Friday, February 17, 2006

Setting People Free

When I was in elementary school, there was a man that caught the attention of the entire nation. Because of his raw courage, all of us have found new freedom. I dare say that we could not be meeting here today if it weren’t for this man’s vision. He set his mind on undoing the shackles of Jim Crow. The year was 1955. I was 8 years old. That man was Martin Luther King, Jr. At that time he was 26 years old, a member of the executive committee of the NAACP. He was an ordained Baptist minister who co-pastored the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia with his father. He lived at a critical time. Seeing the oppression of the African American community, he decided to do something. His vision for a free America was founded on the New Testament teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles and his techniques were built on the principles of non-violence demonstrated by Mahatma Ghandi against the British rule in India in the forties.

In December of 1955 he led a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama that lasted 382 days and got over a major hurdle when on December 21, 1956, the Supreme Court of the United States declared the laws requiring segregation on buses to be unconstitutional. During the year of the boycott, Dr. King was arrested, his home was bombed, he was subjected to all kinds of physical personal abuse, but in the end he emerged as the pre-eminent leader of the civil rights movement in America. For eleven years Dr. King traveled over six million miles and gave over twenty-five hundred speeches. He appeared wherever there was injustice using the strategy of protest and civil disobedience; and found time to write five books as well as numerous articles.

I remember going to the Cotton Bowl in 1962 – observing the signs above the restrooms and the drinking fountains that said, “Whites Only.” Dr. King was a visionary who understood that the destiny of the white man was tied to the destiny of the black man. If one is in bondage, the other is also; and in his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the 1963 march on Washington, he revealed that he had a dream of little black boys and black girls would be able to join hands with little white boys and little white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. White people were scared of him even though his methods were clearly non-violent. Oppression and bigotry are always scared when truth and justice show up. When the light shines in darkness, and the darkness cannot comprehend it. Oppression and bigotry are built on lies and ignorance; they hide in shadows of fear – when the light of truth shows up – they have no where to hide.

In 1963 he directed a peaceful march on Washington, DC. 250,000 people listened to his "l Have a Dream" speech. He conferred with both President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson and was largely responsible for the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Over the years he was arrested over twenty times and assaulted at least four times. He was awarded five honorary degrees; was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963; and became not only the symbolic leader of African American but also a world figure. At the age of thirty-five, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize.

While in the Air Force I was briefly stationed in Montgomery, Alabama in 1978 and took a special trip to drive the route that civil rights marchers had taken from Selma to Montgomery. I drove across the famous Edmond Pettus Bridge where marchers were beaten by police in 1965. Dr. King had not been there on that day – still recovering from his jail time experience in Birmingham.

Dr. King knew the danger he represented to those enthroned in bigotry; who without shame flaunted their racism in resistance to the changes being wrought by the movement. He remained strong, even when he had a clear premonition of that final evening of his life April 4, 1968. While standing on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated by sniper’s bullet. He was only 39 years old.

A couple of years ago the Fellowship 2000 conference was held in Atlanta, Georgia. While I was there I did some sightseeing. Atlanta is a great place to do that sort of thing. With Atlanta’s rail system, a pedestrian can easily move throughout the city, which in my free time I did in the three days I was there. On one of those occasions I decided to visit the Ebenezer Baptist Church, just southwest of downtown Atlanta. It is the church where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his father and grandfather before him had been the pastors – and Martin Luther King, Jr. was co-pastor of that church when he died in 1968.

The old church building is still owned by the Ebenezer Baptist Church – though Sunday services are now held in a beautiful modern structure across the street from the humble building that Dr. King preached in. I entered the brick church building and walked up a short staircase into the sanctuary and sat in the fourth row from the back. It was a small humble auditorium. I was all alone in the room, listening to a recorded message, delivered by Dr. King many years ago. As I sat there looking around the humble sanctuary, the sun was streaking through the stained glass windows. Behind me there was a small balcony area; I guessed the auditorium held around 300-400. The platform area was roped off. Two large throne chairs sat behind a simple pulpit and a round stained glass window of Jesus praying was situated above the baptistery and choir loft. I sat there listening to the familiar echo of Dr. King’s sermon and the christianeze rhetoric we all would recognize – it was as though I was reliving a church service – it was awesome. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought of that great man, although slight of stature, shorter than six feet tall standing at the pulpit. In that moment I thought about, the awesome courage it took to start a revolution with the simple proclamation of freedom.

In Dr King’s time, the stereotypes of the African-American race ruled the reasoning of many white people – it is a fallacy of human nature that continues to crop up today from time to time – it is why prevention against discrimination based on race or skin color has got to be one of the most important basic human rights that we have in the USA. Occasionally, people need to be reminded. Can you imagine what it would be like in America if the consciousness of the nation forgot the importance of this principle? They would begin to put up the “Whites Only” signs again.

Last week at the during the one of the scenes from a play presented at the Heritage Celebration banquet, I heard one of the players say, “Everybody knows about Martin Luther King, we all know what he did.” My immediate response was, “No you don’t!” I don’t believe this generation fully appreciates just what Dr. King did. The generations since that troubled time, especially African Americans are the beneficiaries of Dr. King’s struggle – but I do not believe any of us fully appreciate the gift that he gave – not just to people of color, but to the whole human race. For you see, you are not the only ones he set free, we all got set free.

When I think of the hate and prejudice that Martin Luther King faced in 1963, it astounds my senses – the enormous odds against his success – the suspicion he endured from all government levels and even many of his own people whose militant ideas would surely have shipwrecked the movement. I found something in the dream Dr. King had. I realized that it was really a revelation. He saw that all of us were in bondage, not just African Americans, but us Swedish Americans too.

What was it that he saw in his dream that kept him going all the way even to death? He was on a mission and he knew exactly what it was. Dr. King knew that what he was doing was the right thing. Like Moses, he set the people free. That’s when the lights came on for me because I know what my purpose is. I’m here to set people free too. I know for sure that this is what I’m here to do. Our purpose is tied to his. We’re all here to set the captives free – starting with ourselves.

Galatians 5:1-6,13 (BRV)

1 Through His death and resurrection, Jesus liberated us from the tyranny of the legalism, but in order to remain free, you must stand firm in your liberty!
2 So I say to you, if you subject yourself to judgment under the Law, the finished work of Calvary is completely useless to you.
3 Legalistically submitting to God, believing that He accepts you on the basis of your performance; remember, you must adhere to the whole Law, not just the parts you pick and choose.
4 Grace cannot save you because you are not relying on it and as a result, you are cut off from Jesus.
5 Right standing before God has been granted to you through the witness of the Holy Spirit with your spirit on the basis of your faith,
6 whether you keep the letter of the Law or not. It makes no difference. All that matters is faith working through His precious love.
13 for through Christ you were granted liberty from the jurisprudence of the Law and as a result, now, you are free to share this new covenant message of God’s unconditional love with everyone.


Dr. King saw that he could set people free by demonstrating freedom and getting people to follow him. Our people need to be set free too. When I hear a news report talking about the gay community and what they are doing, being a part of the gay community, my ears perk up to find out what we are doing, but most of the time I feel I am being misrepresented. There may be some truth to what is being reported, but it’s like me and my point-of-view don’t exist. When Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson talk about the “gay agenda,” they are NOT describing me or my values. As a “gay-Christian” I seem to be invisible to them. I get really furious with the analysis that John Hagee and James Dobson present concerning our community based completely on the stereotyped gay community. They're always talking about the "gay agenda" like we had some meeting the other night and decided what we would do. That's certainly giving us too much credit. Would that we were that unified and organized, like the Civil Rights movement of the sixties. It upsets me to see my people being led to slaughter by believing the lies spread by these supposed Christians and others. They are spinning stereotypes about who we are and what we’re about - lies that seem monumental to overcome. I want to set our people free, but also set those like Falwell and Robertson, Hagee and Dobson free too - free from condemning and being condemned. The message of the gospel is a message of freedom, not bondage.

We can do it! It’s the right time! And it’s the right thing to do! We have the right message, and we have the opportunity! We can set them free! But how? We must practice freedom – practicing your faith means consistently hearing the words of Christ.

1. Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it in abundance.” Abundant life is gained by receiving grace. Romans 5:17 says that those who practice receiving grace, reign in life. Don’t just believe this as a doctrine of “how you are saved,” but put it into practice. This is done daily, moment by moment, in reliance to the advice and consent of the Holy Spirit. It protects you from:

a. Fraud – the devil is a liar and the father of lies. Deception is his main tool to keep you off guard and cause you to stumble.
b. Fear – the steps of a person guided by the Holy Spirit are indeed ordered by the Lord. We are free from providing our own security force if we are relying on the Holy Spirit to guide our steps.
c. Fault – by receiving the grace of God we are declared righteous in His sight. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sins – past, present and/or future. We can and should ignore critique from everyone, except the Holy Spirit.

2. Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give.” Like the manna from heaven, God’s loving acceptance was not meant to be hoarded – it was meant to be shared. The nature of those who have received grace is to be full-of-grace, gracious toward others. Loving unlovely people is not easy, but if you are going to minister to those He has called, get used to broken people. It is never going to go smoothly. Perhaps if you are having trouble sharing, you are not receiving. Check yourself.

3. Stand firm. Stay focused on the revelation of God. Don’t lose track of what it is that God has told you to do and don’t let any under your charge lose their focus. Remain steady as your ship may heave to and fro under the influence of the wind and rain. Keep the compass pointed toward Jesus. Stand fast in the liberty!

We can have the impact in your life that Dr. King did. I am challenging you today to make a stand. We have the message that can set people free and an opportunity to tell them. Where else can people hear the words that bring everlasting life? (John 6:68) But first you’ve got to be set free yourself. You can’t set others free if you’re bound yourself. Next, you’ve got to focus on what God wants you to do. What you want to do has got to be secondary to what God wants you to do. And when you know what that is . . . . then you’ve got to do it – no matter what.

Rev. Bob Ellis

www.MercyToAll.net

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