and allegiance to that which Jesus revealed as already dead, rather than living in the kingdom of God by our actions each day. King stood in this tradition of dismantling and energizing; he didn’t simply criticize but invited us to join in his dream—God’s dream—where all people are joined together in a new community of love here and now.
Today, we are saturated by images of suffering and pain experienced by people across the globe, resulting both in some powerful movements for change and also, in my experience, an even stronger temptation to become numb from the sheer enormity of it all. How can I hold the awareness of all that is hurting and broken within myself, let alone in the larger world? Unlike so many living in horrific situations, I have the luxury of turning away from so much of it. Our consumerism culture provides unending distractions, focusing my attention toward shiny things with their empty promises.
Researcher Brene Brown names a deep truth most of us don’t wish to hear: our capacity for whole-heartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be brokenhearted. The danger is real—when we are unwilling to allow that which breaks our heart to enter in and do so, we cannot experience the wholeness and joy Jesus promises and gives here and now. Very often our individualistic culture has interpreted Jesus’ gift of resurrection as only for those few who choose it—in the way that a particular church deems acceptable—rather than something that is true for the whole of humanity, indeed the whole of creation.
As long as anyone is suffering, the resurrection is not yet fully complete. There is only ‘we’ in salvation. Do you and I stand in this stream of prophetic imagination by the way we live our lives? How? May we refuse to become numb so that we may have the courage to share in Jesus’ cross and resurrection, committing ourselves to essential work of dismantling so we may all taste the fruits of paradise.
Hope to see you Sunday,