I just left Atlanta’s busy Hartsfield-Jackson Airport heading north through downtown for the preaching conference I was attending that week in Buckhead, which is a city center just north of downtown Atlanta. As the train slowed toward downtown, I really wanted to jump off with my luggage and walk toward the King Center where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached and is now buried. I knew I didn’t have time, so I went ahead to the conference.
Seven years later I was finally able to make the pilgrimage. Last week, after getting settled at the hotel to attend the 2016 Festival of Homiletics, I took off for the MARTA train to live the dream of visiting this historic site in Atlanta. This is a place where every preacher should go I thought, it’s the home church of Dr. King.
When I got off the train and began walking toward the King Center, I became immediately aware of the historic African American neighborhood in which I walked. I turned the corner to find a humble, brown brick, aged church with character sitting in the middle of this neighborhood. It was the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King and his father once preached.
You walk into a quiet sanctuary that is interrupted with one voice. That one voice is that of Dr. King preaching. The other pilgrims, who were pilgrims whether they know it or not, would slide into a pew as if the preacher still filled the pulpit in person. In a way he did, not only in the audible voice, but in spirit.
“The Good Samaritan was good, because he was a good neighbor,” the voice preached. “The question will be what did you do for others?” Even though Dr. King has been gone for many years, his dream and his spirit live on in those who offer themselves in service to our God and to others. He wasn’t in that sanctuary, but his words still preach as powerful today as they did many decades ago.
As you walk out the sanctuary, there is a quote on that wall that convicts the tourist and makes them into a pilgrim if only for a moment as the person reads and reflects. The quote from the autobiography of Dr. King reads, “It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you. Even until the end of the world.'”
If we are to be the “Good Samaritan” and care for our neighbor, we need to hear that inner voice calling us to stand up for righteousness, justice, and truth. Dr. King may have been assassinated on April 4th, 1968, but his spirit lives on.
The question remains for me and for us, “What will we do for others? How will we live out this call to righteousness, justice, and truth?” It might mean that we give up our places of power and privelage, which I was keenly aware of as I walked around the King Center. We might have to stand up for what’s right even when it’s not popular. We will have to walk, sit, and be with those marginalized, disenfranchised, and poor. That’s the beginning to working for justice and peace in our neighborhoods, communities, and nation.
Walking around the King Center is a powerful experience. It’s a reminder of the power of the Gospel of liberation, peace, hope, and justice for today. Wherever there are those who are marginalized, oppressed, or burdened; as people of faith we are called to stand up for what is right. As I continue to reflect on my pilgrimage to the King Center and the life and legacy of Dr. King, he is still convicting me and calling me today to stand up for what is right, just, and true in our world today.
When I arrived home, I placed my name in the words that Dr. King wrote. I listened not for his voice, but God’s voice in those prophetic words. Place your name in these words and reflect on how it feels, “add your name, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you. Even until the end of the world.”
Do you hear God calling you? Do you hear the voice of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preaching to you?
May you hear his voice today. May you stand up for what is right.