Do We Still Have A Dream? … Fifty-nine years ago, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. helped organize the August 28, 1963 March on Washington, DC, where he delivered his famous, I Have a Dream speech. His words have always encouraged me and so many others, no matter what creed or race they were. That speech was polarizing and when I listen to it every year as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day it still grabs my heart as much as it did when I was 8 years old!
On this holiday weekend, I am hoping for all of you that it isn’t just another day off, but rather a significant day that began a movement that was badly needed in our country as well as our world. Racial tensions, racial hatred and racial crime abounded then, but sadly, we haven’t gotten a whole lot better, have we?
King’s background as a pastor however, was sadly overlooked in favor of his role as an activist, but he never shied from the biblical basis of his call for justice! That is where the power was in his speech. We all probably conclude that he could preach!!—he could gather a crowd, he was charismatic but authentic. He laced his oratory with his deep faith and the Word of God that was his firm foundation. So, on this weekend musing, let’s take a quick look at some Scriptures that King wrote in his life-changing I Have A Dream speech.
“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
Amos 5:24 (NIV)
“Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low:
and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain….”
Isaiah 40:4-5 (KJV)
“…weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
Psalm 30:5 (NIV)
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free,
nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Galatians 3:28 (NIV)
Five years later on April 4, 1968—the day before he was assassinated in Memphis, TN, his speech, I’ve Been to the Mountain Top—continued the “dream” speech. Here he says, “Why didn’t they stop?” referencing the Good Samaritan story that weaved in his speech. He brushed off the dust of over-familiarity to challenge people’s thinking, saying:
“Now, you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that one who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony. And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem, or down to Jericho, rather, to organize a Jericho Road Improvement Association. That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.
“But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho Road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, ‘I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.’ It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about…twelve hundred feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about twenty-two feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the ‘Bloody Pass.’ And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ “But then—right then, the Good Samaritan came by and he reversed the question ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”
And that is exactly where we are today: “what about me” rather than “what might happen to them?” Racism or our own selfishness—either way it’s wrong! Jesus cemented that fact in the final passage of this Scripture from Luke 10 (ESV) when he said to the young man who earlier asked him “who is my neighbor?” “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The young man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
I’d like to close this musing with an encouragement to all of us: Don’t let the dream die! Like the Samaritan who stopped, not worrying about himself, but concerned about this man who was beaten, robbed, and close to dying, BE the hands of Jesus to bind the wounds. BE the heart of Jesus and love the other. BE the empowered child of God, filled with the Holy Spirit to stand up and do what is right and peacefully challenge the hatred, racism, and ugly violence that separates us today. BE fearless because you are filled with the LOVE of God, and God’s perfect love casts out all fear, AMEN.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day
live in a nation where they will not be judged by the
color of their skin but by the content of their character.”