Martin Luther King, Jr., the remarkable man of God whose birthday we celebrate this weekend, was born Michael King, Jr. His father, a Baptist minister, attended an international conference in Germany in 1934, when his son was five; King, Sr. was so impressed by what he learned about Martin Luther during his trip that, upon returning to the United States, he changed his name – and that of his son – to honor the reformer.
As we begin our Year of Change, it’s inspiring to reflect on the connections between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr. Both men sought to change a broken system through adherence to the truth of the Gospel. Both made a stand rooted in equality, love, and non-violence, and endured brutal responses. They faced outrage and punishment from an entrenched, entitled establishment. They recognized there was no greater calling than to live out the Gospel, in word and deed, no matter the cost. Luther was able to escape those who sought to kill him; King was not as fortunate.
It’s sobering to realize that 500 years after Luther and 50 years after King, there is still so much work to do in the name of equality and Christian love. It is our duty to respond gladly. We cannot turn a deaf ear to the call of the Holy Spirit, who encourages us to love one another, to serve and forgive and teach one another. Like King and Luther, like Peter and Paul, we must be willing to set aside everything we think matters to do the one thing that truly matters – to strive to be like Jesus with every breath we take.
In this Year of Change, may we follow the example of Luther and King. They showed us the immense change that can come from one person who stands with God and declares his allegiance to the Gospel. May we open our hands to God’s work, our minds to God’s work, and our hearts to God’s people.
“We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., on the eve of his death