I celebrate the church
and Martin Luther King Jr.

The celebration of a national holiday to honor the contributions made to this nation by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has become, for most communities, an accepted practice. The majority of these celebrations occur with the support of persons from a variety of ethnicities, cultures, economic standing, educational backgrounds, and languages. This is cause for celebration.

My heart sings with joy when I see a crowd of diverse people gathering to remember King's works and to plan our future together. In light of our past, the gathering itself is a visible sign of growth and maturity, as we wrestle with the age-old problems of racism and discrimination. I often wonder if we realize how radical these experiences seem, in comparison with the separate-but-equal schools that were at one time the norm. In nearly all of these celebrations, "the church" plays a lead if not the leading role. The church is often blasted for not being prophetic in our witness, but when it comes to celebrating King's birthday, the church leads the way.

This is something to shout about! The United Methodist Church is often guilty of doing great ministry, yet failing to rejoice and to (as we said down in Texas) make "a big commotion about it." We need to toot our horns - not so others can see us - but so we can "see our good works and give glory to our father in heaven."

I'm a firm believer that people inside and outside the church need to see our good works. The workers within the church are so overwhelmed that they often see their work as routine, when they need to get excited about what God is doing in and through them. Others will be moved and inspired to make commitments to Christ when they see us involved in life-changing and world-changing events. I celebrate our participation in Martin Luther King Jr. Day events. Likewise, I celebrate our willingness to examine our lives through his message. The church must constantly ask itself, "Am I being and doing what God would have me be and do?" If we are to embody for the world the living Lord, we must strive to live on earth as God would have us live in heaven. We cannot say we love God when we hate our sister or our brother. We must call people to love in the midst of a world that calls us to selfish behavior. The church is one of the few places I know where people volunteer to go and be corrected, disciplined, and challenged to improve each and every Sunday. It's where we go to hear the truth, even when the truth is painful and hard to accept. Dr. King's life and work challenged us to practice what we preach. I lift up those churches and pastors willing to examine their lives for evidence that they're living contrary to God's will.

I also celebrate that Martin Luther King Jr. was shaped, informed, inspired, and supported by the church. King may have argued with the church, but he never gave up on the church because the church never gave up on him. He gently yet relentlessly pushed us to practice what we preach, and today, the church is eternally grateful to King for that.

I had the opportunity to be with the people of Blount County, Tenn., and with Tennessee Wesleyan College in their observances of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In each of these celebrations, I do believe that whites outnumbered blacks, which makes sense because of the racial makeup of east Tennessee. But it is also a tribute to the distance we have traveled together. I want to stop and celebrate our journey thus far - to take a deep breath before we continue to walk forward. I want to say, "Don't get weary, little children. Don't get weary, little children. There is a great camp meeting in the promised land." We're not there yet, but let's shout hallelujah! anyhow.

Thanks, Dr. King. Thanks, Church, and thanks, United Methodist churches of Holston Conference.

But most of all, thank you, Jesus! 


Bishop James Swanson
Resident Bishop

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