Yesterday our church honored the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
My pastor, a scholar and total history geek, walked us through King’s entire life, birth to death. Sadly, I confess I learned more about the totality of King’s life in that brief hour yesterday than I have my first thirty-four years of living. Tears slid down my face the entire service. What a man. As I thought about his life’s call to unleash his oppressed brothers and sisters, I thought about Jesus. A man around the same age who lived in a time when women were not taught- and yet Jesus taught them. When dirty lepers, who were a threat to Torah abiding Jews were sent to live beyond the boundaries of the city so no one would accidentally touch them and become unclean- and yet Jesus went to them and touched them. A time where, within the church, some attempted to segregate Jews and Gentiles and elevate one over the other, and yet Jesus said there was no difference between Jew or Gentile in his kingdom. Jesus spent an awful lot of time freeing the oppressed. In that regard, Martin Luther King Jr. followed in his footsteps. Giving a voice to the oppressed.
In other regards, we are now well aware that Martin Luther King Jr. was a flawed man.
Towards the end of our time together yesterday, our pastor addressed these shortcomings too. He said something profoundly merciful, that will perhaps always stay with me and I want to pass on to you.
“Grace,” he said, “Calls us to come to these things last.”
I immediately thought of myself. I am grateful that my music and writings have touched the hearts and lives of countless people around the world. But I am not without brokenness, shortcomings, flaws and major mistakes. I am grateful that grace calls the listener and reader to these things last.
I immediately thought of my father’s father. My papaw. In the heart of deep south Mississippi, in a predominately white, segregated town my papaw withstood death threats to his own family to ensure that de-segregation was carried out under his watch. As the superintendent of the Enterprise School District he and our family’s pastor, Brother Thomas Wallace, stood by the front door of the high school for months on end to make sure that all children, regardless of color, were peacefully welcomed into the newly de-segregated school. Much like myself, and Dr. King, my Papaw was a broken man with his own shortcomings, flaws and mistakes. I am grateful that grace calls us to come to these things last.
I immediately thought of the writings of Brennan Manning that have so deeply influenced my spiritual life. A man whose own alcoholism nearly destroyed him.
I immediately thought of King David, whose poetry and music shape the Old Testament and Moses who led the most oppressed people in history out of slavery. Both men flawed by little things like murder and adultery.
So today we honor and give thanks for the life work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And while some are quick to denounce the work he has done based on his moral flaws and personal shortcomings, I am not. Thankfully, no person is the sum total of their flaws.
If I have learned anything in this life, it is this-
There was only one messenger who delivered the message without sin.
Jesus alone was perfect and the rest of us walk with limps.
I for one am grateful that grace calls people to these things last.
I for one am grateful for messengers who are used despite their messes.