January 15, 2019
“They shall be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.” This is how Isaiah describes godly men and women. He likens those who are unwavering in virtue and goodness to the unbending stature of the oak tree. It’s a beautiful image and we might apply it to two of the 20th century's most remarkable figures: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., remembered by our nation yesterday, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor and theologian who stood against Hitler.
Everybody, in our time, loves to own Bonhoeffer and King as their own saint it seems. But during their own times each one of them faced opposition, King especially, from opponents and sometimes colleagues. Each of them became a martyr on the world’s stage. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a remarkable theologian, and an even more remarkable disciple. He forsook the safety of a scholarly career in America and returned to his homeland in the middle of the struggle against Nazi Germany with hopes of overthrowing Hitler or at least being part of the rebuilding process after the war. His opposition cost him his life in a prison camp in April of 1945. King’s story we all know well. He, too, was under threat—from bullets and bombs--from the very beginning of his efforts for civil rights until his assassination in April of 1968.
Neither of these men would have claimed sainthood for themselves, if by that we mean they were free from the effects of sin and had the same moral purity of Jesus himself. And neither man solved completely the problems they faced. What they each did, especially in their pacifism, was to bear powerful witness to God. This is exactly what Isaiah claimed as a product of the love of right-ness. The basic meaning or the word martyr means primarily bearing witness or showing forth. This is the calling of every believer--to display the glory of God by letting God have our lives. In the arenas that make up our lives, smaller spheres than those of King and Bonhoeffer, we, no less than anyone else, may bear witness to God. It’s a beautiful thing when this happens. And wouldn’t you like to come to the end of your days and say “I was a planting of the Lord, to display his glory.” I know I would.