By Rebecca Price Janney, Jan 11 2018 03:24PM
If there was to be a holiday in your honor, how would you like Americans to observe the day? I suppose the answer depends on how you want to be remembered. Of course, I don’t think George Washington or Abraham Lincoln would have wanted their lives and legacies to be remembered mostly via clearance sales. (Maybe, on the other hand, they wouldn’t have minded too much.)
Since 1986, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has been a federal holiday, and I think the way we observe the occasion is fitting—through a day of service. MLK was all about serving. When he graduated from seminary, the talented minister could have created a comfortable life for himself and his family. In fact, he had a quiet, peaceful year in his first little congregation after being ordained. Then, he said:
Things were going well in that church, it was a marvelous experience. But one day a year later, a lady by the name of Rosa Parks decided that she wasn’t going to take it any longer. . . It was the beginning of a movement. (Janney, Great Women in American History, 1996, p. 161.)
The modern Civil Rights Movement to be exact. History, and God, moved King to the center of the maelstrom. Until his death in April 1968, King’s life was on the line almost constantly as he not only preached the gospel, but also non-violent, passive resistance against injustice.
At my son’s middle school, every Martin Luther King, Jr. Day isn’t just a day off. The week before, students engage in acts of service for those less fortunate. They collect clothes and toiletries for the homeless and food items for the homebound, among other things projects.
I like teaching our kids to serve, to know there are needs more important than their own immediate gratification. I also like what King himself had to say about serving in his last sermon at his church on February 4, 1968. The message was based on Mark 10:43, and the title was “The Drum Major Instinct”:
If you want to be important, wonderful.
If you want to be recognized, wonderful.
If you want to be great, wonderful.
But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.
That's a new definition of greatness.
And this morning, the thing that I like about it:
by giving that definition of greatness,
it means that everybody can be great,
because everybody can serve.
You don't have to have a college degree to serve.
You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.
You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve.
You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve.
You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.
You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.
And you can be that servant.