A couple of weeks ago I recalled the wonderful speech of Martin Luther King Jr, the one we know as, ‘I Have A Dream.’ We reflected on the vision that captivated King through his life. It began with a powerful experience of insult and rejection. A young 14-year-old Martin, already a prodigious speaker, travelled across Georgia on a bus to compete in a public speaking contest. On the way home to Atlanta, the white driver called Martin a ‘black son-of-a-bitch’, and ordered he and his teacher, Sarah Bradley to give up their seats when whites got on the bus. Ms Bradley eventually persuaded Martin to comply. The night stayed with Martin, who later recalled that he had never felt so angry in his whole life. The irony is that young Martin had just won the speaking competition with a speech entitled, ‘The Negro and the Constitution,’ which he delivered from memory.
It was Jesus of Nazareth and his words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), that inspired Martin and drew him onwards into life as a human being, a man with coloured skin in a white world and unjustly oppressed. He recalls that his ‘conversion’ into Christian faith was a natural and gradual process in his life as the son, grandson and great grandson of Southern Baptist Ministers. Their influence and the love he experienced in home and church, reflected the love of God and something within him stirred and he was convicted of a call into ordained ministry.
Martin Luther King Jr’s call into ministry was connected to his experiences of the social context of southern USA in the first half of the 20th century. Injustice, racism, oppression and abuse all had their influences upon him, and the movement of God’s Spirit within him and through his life, gently but firmly guided his path as he gave himself into this way. It was similar for Mother Teresa, as she travelled for her annual retreat, she ‘heard a call, within her call’ to go and serve the poor in the streets of Calcutta. It was this moment that the 36-year-old nun became Mother Teresa. The call was to serve and love God by serving and loving the poorest people of the city. She and her sisters nursed the poor and served the most needy, providing some comfort and love in moments of deep aloneness, struggle and fear.
It is this deep sense of being called or led, convicted to respond to an inner yearning that comes like a voice, that characterises the lives of Martin Luther King Jr and Mother Teresa. It is this same sense of call, of being drawn outward into something new that also typifies the responses of many people. Sometimes this comes from within a religious framework and sometimes it doesn’t. Kon Karapanagiotidis was a young Greek Australian boy who experienced racism and bullying. He was different and felt different, a loner and somewhat lost at times, he retreated to studies and reading. It was a book by Martin Luther King Jr, ‘Strength to Love,’ that gave Kon hope and belief in himself and a passion to make a difference. He had a calling that drove him forward to work for justice, equality and to overcome racism and abuse. He has a law degree and other degrees and he works insane hours, serving the most powerless and hopeless people with passionate enthusiasm. It is a calling and though no religious element, one can see and hear the love of God in his life and words. Kon reflects the justice and hope that derives from the heart of God, as he leads the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.
These are stories of ordinary people who have felt an inner urge and passion well-up and overtake them in dramatic ways. They are overwhelmed by love for their fellow humans and see the equality and sacredness in each person. They care about the rights of all people to live with freedom, hope and peace and strive towards this dream. Love demands a just expression in the midst of life.
This week is called ‘Pentecost’ in the life of the church. It is a festival that celebrates the transformation of ordinary people into a dynamic force and power for love, justice, peace, and the formation of a community grounded in this love and justice. In the book of Acts (2:1-20) there is the story that speaks of God’s Spirit blowing through the lives of lost and ineffective followers of Jesus, confused by his death but having had a profound experience of what they called resurrection – new and transformed life that transcended death and the powers of the world. God’s Spirit blew into their lives and being and gripped them with enthusiastic, passionate, and uncontrolled vision and purpose. They formed into a new community that shared things in common, stood for inclusive love and welcomed all people into a renewed way of love, peace and justice.
The story speaks of young and old having new dreams and seeing visions of life and hope for the world. These visions are about how we can find life in its richness and fullness – together. The men and women in this story become the people they can be rather than being diminished by fear and uncertainty. These ordinary men and women begin to do extraordinary things because they are suddenly open to and embracing of this mysterious force that comes upon them and works in and through them. This mysterious force we call the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit, that is creative and nurturing. This is the Spirit that hovered over the chaos in the beginning and brought order; the Spirit that was breathed into the people formed from dust and animated them into life. This is the Spirit of God that permeates our world and being with creative power and love. This is the power that moves people to deeper love and compassion, acts of mercy and justice, reconciliation and peacemaking. This is the power of God that is not coercive but invitational, nurturing, comforting and grounded in the deepest, purest love. This is the love of God that holds all things in deep relationship and animates all life.
When we are open through whatever means to this powerful force of love, we are lifted to new possibilities in love, grace, peace, justice, inclusion and reaching out to each other as a community of hope in the world. Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa, Kon Karapanagiotidis, and others, embraced the potential of love that was in them and grew in their capacity to be loving and loved human beings!
This love flows in and through and around all of us and is the very essence of our life and being, that which gives life to and sustains all things. It overwhelms us with new dreams and visions, new energy and life and lifts us into new possibilities that are grounded in faith, hope and love, and the God who is at the heart of everything. More than anything we need people who are gripped by this vision, this hope, this love, by a God bigger than our differences and problems and who promises life for all people. This is our hope and our life.