January 18, 2020 • Life for Leaders
He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s holiday is celebrated this weekend. As we celebrate what would have been his 91st birthday, I cannot help but listen to the heartbeat of his words preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church on 4 February 1968. Five days after his assassination, excerpts of this sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct,” were broadcast during his funeral services.
Why would I meditate on King’s own personal reflections about his funeral on the weekend of his birthday celebration? His words offer a disruptive counter narrative to the lawyer that puts Jesus on trial: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). The teacher, too, was meditating about his funeral and the days after. However, Jesus provocatively answers his question about death with words about life. The present life of all leaders demands a love that beckons the heart, soul, strength and mind to beat to a certain Drum Major Instinct:
“If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long… Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize, that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards, that’s not important…
I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day, that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I tried to feed the hungry… to clothe those that were naked… to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice, say that I was a drum major for peace.” (“The Drum Major Instinct,” A Testament of Hope, 267).
Something to Think About:
What are the obstacles to this kind of radical love? What keeps you from a life of love?
Rather than asking, “What am I to do?” consider first, “Who am I to be?”
Something to Do:
In honor of MLK’s Day of Service, with the aim to serve humanity, mobilize a service project in your community with your coworkers, friends or family. Consider committing beyond the Day of Service to live a life of love that bears fruit past our time.
God of all everlasting love; we confess that our loves are fickle. We confess that our love is limiting. We confess that our love is conditional. We confess that our love has gnarly loopholes. We confess that we place expectations on others that we have not communicated about how we want to be loved. We confess that our love has run dry. And so we come to you, the fountain of living love, asking for just one drop to quench our thirst. In light of your love, teach us how to live. In light of your life, teach us to love, Jesus. Grant us peace. Amen.