Listen: Stevie Wonder, "Happy Birthday" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wY0OVWJbKlc
(written in 1981 as part of the campaign to make Dr. King's birthday a national holiday)
Today is the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose life and witness to civil rights, the power of reconciliation and social justice challenged the American conscience. The message of his life and writings continue to be prophetic for us, calling us to the teachings of Jesus and the Hebrew prophets: "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" Micah 6:8.
In 1957, Dr. King delivered a sermon entitled "Loving Your Enemies." Dr. King reflects on the difference between like and love. God doesn't call us to like our enemies. God says to love. We may not like our enemies -- or even some people in our lives. We may not like what they say, what they do, or how they make us feel. However Jesus does instruct us, his followers to love -- and as Dr. King points out, the the word used for love here is not eros (physical love or passion) storge (love between mother & infant, family members) or phileo (love of our affections) but agape, divine infused love that seeks the welfare of another regardless how we feel about them.
Agape love transcends feelings, affection and physical attraction. Agape love does not come naturally to us. As receive the grace of agape we practice it: by praying for those who maltreat us, feeding those who hurt us, by not seeking the destruction of those who would seek our lives. Agape love is not the same as being a doormat or masochistic. Agape love is acting as Jesus did. Jesus got angry. Jesus spoke out forcefully against hypocritical religious leaders. But not once did Jesus condemn his enemies to hell or seek to make them suffer. Instead we see Jesus teaching us to forgive (The Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32) and give extend ourselves to those in need -- even our enemies (the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37). Agape action is summed up in Jesus, saying those first words on the cross -- after hours of torture, interrogation, betrayal, and desertion: "Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
After his "I Have a Dream Speech," King was considered the most dangerous man alive by the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover. What Hoover could not articulate, but King knew, was that agape love is the most powerful energy on earth. It can heal and transform hearts, communities -- even our world, if we would open our lives to it. Followers of Jesus -- we are called to agape. So this day, let us pray for the grace of agape action -- sacrificial deeds that brings us reconciliation and justice.
Today, pray for someone who has hurt you. Bless someone you judge poorly. Help someone you do not like. Place in God's loving hands those you consider enemy. Then we will be on the road to "perfection," -- wholeness -- completeness of being -- truly God's desire for our lives.
Pray: "Agape-God, give us the grace to seek the welfare of all your children -- not just those who are our friends. Teach us to love like Jesus, and to dream like your servant, Dr. King."