I was 12 years old.
Our family was getting ready for our spring break trip to Panama City Beach. This was in the days when our nation’s interstate highway network was still being created. So a trip from suburban St. Louis to the panhandle of Florida meant a lot of miles on two lane roads that snaked through Mississippi and Alabama. Today, it’s a 12 hour drive. In 1968, it was a longer journey, and one that my parents decided should be split into two short days instead of one long one. That meant we would plan to stay overnight in Memphis or Jackson, MS.
But our plans changed the night of April 4, 1968, when an escaped convict shot and killed Dr. Martin Luther King as he stood on the balcony of the Loraine Motel in south Memphis. After more than 150 incidents of urban violence and racially motivated riots in US cities during the previous year, including major outbreaks of violence in Cleveland, Newark and Detroit, it seemed clear that the tragic assassination of Dr. King would likely spark new waves of rioting. Staying the night at a motel in Memphis on our way to Florida did not seem like a good idea.
So we left early on Saturday morning, drove a different route than usual – a route that didn’t take us through Memphis – and we drove the whole way in one long day on the road. Once there, we tuned out the news reports and focused on sun and sand and waves for a week.
That’s my recollection of the shooting of Dr. Martin Luther King, 50 years ago tonight. I didn’t see it as the tragedy it was. For our family, it was an inconvenience. A disruption to our beach vacation.
And in an era marked by protests and violence, we knew that the assassination of Dr. King would likely lead to more violence, more looting, more destruction and more death. By the time we arrived in Florida, there were a total of 19 dead in riots across the country. And although we could see the images of the rioting on our TV screens, at our beach hotel, we were untouched and mostly unfazed by what was happening in our country at the time.
In fact, here’s a sad confession. I remember having the thought at the time that maybe Dr. King’s assassination was somehow a good thing. I had heard my parents and my grandparents talk about him as a rabble-rouser. As someone who was stirring up strife and trouble. Maybe with Dr. King gone, things would settle down.
At least that’s what flashed through my 12 year old brain at the time.
The sin of racism is nothing new. The history of the Old Testament is filled with racial hatred that manifested itself in tribal wars and the enslavement of the conquered enemy. The Jews in Jesus’ day hated the half-breed Samaritans as much as, or maybe more than they hated the people they called “gentile dogs.”
And as with every sin, the solution is confession and repentance.
We must renew our minds to think about others the way God thinks about them. Every human being is an image bearer of the Almighty. Every human being has dignity and worth and value. Every human being deserves to be treated with respect and equality.
But if we’re honest, that’s not how we instinctively think about the homeless man on the corner of the street asking for money. It’s not how we instinctively think of the poor. Or the outcast. Or the meth addict. Or anyone whose life has been ravaged by sin.
If we’re honest, we typically think that our wise choices or our good behavior makes us a better class of person than the others who are not like we are.
We typically think about others the way the Pharisee thought about the publican in Luke 18. “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”
That’s where the solution to racism begins – with a radical realignment of how we think about others. We must confess that we are guilty of not giving basic dignity and value to people who we think don’t measure up.
But confession is not enough. Confession has to be followed by repentance. We have to turn around. Go in a new direction. We need to find ways to proactively demonstrate the love of God and the dignity of all people to the men and women in our world. That includes the cashier at the Kroger. And the person who took your order at the drive through window. Your co-worker. Your neighbor. Ask God to give you opportunities today to encourage, to bless, to serve and to give of yourself to people you might otherwise ignore or walk right by.
Yesterday and today, more than 3500 Christians gathered in Memphis to reflect on the racial strife that still exists in our nation fifty years after Dr. King’s death. The event, sponsored by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, together with the Gospel Coalition reached beyond Memphis to an on line audience of tens of thousands.
Could an event like this be a turning point in the history of our nation?
Might there be ripples of real repentance that come out of an event like this one? Ripples that lead to the kind of a new day that Dr. King dreamed about decades ago.
A day when what he called “the jangling discords of our nation” could be transformed “into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”
A day when “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
A day when “every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
Lord, may we be the people who see that day in our lifetime in our nation. For your glory.
Here’s what’s coming up at RCC:
Kids Small Group this week. Tomorrow night. April 5. Drop the kids at 5:45.
Then on Friday night, it’s a night of worship for the women of RCC. Friends are invited and welcome to attend. It begins at 6:30. Dinner is included. And after dinner, there will be a time of singing, praying and testimonies. Email Jen at firstname.lastname@example.org if you plan on coming.
Don’t forget that our new date for the all-church annual business meeting is Sunday, April 15. Here’s the info:
Guys, the men’s retreat is now two weeks away. So THIS SUNDAY is the time to sign up. The retreat will start with dinner on Friday night April 20. We’ll wrap up on Saturday afternoon between 3-4 pm. Cost is $100. Bring a check this Sunday and hand it to Matt or put it in the offering box with “men’s retreat” on the memo line. If money is an issue and you’d like to come, let Matt know.
Sunday May 13 is Mother’s Day. We’ll also be having baby dedications that morning. If you have a child who has never been dedicated publicly, and you’d like to be included in this time of dedication, you can contact Cathy Crowell at email@example.com to be added to the list for that morning.
Our next prospective membership meeting is scheduled for Saturday, May 19. If you’d like to find out more about what’s involved in membership at Redeemer, let Matt Gurney know. firstname.lastname@example.org There is some light reading required before the Saturday meeting, so make sure you connect with Matt ahead of time.
And finally, on Sunday June 10, we’ll have a baptism service at our traditional location – Tom and Nancy Arnold’s home. If you have never been baptized since you surrendered your life to Jesus, we would love to talk to you about following the Lord and being obedient with this public declaration of your faith. Again, contact Matt Gurney and let him know that you’re interested in being baptized so we can set up a time to meet with you to discuss baptism. email@example.com
What’s the number one priority for a person whose life is being transformed by the gospel? The apostle Paul has clear and direct marching orders for followers of Jesus. And we’ll begin to examine them in our ongoing study of Romans this Sunday.
See you in church.
Soli Deo Gloria!