Millions of people around the globe are remembering the legacy of the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., today. Referred to most often as a legendary civil rights activist, the Reverend was, at his core, a Baptist preacher. After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School at the ripe young age of 15, he went to Morehouse Bible College and gave his first sermon at 18. He then went on to get his doctorate of theology at Boston University, and became a preacher at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1953.
He gave many action-oriented sermons calling for equal rights for all civilians in the South, and put his faith in action by leading and coordinating numerous marches for equality, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1954. In 1960, he joined forces with his father in Atlanta in the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church, continued to coordinate speeches and freedom marches, and delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D. C. in 1963. Shortly after that speech, he was selected as TIME Magazine’s Man of the Year. Then he became the youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize, at age 35, in 1964.
For all of these worldly recognitions, however, the Reverend always found his identity first and foremost in Jesus Christ. In the opening remarks of a sermon he delivered at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall in 1961, he clarifies his sense of vocation like this:
“Before I was a civil rights leader, I was a preacher of the gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. I don’t plan to run for any political office. I don’t plan to do anything but remain a preacher.”
Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot at the age of 39. Before this fateful day, he had been arrested over 20 times and physically assaulted four times. He had delivered countless sermons and speeches to millions of people: some were captured on film, most on audio recorders, and others in text alone. As a result, his legacy and words live on today, and I’ll always remember my family trip to Memphis when we visited the hotel where he was shot – standing on the balcony where he stood when the bullet struck him is not a moment I’ll soon forget. I was only 13, and hadn’t yet connected the dots between his fervent faith and civil rights activism, but I recognize it now.
His life was a testament to the freedom and fearlessness promised to God’s followers in the Bible, and the way he lived out his faith in thought, word, AND deed is one of the most inspiring testimonies I’ve encountered in my life. He was an action-oriented pastor who put his faith into practice outside the walls of his sanctuary – without his vision AND action, where would we be today? It makes me thankful for the pastors in the world who are following in King’s footsteps and instigating a call to action in their local communities (i.e., Atlanta pastor Louie Giglio and the “End It Movement” instigated at this year’s Passion Conference to end human trafficking worldwide – just one example of modern-day-action-oriented church service).
Here are some memorable and inspiring quotes and verses from the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. May his faith be an encouragement to Christians everywhere:
“Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” -James 2:17-