As we pause to honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr, I want to share a quote I read to our church yesterday. It’s from Dr. King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail. If you’ve never read the full letter, you owe it yourself to spend some time today with Dr. King’s words. You can read the full letter online but this is the quote that struck me as I prepared for this past Sunday at Restoration City:
But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter from Birmingham Jail
Our nation and our world are still in dire need of creative extremists. So is the church. Extremists for love, for justice, for equality, for grace, and for mercy. Men and women who are willing to take Jesus seriously, even when He leads us well outside of our comfort zones. Men and women who don’t settle for the cheap work of criticizing others but who do the real work of making something better. Men and women who have found something bigger than self, something more joyful than comfort, and something more life giving than ease. Men and women who don’t run from the world but run to the world with the name, grace, and resurrection power of Jesus.
So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be.
Today I’m praying the Lord will raise up a new generation of creative extremists to meet the needs of our moment in history.