January 8, 2019
In one week’s time we will be honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,. the great civil rights leader, powerful preacher, and pacifist. His positive role in the struggle for civil rights is undeniable, and his power to inspire lives on. Before we get to his day, however, the thought struck me that we might look back a hundred years before Dr. King to Abraham Lincoln.
One month before the end of the dreadful Civil War, and his assassination, Lincoln gave his second inaugural address. In it he declared that we were living under judgment. His powers of expression were in full force, echoing and rivaling the power of the ancient prophets from Israel. Every drop of blood that was drawn by the lash of slaveholders, he reckoned, was being paid for by, drop by drop, by the sword. He meant that the gruesome death of so many in war was history’s judgement, and God’s judgment, for the gruesome treatment of so many as slaves. These words were engraved on the North Wall of the Lincoln Memorial. And we can read them if we visit that site: “every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword” because he said, quoting Psalm 19, “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
Now this is the kind of dark stuff that we don’t like to hear. Living under judgment is something we equate with....well, the Old Testament prophets. Don't we live in the new realm of grace? Well, Lincoln went on to say, however--and these words, too, are just below the ones I have just mentiones--he went on to say: “let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” The nobility of peacemaking, exemplified in the lives of King and Lincoln, and of caring for all people, is a great nobility. That is the work Dr. King was in and you and I should be in. My hunch is that unless we have some sense of the real cost and damage of injustice, we will miss our calling. Put more positively, in Jesus' words, “blessed will be the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” It is a grace that we can be peacemakers, and we will see this, can only see it, if we see and confess the tragedies of our histories.