As he stood to preach that night, he had no way of knowing that it would be his last time to do so. He was in Memphis, Tennessee, to encourage the sanitation workers in their non-violent strike. The next morning, April 4, 1968, as he stood on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel, the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. was extinguished by rifle fire. His voice however was not silenced.
In King’s last sermon, he spoke of the Civil Rights work in Birmingham, Alabama. Bull Connor was the man responsible for public safety. He used every means possible to dissuade African-Americans from congregating.
King’s words from that last sermon ring out: “We aren’t going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don’t know what to do . . . I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there, we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth . . . That couldn’t stop us . . . and we’d go on before the water hoses . . . and we’d just go on singing ‘Over my head I see freedom in the air.’ And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can . . . and old Bull would say, ‘Take them off,’ and they did; and we would just go in the paddy wagon singing, ‘We Shall Overcome.’ And every now and then we’d get in the jail, and we’d see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there which Bull Connor couldn’t adjust to; and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham.”*
Did you notice those two words, “majestic struggle”? When I first read them, it almost seemed like a mistake. Who would ever put those two words together? If something is “majestic,” it certainly is not a struggle. And if something is a “struggle,” it wouldn’t be majestic. However, after a bit of contemplation, it seems to me that the words go perfectly together. For King, the dogs and water hoses and jail cells were a struggle, but the fight for freedom made all of it majestic.
I was thinking about you—pastor, church staff member, Christian leader. You understand putting those words together, don’t you! Ministry is a struggle at times. The meetings, the deadlines, the troubled people in your congregation, the hurting children, the heavy expectations, the regularity of Sundays, the exhaustion of helping people, the challenge of paying the bills in difficult economic times, the deep desire to see people come to Christ but not seeing the results hoped and prayed for, the seasons of barren altars--you can think of more than these. It IS a struggle.
Yet in your quiet, reflective moments, it is also majestic, isn’t it! You have the inexpressible privilege of standing in a sacred pulpit and telling the thirsty about the Jesus who has slaked your thirst. You represent Jesus at communion tables, at the bedsides of the sickly, at altars near smiling brides and grooms, cooing babies, and grieving families. You have the joy of watching Jesus pour himself into people and seeing them transform before your eyes. You have discovered the truth of the “more excellent way” and have urged the Christian on to a deeper walk. You know the exhilaration of the precious anointing of the Holy Spirit when you preach. In those moments, you find yourself preaching things you have not planned or even thought of before. God has captured your mind and your voice and is speaking through you. And all of this is majestic!
Yes, you have known the majestic struggle of sharing the grace and peace of Christ. My prayer is that this inaugural edition and all subsequent editions of Grace and Peace, our new USA/Canada magazine/website, will do the same for you. You need grace for your soul and peace for your body. May you find it here through the benevolent hands of Jesus, and may your majestic struggle be enriched!
Pleased with the Prospects,
* Martin Luther King, Jr., speech given on April 3, 1968 (found on http://www.afscme.org/about/1549.cfm, accessed on April 5, 2010).