Every year on January 21 we celebrate the life of a great American: Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. We know him as a great civil rights leader, a man of courage and unflinching determination to see the end to years of segregation and racial bigotry. Many have heard his speeches – and remember (and recite) his “I have a dream” speech during the March on Washington. Outside of his passion for social justice and love for family and community, Dr. King was a lover of God. He loved God and he loved people. Central to his life's work was the undeniable fact that love is the key to heal, restore and shape a nation of equality and justice for all.
I wonder as his birthday has come and gone, how many of us who talk of justice, equality, fairness, “tolerance”, really know how to love? Poetically, Dr. King wrote in one of his sermons entitled, “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life” (Source: A Gift of Love: Sermons from Strength to Love and Other Preachings, by Rev. Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., Beacon Press) of the need for everyone to pray daily, “Lord, help me to love and accept myself”. This is what he called the “length” of one's life.
Dr. King then goes on to say that the breadth of life is loving your neighbor. Oh yes, loving your neighbor is a much higher law than “like” or these emotional displays of “touchy-feely”. Real love according to Jesus Christ, the Son of God is sacrificial – that's what He did – He gave His life to mankind. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (Jesus Christ is God's Son) so that whosoever believeth in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16, The Holy Bible).
What have you done lately for a neighbor that was done for the sake of love and measured by sacrifice? So many of us have platitudes on justice for certain people and certain groups. Some of you readers, love animals more than you do people – and would rather give a dime to help a dog than a homeless person or a black person or a Latino person. I love animals too but not more than a human being made in God's image. What is wrong with a world that talks about rightness, fairness, “love” and then, withholds love from the least of us, the poorest of us, the “us” or the “we” that are less fortunate than others. You don't know God if you don't have love for your neighbor. Your neighbor according to Jesus is “everybody”. We all must beware of helping for “helping sake” and not for “love's sake”.
Dr. King was not only a charismatic leader and drum major for justice, he believed in the highest calling of all human beings to get to know God (through the acceptance of Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin) by loving God – as Jesus has stated, “with all of your heart, with all of your mind, with all of your soul and with all of strength.”. This, Dr. King says is the height of life. No one's life is complete without the love of God – no matter how much love yourself or others, loving God is first – in fact, it is only when we know and have experienced the love of God poured on us by His Holy Spirit, can we fully love ourselves and others. This is the key that unlocks the doors of hatred, pride and strife that has started wars, broken marriages, destroyed families and persecuted millions of people. We don't know Jesus Christ so we don't know God – so we don't love ourselves and we can't love others.
Love is the key. I am finding that in my own life, without God's love in my heart for myself, others and The Lord, I cannot fully become all that God wants me to be. Love connects me with Christ. Love makes me love my enemies. Love helps me to forgive the wrongs and offenses of others. Love helps me to accept me as God has created me, gifts, talents and “limitations”. Love in my heart helps me to accept others – to see some goodness in others even when they have wronged me. Love creates community, shared vision and shared goals. God is love. If you don't know God, you don't know what love is because “He is love”.
Listen to the man Dr. King. Celebrate His life and legacy. Get to know the man who loved God and revealed God's love to a world entangled with hatred. You can't love freedom and not love people. You can't love and fight for justice without loving the people who you are fighting for - love truly is the key.