Martin Luther King Jr. Day
January 18, 2021
Beloved of Christ,
The need to lift up anti-racism continues to be acute. Racist symbols were prominently displayed by rioters at the United States Capitol on the afternoon of January 6, 2021. Before noon, opponents of the electoral college proceedings on their way to their rally interrupted an outdoor prayer service of a small number of ELCA pastors at Luther Place Memorial Church (less than a mile from the White House) and reenacted the killing of George Floyd in front of a Black Lives Matter sign on the lawn. Bishops Leila Ortiz and Bill Gohl were present. Borrowing words from Martin Luther King, Jr., “the darkness is so deep that we can hardly see which way to turn.” It is midnight.
Here are a few more thoughts from King’s 1967 sermon on Luke 11:5-6 entitled “A Knock at Midnight”. In addition to “midnight in the social order” and “midnight in the internal individual life, there is “midnight within the moral order.”
At midnight colors lose their distinctiveness and become a sullen shade of grey. Moral principles have lost their distinctiveness. For (the modern person), absolute right and wrong are a matter of what the majority is doing. Right and wrong are relative to likes and dislikes and the customs of a particular community.
Midnight is the hour when (people) desperately seek to obey the eleventh commandment, “Thou shalt not get caught.” …. It is all right to lie, but one must lie with real finesse. …. It is permissible even to hate if one so dresses (the) hating in the garments of love that hating appears to be loving.
But King does not leave it there.
The deep darkness of midnight is interrupted by the sound of a knock.
Faith in the dawn arises from the faith that God is good and just. When one believes this, (one) knows that the contradictions of life are neither final nor ultimate. He (or she) can walk through the dark night with the radiant conviction that all things work together for good for those that love God. Even the most starless midnight may herald the dawn of some great fulfillment.
The dawn will come. Disappointment, sorrow, and despair are born at midnight, but morning follows. “Weeping may endure for a night,” says the Psalmist, “but joy cometh in the morning.” This faith adjourns the assemblies of hopelessness and brings new light into the dark chambers of pessimism.
Our synod anti-racism working group has begun its work. I close with the prayer that I sent out on January 6:
Lord Jesus Christ, look with mercy upon this nation. We cry out to you in this troubling moment. Send out your light and your truth to lead us into paths of fellowship and peace. Protect those who serve to maintain peace and restore order. Draw those of us who claim you as Lord and Savior ever more strongly to cherish the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5). Lead us in the way of righteousness, to the honor and glory of your holy name. Amen.
Bishop S. John Roth