This last Monday was MLK day, the day our government sets aside each year to honor the life and work of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. Some congregations remembered him in their prayers on Sunday; some held small prayer services or sang a gospel hymn in his honor; some did nothing at all. As with all secular holidays that may be observed in church, I think it’s important to think about why we as a church care about this observance decreed by our political leaders.
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. 9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
There are many divisions in this world, divisions that we see as fundamental, that so deeply permeate our society and our ways of thinking that we don’t even recognize them. This was true in St. Paul’s day; this is equally true today, though the categories that divide us have changed. And yet, as in Paul’s day, we have all been made one in Christ. But more fundamentally even than that, every human being on this planet was created in the image of God. Christian or not, we are made in the image of God. That’s an amazing thing! Every time you see a person, you see God! That image may be twisted or broken, that image may be hidden beneath layers of differences you can’t understand and perhaps don’t want to. But it cannot be denied. Think about that for a bit.
Do we treat one another as if that is the case? Really? It’s fairly easy to do when we are dealing with people like ourselves–skin color, gender identity, orientation, class, ethnicity, etc., etc. It’s a lot harder when dealing with people who don’t look like us and share our cultural backgrounds. We see the differences and the divisions, and let them blind us to the image of God, created by God’s loving care. The tragedy comes when people know they should do that and yet, ingrained in their mind deep down, are the prejudices that are created by and thrive on the divisions that separate us. It’s so much easier to ignore those darker voices within us, to allow them free reign while believing they don’t exist, than it is to face them. It’s always difficult to face the ways in which we ourselves are broken by sin, both as groups and as individuals. And yet unless we can, unless you and I can acknowledge our sin, our failure to treat all of God’s children as God wants them to be treated, we not only allow sin to flourish, we hurt other people through what we do and what we leave undone.
This is the duty all humans owe to God who created us in his image, to ourselves, and to our neighbors throughout the world. As Christians we owe still more, for we know that our fellow Christians–no matter how different from us they may look or seem–are truly members of the same body, the body of Christ. We are called not only to respect them, but truly love them as our brothers and sisters, to accept and cherish both the similarities that bind us together and the differences that could tear us apart if we’re not careful.
It’s a tall order, and we could not do it alone. Thank God for our lord and savior Jesus Christ, into whose life, death, and resurrection we were baptized and whose body and blood we are given in the Eucharist, even as we are formed into Christ’s body in this world. Thank God for the gift of the Holy Spirit, the empowering and renewing wind that blows through our lives and sends us out into the world to do God’s work. Thank God for forgiving us when we fall short of his commands.
And thank God for the life of our brother Martin, who lived and died for the work of God to unite us all as brothers and sisters in one holy family.
Practical resources for dealing with issues of race, ethnicity, and other kinds of prejudice:
Talking Together as Christians Cross-Culturally (A good Lutheran resource)
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (A classic essay that has shaped discussions of racism, feminism, prejudice, and equality for the last twenty years)
Check my what? On Privilege and what we can do about it: some tips on going from pro-equality in theory to pro-equality in deed. A clear, concise explanation for what to do and what not to do, and why, complete with helpful links to more in-depth essays on a wide variety of issues and sub-issues.