As we stop this weekend to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his words continue to echo in our hearts, reminding us four decades later, that even as we have made progress in society, there is a long way to go. We remember Dr. King for his speeches before great throngs of people, such as in Washington DC in 1963, but he was by calling a pastor of a church, and in that capacity he left words for the church.
In my searching through the online archives, I happened upon a sermon preached in June of 1966 that offered "Guidelines for a Constructive Church." This is part of a collection at Stanford University's The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. In a sermon from Luke 4, Dr. King offers a set of guidelines for the church, noting that the church is neither a social club nor an entertainment center. Thus, the church is called to be a place of healing of the broken hearted, a place where deliverance to the captives is declared, and the acceptable year of the Lord is proclaimed.
As we remember Dr. King this weekend, it is unfortunate that the church remains largely segregated, and prejudice and racism, though more muted and subtle, still is present in society. We may have elected an African American President, but in many ways our hearts remain hardened to the call of the gospel to a transformed way of life.
Dr. King, who noted that the "Acceptable year of the Lord" is every year, not one that is far out in the future, concludes the sermon with these words, words I hope will draw you back to the sermon itself:
These are our guidelines, and if we will only follow the guidelines, we will be ready for God’s kingdom, (Yes) we will be doing what God’s church is called to do. We won’t be a little social club. (Make it plain) We won’t be a little entertainment center. But we’ll be about the serious business (Yes) of bringing God’s kingdom to this earth.
It seems that I can hear the God of the universe smiling and speaking to this church, saying, "You are a great church (Glory to God) because I was hungry and ye fed me. You are a great church because I was naked and ye clothed me. You are a great church because I was sick and ye visited me. You are a great church because I was in prison and ye gave me consolation by visiting me." (Yes, sir) And this is the church that’s going to save this world. "The spirit of the Lord is upon me (Yes) because he has anointed me to heal the broken-hearted, to set at liberty them that are captive, (Amen) and to preach the acceptable year of the Lord."