Tag Archives: service

The Great Challenge of the Hour

I have something to ask of you today. It’s important. Today, we mustn’t stop at quotes. Please don’t let today be about memes. Don’t let it be about clipping only the tamest, acceptable sections from some of the 20th century’s most powerful, challenging, and dangerous (to some) speeches and sermons. This is not the day to allow social media to serve up only what is comfortable, only what is agreeable, only those quotes at which we can nod and smilingly approve.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And we have serious work to do.

Let’s make it a day of change.

The federal holiday is designed to be a day of service. That’s great. We should go out into our communities, feed people, help people, clean things up. But we cannot stop there. Service cannot, must not, be limited to one day a year. By all means, let’s serve today, and then let’s make a commitment to find a place in service throughout the year.

Today, in 2017, that persistent and urgent question – What are you doing for others? – continues to tug at the hem of our garment. Our communities cry out for care. Love for, and service to, our neighbor is still required of us. There are children who need extra tutoring, immigrants who are struggling to learn English, student athletes to coach, elderly neighbors who would delight in a visit or a phone call or a loaf of bread. We are capable of these things. Dr. King longed to see us, all of us together, seeking after the Kingdom of God through acts of service and kindness.

If you’re not sure where to begin, start here. The need is great; there are more opportunities to serve in your community than you could imagine.

Then, let’s make it a day of learning.

Dedicate some time today to read some of Dr. King’s more challenging works, and let’s not placate ourselves with the comfortable excerpts from speeches that are served up for us on social media. Take the harder path, and challenge yourself with his sterner legacy. Dr. King faced down the racist, violent culture that was woven into the fabric of our nation from the beginning. He challenged the rest of us to face it, too. And he, along with Civil Rights leaders like Rep. John Lewis, put their bodies and lives in harm’s way to make their message heard. Not unafraid, but certainly undaunted. So today, read King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, read his Letter to American Christians, or get yourself a copy of Why We Can’t Wait. These are not easy to read – for those of us in the majority, they are humbling texts that challenge our self-assessment, both as individuals and as a nation. They should cause us to grapple with the hard questions. Who are we called to be as a nation? What do we want the legacy of our time to be? What must we do to make this a nation of justice for all? Today of all days, let’s ask the questions.

Finally, let’s make it a day of self-examination.

We live in a world that we know is not as it ought to be. Our nation has made so much progress in racial justice over the last 50 years, but we know that we have not yet arrived. Some days it seems like we move backwards. Some days it seems like Justice is sound asleep. It takes courage to admit that the world we’ve shaped with our actions is not the way it should be, and a hard-eyed resolve  and tearful repentance to view it as it truly is – a world still afflicted by cruelty, by hatred, and by injustice.

So it’s fitting that we spend some time in personal self-reflection today. Who do I wish to be in the world? How can I embody the kind of mercy, kindness, justice, and love that Jesus calls me to, in a world that outright rejects these attributes, even believes them to be naive and foolish? Let’s gather together as families, as churches, and communities to consider what God is calling us to, and who he’s calling us to be for his Kingdom.

I’ll close with this thought: we live in a world that cries out for just and thoughtful, reasoned leadership. It’s especially fitting that we consider each his or her own place in leadership and service as, this week, our nation engages in a peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. I’ll leave you with this excerpt from A Realistic Look at the Question of Progress in the Area of Race Relations, delivered in St. Louis in April, 1957. It seems appropriate for the day.

This is a period for leaders. Leaders not in love with publicity, but in love with humanity. Leaders not in love with money, but in love with justice. Leaders who can subject their particular egos to the greatness of the cause.

Oh, God give us leaders.
A time like this demands great leaders.
Leaders whom the lust of office does not kill;
Leaders whom the spoils of life cannot buy;
Leaders who possess opinions and will;
Leaders who will not lie;
Leaders who can stand before a demagogue and damn his treacherous flatteries without winking.
Tall leaders, sun-crowned, who live above the fog in public duty and in private thinking.

And this is the need, my friends, of the hour. This is the need all over the nation. In every community there is a dire need for leaders who will lead the people, who stand today amid the wilderness toward the promised land of freedom and justice.

God grant that ministers,
and lay leaders,
and civic leaders,
and businessmen,
and professional people all over the nation
will rise up and use the talent and the finances that God has given them, and lead the people on toward the promised land of freedom with rational, calm, nonviolent means. This is the great challenge of the hour.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Seeking the Peace of the City

Photo credit: clarkmaxwell on Flickr

It’s a beautiful spring Sunday morning here in central Maryland. Cool, sunny, a little breezy. The rains that have been a continual backdrop for the past two weeks have finally ceded their hold to gorgeous blue skies. But it’s not a typical Sunday for us, because on a morning when most Christians are preparing for worship, getting the kids ready, having coffee, our family, along with most families at our church, stayed home.

No, it’s not a church split. No one is angry at anyone else. And the pastor still has his job. It’s just that on this particular Sunday, we took a different view of what it would look like if we worshiped God and loved our neighbors at the same time.

Some background: our church – Columbia Presbyterian – has been at our current location for a couple of decades. We have a large property, big parking lots, and between 500-600 in regular attendance on any given Sunday. We’re parked right in the middle of suburbia with neighborhoods and a very large park and lake right across the road. And that park and lake are an important part of the story.

For as long as we’ve been at this location, the Columbia Triathlon has been based out of that park. It’s big. a USA Triathlon-registered event, with many athletes, thousands of people. And on one Sunday morning in May every year, they all converge on that park and the surrounding neighborhoods to run,  bike, swim, and to cheer for athletes. And all this is happening in a suburban neighborhood just about the time that our 500 worshipers are arriving for church across the street.

Imagine the traffic.

Imagine the parking nightmare.

Imagine the opportunities to love our neighbors.

The park has a few hundred parking spaces, but it’s not nearly enough. So race-goers end up parking anywhere they can – all throughout the neighborhood, clogging up suburban streets, blocking driveways.

A couple of years ago, we entered into a relationship with the Ulman Cancer Fund, the race sponsor, and offered up our building and parking lots for race registration and activities on Saturday. And a small team of dedicated servants show up early on race day every year to serve coffee to the pre-daw5387462_orign spectators who gather in the park. But that parking problem persisted, and we were still fighting our way through the traffic just to get to our building on Sunday mornings.

It would have been easy to stew about it. But instead we decided to approach the race asking ourselves, “What would it look like for us to love our neighbors on race day?” We thought about their needs. We considered our own needs. We thought about God’s instructions to his people as they  were exiled in Babylon to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you.” And we arrived at a simple conclusion – loving our neighbors would mean opening up our parking lots on Sunday morning for race-goers, relieving the parking disaster in the neighborhoods around us, and welcoming athletes and spectators with joy. So for this one Sunday a year, we moved our morning worship service to the evening and most of us stayed home.

Small teams showed up to help direct traffic, welcome people, and cheer for athletes, of course. But the point was to keep the parking lots clear, so my family, along with most other families in the church spent the morning outside of our normal routine, even as we prepared for a worship service in the evening.

Are there critics of this decision? Sure. Sunday morning is traditional worship time in America, and for some, it didn’t seem right to “give in to the culture” by cancelling morning worship. But it wasn’t just a question of what was good for us as a congregation, but also what was good for the peace and prosperity of our community and its people. Self-sacrifice is at the heart of the gospel, after all.  So today we’re loving our neighbors by welcoming athletes and offering a solution to a difficult neighborhood problem.

It’s not a perfect solution, by any means. I’m sure some confused visitors showed up for worship this morning and wondered what was going on. And some community members may not be all that comfortable with the church taking a definite role in this event. But we earnestly believe that we’re called to love our neighbors, and even to sacrifice our time and personal convenience for them. So, while it’s a little inconvenient to rearrange our church schedule, we taking a step towards service today, and gave our neighbors some breathing (and parking) room.