By Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Thompson
When I was rostered as a teaching artist with the Iowa Arts Council, one of my programs centered around the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was dismayed when asking students what they knew about him the number of times I heard “he was the one who freed the slaves.”
The third Monday in January, the MLK Day of Service, is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service—a "day on, not a day off." King believed life's most persistent and nagging question to be this: "what are you doing for others?" And he would quote Mark 9:35, the scripture in which Jesus of Nazareth tells James and John, "...whosoever will be great among you shall be your servant; and whosoever among you will be the first shall be the servant of all."
When King talked about the end of his mortal life in one of his last sermons (on February 4, 1968, in the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church), he lifted up the value of service as the hallmark of a full life. "I'd like somebody to mention on that day Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving others," he said. "I want you to say on that day, that I did try in my life...to love and serve humanity.”
I believe faithful ones are about loving and serving humanity and are about continuing the mission of Jesus in the world. And I believe a faithful church is preaching and teaching the gospel, showing mercy, and working for justice. Yes, I understand it can sometimes seem difficult when all our labors of love seemingly pour into a bottomless pit of human suffering, indifference, and cynicism. Yes, it can be hard work to march out the front door and labor as disciples of Jesus Christ. Yes, we face the world’s crushing needs, and we may often find it hard to remain hopeful.
Many find it hopeful to quote King’s “I have a dream” speech delivered at the climax of the Poor People’s March on Washington (in 1963). Yet I believe that King’s true dream is brought into focus in the speech often referred to as “I have been to the mountaintop” on what become the evening before his assassination. In this speech, King shares, “I just want to do God’s will …I’m happy …I’m not worried …; mine eyes have seen the glory of the Lord.”
Friends, continue on the endless path of discipleship, of loving and serving others, of making a difference in the lives of others, and remain hopeful. Trust that at any moment, you might glimpse the glory of God. That was Martin Luther King’s ultimate dream. And may it become ours as well as we remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., honor his legacy, and celebrate the MLK Day of Service each and every day.