Remembering the Dream

I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your
solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your
burnt offerings and grain
I will not accept them…
Take away from me the noise of
your songs:
I will not listen to the melody
of your harps.
But let justice roll down like
and righteousness like an
ever flowing stream. Amos 5: 21-24

Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill
be made low;
the uneven ground shall become
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall
be revealed,
and all people shall see it
for the mouth of the Lord has
spoken. Isaiah 40: 4-5

Fifty years ago, as a hot summer was winding down, much of the nation was uneasy about what might happen when thousands of people, not all of them, but most African Americans, came to Washington, D.C. for the largest-ever public demonstration. It was to be a “March for Jobs and Freedom”. Government officials and police were nervous about the possibilities for violence when the expected 100,000 angry minority people descended on the capital on a hot August afternoon. The actual number turned out to be more than 200,000. They were more hopeful than angry, and there was no violence at all. Instead it became almost a worship service.

There were plenty of celebrities present; Charlton Heston, Marlon Brando, Harry Belefonte. Joan Baez and Mahalia Jackson sang. One by one, leaders of the Civil Rights Movement spoke to the vast crowd gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial and all sides of the large Reflecting Pool. What transformed the event, and transformed America, was the final speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a dream” King intoned in the rhythm and music of classical Black Preaching. He was, of course, an ordained Baptist minister, with a Doctorate in Theology from Boston University. He brought to the “I Have a Dream” speech the richness of Christian theology, a deep familiarity with scripture and the relentless hopefulness of people living in oppression since the beginning of time. From the perspective of Christian preaching, one of King’s most brilliant moves was to connect the oppression of African Americans in a segregated and Jim Crow society to the Hebrew exiles living in Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BCE. The prophet Isaiah spoke the promise of hope to them and, in Martin Luther King’s words, to 20th century African Americans: “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill made low…the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together…”

King has rightly been called a Modern Day Prophet for reminding all of us that our religion has social and economic and political implications, that from the very beginning justice and righteousness in the social and political arena have been God’s priority for God’s beloved creation. The Civil Rights Movement was, in many ways, a religious phenomenon with its roots in the Bible and its recovery of the idea, voiced by the prophet Amos, that religious ritual without social righteousness is empty and offensive to God.

Much has changed in 50 years, thanks be to God. Much more needs to be
done. Unemployment and resultant poverty and family dysfunction, educational inequality, street violence all fall heavily on African Americans, as does a deeply ingrained racism which still surfaces regularly in our midst.

The best remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr. and that amazing day 50
years ago is a recommitment to King’s hope and plea, that America would one day fully live up to its own noblest vision – of a nation where all men and women and children are treated equally everywhere and are free to pursue “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Remind us today and this week, Creator of us all, that you want us to
love you with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love
our neighbors as ourselves. Remind us that religion without justice is
offensive to you, that you call us to live our lives in the world in
ways that reflect your amazing grace and love for each and every one
of us. Amen


  1. Doris Smith says:

    Thank you for this wonderful article and for reminding us that religion without justice is very offensive.

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