One of the great temptations for all ministers (all people of faith, in fact) is the inappropriate redaction of our holy texts. More simply said, we quote scripture out of context. This selective redaction allows us to prop up our arguments, validate our actions, find hope for our struggles, and construct an image of God that works for us. The practice isn’t all bad. It requires some familiarity with scripture, some constructive thought, and some degree of faith. It is embodied in a cartoon I read this week captioned, “I can do all things through a verse taken out of context.” Again, this is not all bad; however, it does potentially present a fallacious image of faith to the listening world.
Mark is a good friend of mine. He is an African American minister and a solid theologian. Years ago, we were attending a convention. We were seated together in the upper balcony—the perfect place to both listen and whisper. The keynote speaker drove home the point of his sermon with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and I heard Mark sigh. I whispered, “What’s wrong?” He responded, “I get tired of white people picking and choosing quotes from Dr. King in order to shape him into what they need him to be.” Then he added, “Of course, you are the exception.” We both laughed at his addendum knowing I was no exception.
I enjoyed reading and hearing the many quotes posted and shared by my fellow ministers and friends. I purposely did not quote Dr. King in my speaking or writing this past weekend. I decided in my Sunday sermon to preach about issues I felt were central to his life message: the dangers of prejudice, the potential inherent in every human being, and the centrality of serving God in all our lives. Rather than quoting Dr. King, I tried to write a sermon to which he might give an affirming nod and an “Amen.” I plan to spend the rest of the week in quiet service to my world—the primary suggestive celebrative mode of MLK Day. I was able to perform volunteer service—quietly and anonymously on Sunday and Monday. I plan to do the same each day as this week continues.
Next year, I’ll probably be quoting Dr. King again. His words are rich and deep. I’ll do my best not to take them out of context or do a disservice to his heart by making them fit mine. This year, for me, it’s all about service. This year, it’s all about quietly, anonymously trying to make my world a better place. I hope you’ll do the same.