"And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt." (Exodus 3: 9-10)
This week we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. While doing my daily Bible reading, beginning the book of Exodus, I began to draw a parallel between Moses and Dr. King. I thought that surely I'm not the only one who ever entertained this idea, so I went on a search. Sure enough, I wasn't the only one."Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the Moses of the 20th century", said Charles E. Mock of the National Baptist Convention. At a Martin Luther King Jr. annual awards dinner, Charlton Heston said, "A great many people think of me as Moses parting the Red Sea but if the 20th century ever had a real Moses who led his people to the promised land that man, of course, would be Dr. King." (2004 Jewish Post of New York) These are only two examples among many that I found.
Dr. King himself must have felt this kinship with Moses as well. At a rally in Memphis, he said, "I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up the mountain. And I've looked over. And I have seen the promised land. And I may not get there with you, but I want you to know, tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land!" Compare this to Deuteronomy 34: 1-4. "Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land - from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, "This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it." Both men saw the promised land .... both men never got there.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., graduated from Morehouse College (B.A., 1948), Crozer Theological Seminary (B.D., 1951), and Boston University (Ph.D., 1955). The son of the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, King was ordained in 1947 and became (1954) minister of a Baptist church in Montgomery, Alabama. He may have had expectations of leading a middle class, quiet lifestyle, but God had a different plan. He grew up mostly protected from segregation but he had a different calling on his life. Not that he didn't know what was right and wrong. His father was an example to him. His dad refused to patronize a shoe store that made blacks be served only in the back of the store. He also corrected a white police officer who called him "boy", declaring that he was a man. (Detroit News, Jan. 16, 2006) His son Dexter Scott King said, "Greatness was thrust upon him, and for some internal reason or external destiny he did not turn away."
Just like Dr. King, Moses saw the oppression of his people in Egypt. Fleeing for his life after killing an Egyptian, Moses was living a quiet life, married, having children and tending the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro, when God interrupted his life and called him to service. And he did not turn away.
Not that both men didn't have some fears, insecurities and self-doubt to overcome. Dr. King had to surrender his expectations of the way he thought life was going to be, to heed the call to become a leader in a movement bigger than himself. He had to muster up boldness, willingness and surrender to his God to go forward.
Moses questioned his own abilities. Low self esteem said, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" (Exodus 3: 11) Doubt asked, "What if they don't believe me?" (Exodus 4: 1) Lack of any confidence in himself said, "I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue." (Exodus 4:10) Fear screamed, "O Lord, please send someone else to do it. " (Exodus 4: 13) Both men trusted in their God, heeded the call on their life, and obeyed.
On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August of 1963, Dr. King gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech. In the shadow of Mount Sinai, Moses read the commands that were written by the very finger of God to the people.
Both men presented the way to a better life. The way to peace and prosperity. Both men's words are still being ignored.
So what does this mean to us, on January 20, 2014....thousands of years after Moses and years after Dr. King? Have we reached the promised land? I believe we have come a long way but I also believe that we have a long way to go. Racial prejudice lay behind more than half of the 7649 hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2004. I personally see racial profiling in action in my community when motor vehicles are pulled over for traffic stops. There is still a huge disparity between blacks and whites in America.
Closer to home, many of us grew up in families steeped in racial prejudice and hatred. And appalling and ugly as it may sound, it grows like a festering sore in many of our churches. Sunday morning is the most segregated morning of the week. Despite my attempts at educating those that don't know any better, I have heard white Christians say that black people like being on welfare and are just too lazy to work.
So back to...what can I do? I must become intentional about improving relationships that I have with those brothers and sisters not like me. I am blessed to be in a fellowship that is very diverse and is quite intentional about being so. I must understand that the church that Jesus regards as after His own heart is diverse and very colorful. Look at what Heaven will be like: "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb." (Revelation 7: 9)
I must teach my children and model for them that racial prejudice is wrong. I must believe that every person has worth as an individual and that they are entitled to dignity and respect, regardless of race or color. I must strive daily to eliminate racial prejudice from my thoughts and actions. I must speak up when I see racial prejudice by others. Like Moses and Dr. King, I must trust in my God, obey His word and never turn away from what I know is right because of fear or rejection. I would like to be a part of that "beautiful symphony of brotherhood" that Dr. King spoke of in his speech. The one where "we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day."
And as I hold your hand, my white brother or sister, and with my other hand, hold yours, my black brother or sister, may we all give the world a little glimpse of what Heaven will really look like.