In case you missed the January devotions Pastor Thomas posted daily on Facebook and Instagram, we have collected them here for you. We hope these bring the warmth and guidance of the light of Christ to you every day.
“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16)”
As I write these words, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is fast approaching (perhaps you will read this on that day, or shortly thereafter), and so it seems good and right to me that we sit with King for a while in this season. In so doing, we witness to the reality that King’s tireless effort to push back against the forces of racial injustice was grounded in his belief that all life is bound together in the loving presence of God.
The Scripture that sits atop today’s devotion—like the ones to follow—served as the basis for a sermon of King’s. The sermon is called “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,” and in it, King embraces Jesus’s endorsement of what seem to be two opposing virtues: wisdom and innocence. He argues that to combat the prejudices of his or any time—and to live in accordance with the will of God—we must be both meticulous in our reasoning and uncompromising in our love for others. To cultivate one and ignore the other within ourselves is to close our eyes to God-sized possibilities.
Wise and innocent God, you love each one of us even as you observe with perfect clarity our many imperfections. By your grace, help us to love others in the same way, so that your glory might be made known in our lives and in our world. Amen.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2)
“Every true Christian is a citizen of two worlds: a world of time and a world of eternity,” proclaims Martin Luther King, Jr. in the sermon he preached on the above text, entitled “Transformed Nonconformist.” King exhorts us to claim citizenship in both worlds, to keep our eyes fixed on the world of eternity so that we may resist the temptation to become complacent in the world of time. “There are certain things in this world,” he states, “to which [people] of good will must remain maladjusted.”
Discrimination, bigotry, economic injustice, and bloodlust are among the things that King names, and most of us, when pressed, would agree that all of these are bad. Yet King pushes us further, arguing that we mustn’t be content to go through life as “thermometers,” taking and reflecting the temperature of the room in which we happen to be. Instead, King calls us to be “thermostats,” who “transform and regulate the temperature of society” one community at a time.
Present and eternal God, you meet us where we are, but you call us into your eternal Kingdom. By your grace, help us to live as people who’ve been transformed by you, so that we may remain maladjusted to all which falls short of your perfect justice. Amen.
“And who is my neighbor (Luke 10:29)?”
The parable of the good Samaritan is one of the most deceptively rich passages in all of Scripture, a deception it maintains, in part, through its outward simplicity. We all think we know what the moral of the story is: don’t turn a blind eye to people in need because those people are our neighbors whether we realize it or not.
Take a good, long look at this text, though, and the earth-shattering implications of Jesus’s assertion that everyone—everyone—is our neighbor begin to emerge. King illuminates the scandal of this in one of his sermons on the text, entitled simply “On Being a Good Neighbor,” by casting the favored boogiemen of his time in the role of the traveler left for dead on the Jericho Road. Are Russians our neighbors? Communists? People whose skin is of a different hue than ours?
The answer, always, is “yes,” and King warns against our deeply engrained impulse to define people by their “external accidents”—qualities that they possess—instead of seeing others first as “fellow human beings made of the same basic stuff as we, molded in the same divine image.” When we fail to do so, King cautions, people cease to be people in our eyes, and instead become tools whose value lies in whether we can use them to serve our own ends.
Neighboring God, you are ever calling us to look beyond ourselves so that we might see you and, in turn, see the rest of creation as you see it. By your grace, help us to see your face in the faces of those we meet, so we might not forget that you count us all as your beloved children. Amen.
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).”
In a sermon entitled “Love in Action,” Martin Luther King, Jr. holds up these words, uttered by Jesus Christ as he died upon the cross, as history’s preeminent example of a person practicing what they preach. Jesus met a world attuned to “the time-honored tradition of retaliation” by preaching forgiveness, and when the time came, he forgave even those who killed him.
King grapples with the “cosmic proportions” of Jesus’s words, which he reads as, among other things, a warning against those who are prepared to pursue their own interests and settle their own scores at any cost. Even if our intentions are good, King argues, our reasons for and means of pursuit matter. “The old eye-for-an-eye philosophy,” King observes, “will leave everyone blind […] Only goodness can drive out evil and only love can conquer hate.”
King’s argument up to this point could be read as a call to accept the status quo, but only if our definition of “love” is passive and sentimental. King’s isn’t. He admonishes the Church in particular to remember that love entails both conscientiousness and intelligence. Only with both, he argues, can we push out beyond the norms of our present age and see how those norms are preventing love from prevailing.
Forgiving God, help us to forgive as you forgive: not in passive acceptance, but in active pursuit of more perfect love. Amen.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:43-45).”
“We should be happy,” Martin Luther King, Jr. observes in a sermon on the above text, “that Jesus did not say ‘like your enemies.’ It is almost impossible to like some people.”
That line would be funny if it were not so terribly true. As a member of an oppressed people, King did not have the luxury of contemplating this teaching in the abstract. His enemies had faces: scowling police officers brandishing attack dogs and fire hoses, insufferably pleasant public officials offering their sympathies but not their cooperation, glaring passers-by whose capacities for violence seemed limitless.
King did not like these faces, yet he preaches his conviction that Christ’s admonition to love the people who wear them is no pie-in-the-sky fantasy. On the contrary, he argues, it is both “necessary for our survival” and “the only way to create the beloved community. After all, King asks, quoting Abraham Lincoln, “do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
Loving God, you desire to be in relationship with those who seek your friendship and those who live in enmity with you. By your grace, give us the strength to love even those we do not like, knowing that when we do so, we are living more fully as citizens of your eternal Kingdom. Amen.
And [Jesus] said to them, “suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him (Luke 11:5-6).’”
“When a scene in a Bible story takes place at night, pay attention. That’s never an accident.” So said my Old Testament Interpretation professor on our first day of class. When authors take the trouble to mention the time of day, it’s never just for the sake of keeping an orderly chronology. Jesus could have set this parable at any point in time. He chose midnight on purpose.
In a sermon on this text entitled “A Knock at Midnight,” Martin Luther King, Jr. casts us as the friend in need and identifies the manifold ways in which midnight might be upon us. He talks of a geopolitical midnight in which the specter of militaristic fervor looms over a fragile peace, a national midnight in which perpetrators of injustice are enabled by widespread apathy, and a personal midnight in which we no longer possess sufficient hope to leaven our anxieties.
Shrouded in such a midnight as this, King observes, “the weary traveler…who asks for bread is really seeking the dawn,” and it is hope for the coming dawn that he exhorts the Church to offer, hope which is founded in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the light of the world.
Great God of light, shine your Holy Spirit into darkened places wherever they may be found, and illumine our hearts so that we might reflect your brightness in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Amen.
But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be (Luke 12:20?)”
In a sermon on this text entitled “The Man Who Was a Fool,” Martin Luther King, Jr. offers up a definition of foolishness that has nothing to do with intelligence or intuition. Instead, King defines foolishness as the willingness to “permit the ends for which we live to become confused with the means by which we live.” For King, the rich man in Jesus’s parable was a fool because he had become totally absorbed in selfish pursuits and thus insensitive to his dependence upon others and upon God. Such a life, he argues, is really no life at all.
King drives this point home with a particularly thoughtful interpretation of the rich fool’s death at the conclusion of the parable. Too often, preachers use this detail as a rhetorical cudgel, browbeating listeners into straightening up and flying right before it’s too late. King doesn’t do that. Instead, he makes an even more unsettling point. “The essential truth of the parable,” King observes, “would have remained the same if he had lived to be as old as Methuselah. Even if he had not died physically, he was already dead spiritually.”
Living God, you call us to live embody your wisdom in our relationships and pursuits. By your grace, help us to avoid confusing making a living with accepting your invitation to life. Amen.
Thus, the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore (Exodus 14:30).
This verse, Martin Luther King, Jr. argues, does not celebrate the death of Israel’s Egyptian captors, “for no one should rejoice at the death or defeat of a human being.” Rather, it celebrates the symbolic death of evil and oppression— “The Death of Evil by the Seashore,” if you will, for that is the title of King’s sermon on this text.
Evil will rise again, of course. “The death of one tyranny is inevitably followed by the emergence of another,” King observes, but this truth does not lead him to the conclusion that history is cyclical and progress a myth. Instead, King rejects both “crippling pessimism” and its opposite, “superficial optimism,” in favor of the hope he finds in a God who is at work in history, drawing good out of evil circumstances. By the grace of such a God, King argues, evil will eventually be defeated, not simply fought to a draw, and the Kingdom of God, whose fullness remains “not yet,” may nevertheless emerge presently in our “judgment, personal devotion, and group life.” Evil cannot prevail, King proclaims, because God is in our midst.
God of goodness and light, though evil may long endure, it cannot stand forever against your eternal love. By your grace, invite us to live in hope of your coming Kingdom, and grant us a measure of your goodness, so that we may experience a foretaste of the day when evil is no more. Amen.
But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you when I go to Spain (Romans 15:23-24).
In a sermon poignantly entitled “Shattered Dreams,” Martin Luther King, Jr. reflects upon a story that Scripture does not tell. In this story of dreams fulfilled, the Apostle Paul journeys to Rome, meets the Christians there in person, then spreads the Gospel throughout faraway Spain, the “edge of the known world.”
The story that Scripture does tell is a story of shattered dreams, a story that finds Paul brought to Rome as a prisoner, unable to interact even with those living just beyond his cell, to say nothing of Spain’s faraway residents.
Shattered dreams, King observes, are a fact of life, and the pain they cause threatens to reshape each of us into embittered misanthropes, desensitized loners, or resigned fatalists. To countermand this, King exhorts us to place our ultimate hope not in our own dreams, but in God’s good purposes. Only by “discovering the distinction between spiritual tranquility and the outward accidents of circumstances,” King argues, can we find the strength and creativity to dream anew.
God of hope, you call us to find our rest in you, a rest that can withstand even the horrific crash of a dream shattered. By your grace, grant us peace even when we are set upon by disappointment, evil, or injustice, so that we may continue to dream, and to do. Amen.
Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 24-25).
“At times we may feel that we do not need God,” observes Martin Luther King, Jr. in a sermon on the above Biblical text, entitled “Our God is Able.” When our lives are defined by tranquility and prosperity, it seems an odd thing to hand the reigns off to another.
Yet King asserts that even in times when we believe that we have everything under control, God is, in fact, working on our behalf in a thousand different ways: preserving us within the cosmic order, nurturing the flame of righteousness within us, and offering us what the Book of Common Prayer calls “a peace which the world cannot give.”
King exhorts us to invite and accept such a peace, to reject the “transitory gods” of our own devising and draw upon the “interior resources” installed—or rather, instilled—by God’s Holy Spirit. Only then, King argues, will we be freed to face what life brings us: good and bad, opportunity and the challenge, triumph and tragedy.
Omnipotent God, free us from the presumptions that your creation is ours to lose so that we might participate more fully in your perfecting love. Amen.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love (1 John 4:18).
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermon on the above passage, entitled “Antidotes to Fear,” is just that: a guide for people of faith who are looking to master that particular instinct.
King takes up the subject of fear because he believes that it is at the root of those other reactions which compel us to part from the will of God. He singles out hate as an example, arguing that the principle psychological engine driving the tensions between geopolitical superpowers of his Cold War context is not hate, but fear which has manifested as hate. “Were a nightmarish nuclear war to engulf our world,” King argues, “the cause would be not so much that one nation hated another but that both nations feared each other.”
King offers the virtues of honesty, courage, love, and faith as antidotes to fear, and notes that a life lived by these virtues is marked not by the elimination of fear, but by its mastery and management. Thinking along with Paul Tillich, one of his favorite theologians, King exhorts us to love God, ourselves, and others, thus depriving the three main sources of fear of their power.
God, you rule and relate not through fear, but through love. Help us to do the same. Amen.
Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out (Matthew 17:19)?”
At this point in our journey through the sermons of Martin Luther King, Jr., you might have observed a reoccurring pattern: his love of opposites. When considering a question, King often presents it in terms of two opposing answers. Then, after illustrating the wisdom and the limitations of both answers, he offers a third, which reconciles the first two by adding something new. The “something new” is usually God revealed in Jesus Christ.
Take this sermon as a case study.
The question, taken from the Scripture passage up top: can humankind eliminate evil?
Answer #1: yes. King’s evaluation: this answer is wise because it invites us to work for justice in our time but limited because it ignores our complicity in evil and need of God.
Answer #2: no. King’s evaluation: this answer is wise because it acknowledges our complicity in evil and need of God but limited because it invites us to passively accept injustice.
Answer #3, King’s answer: yes, with God’s help. “[Humankind] filled with God [revealed in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit] and God operating through [humankind] bring unbelievable changes in our individual and social lives.”
Thus, in Christ, opposites are reconciled.
Reconciling God, through your Son Jesus Christ you have reconciled—and are reconciling—creation to yourself. By your grace, make us participants in this ministry of reconciliation. Amen.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
Instead of preaching a conventional sermon on the above passage, Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaims the form of the Biblical text as well as its function. In the sermon, entitled “Paul’s Letter to American Christians,” King imagines what Paul would say to Christ followers living in the post-war United States and crafts a message patterned after the Apostle’s own letters.
It’s all there: the fulsome greeting (“Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father…”), Paul’s lament about being limited to written correspondence (“For many years I have longed to see you…”), affirmation of what the letter’s recipients are doing well, and stern correction of what they are not. King-as-Paul sees much to correct: morally bankrupt majoritarianism, fixation on material excess, schism within the Church, and racial segregation both inside and outside its parishes.
Yet there is reason for hope, King argues, because Jesus Christ’s love for us endures. “In a world depending on force, coercive tyranny, and bloody violence,” King observes, “you are challenged to follow the way of love. You will discover that unarmed love is the most powerful force in all the world.”
Lord God, you call us to love ourselves and others as you first loved us. Give us the courage to do so, for the sake of your Holy Name. Amen.