John Lewis, Congressman from Georgia, was eleven years old when he heard the Word of God, coming across the radio air waves. The Word of God spoke in the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was, at that time, already preaching at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. The Word stirred in John Lewis then, and continues to move him to this day. John Lewis was a youth, like John and Andrew in Chapter 2 of the Gospel of John, which we heard this last weekend. Now, sixty four years later, the unshaken foundation of his efforts on behalf of justice, equality and acceptance for people of all races is still biblical faith. Lewis writes of his realizations, shared and honed by MLKing, his other colleagues on freedom rides, at sit-ins and marches:
“We realized that the violence around us offered an uncommon opportunity to perform a great spiritual work. We began as outcasts reserved for condemnation and scorn, but we were transformed into a shining army of peace moving in the center of God’s love. We were rescued from the outer limits of human existence to become philosophers and priests, leaders and advocates, shepherds and witnesses to the way of truth. And in these roles, we cut a path to a new America. We discovered that our dignity, and in fact all human dignity, was not tied to the way we looked or dressed. Our dignity was not related to the size of our wallet or the digits of our zip code. We discovered that it didn’t matter how we were judged by mankind, our own souls were imbued with the power to work miracles to change water into wine, the meek into the mighty, to change base metal into pure gold.” (Across That Bridge)
Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, a brutal year. Thanks to people like John Lewis, the call for sustaining what King called the Beloved Community goes on today in the face of extremist and racial violence, in Ferguson, New York and abroad. With John Lewis, let us celebrate MLKing’s birthday as a family birthday, because he and John Lewis and every woman and man who work for justice and peace are family to us. Their mantle is over our shoulders as well.
Near the end of Across the Bridge, John Lewis, encourages us in a way of living we may not want, but are called to:
“You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone – any person or any force – dampen, dim or diminish your light. Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant. Lean toward the whispers of your own heart… Choose confrontation wisely, but when it’s your time don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up and speak out against injustice. .. And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love, if you shine like a beacon for all to see, then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation, a world community, and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself.”
I invite you to join me. Let’s drink in the Spirit of God found in these American visionaries, MLKing Jr. and John Lewis and do our part in upbuilding the Beloved Community, now and tomorrow.