You received it, not as the word of man, but as it truly is, the word of God. (I Thessalonians 2:13)
Do you think that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., intentonally gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on St. Augustine’s feast day? Maybe he did. The following year, Dr. King went to St. Augustine, Florida, to conduct a non-violent civil-rights campaign.
Augustine of Hippo repented of his pagan way of life and dedicated his prodigious mental energies to ministering the liberating Word of God. I can’t hold myself out as an expert on either St. Augustine or Dr. King. But certainly they shared many things–in addition to African blood.
By leading the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King sought, as a Christian leader, to reconcile black and white America.
St. Augustine also dedicated the better part of his life to reconciling divided Christian peoples. He led the church in North Africa through the Donatist controversy, when a whole generation of baptized Christians disagreed violently with each other over who had the authority to confer the sacraments.
And both St. Augustine and Dr. King emphasized the love of God in their work of trying to unite people. Left to our own devices, we fall, we divide, we invent pretexts for hating each other. But God shares His love with us in Christ. Christ can make us loving and decent, respectful and united in the truth.
St. Augustine and Dr. King taught the gentle, forgiving love of God. The love of the Sermon on the Mount. The love Christ taught us. The love that meets evil not wth violence, but with meekness.
Dr. King himself got a kick out of the story about a black man who had been insulted by a bus driver. “I got two pieces of bad news for you,” the man said to the driver, “First, I ain’t no boy. And second, I ain’t one of them nonviolent Martin-Luther-King Negroes.”
Dr. King had friends and benefactors in New York City. Once he was riding an elevator in a skyscraper with a group of white lawyer friends. A woman got on, and, assuming that Dr. King was the elevator man, she told him what floor she wanted. He courteously pressed the button for her without saying a word. After she got off, Dr. King and his friends had a good laugh over the elevator boy who was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year.
The word of love and solidarity is not the word of man. It is not the word of St. Augustine or Martin Luther King. It is the word of God. Blessed are we if we receive it as such.
As Dr. King put it, quoting the prophets Isaiah and Daniel, fifty years ago:
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain made low, the rough places will be made straight, and the glory of God shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into the beautiful symphony of brotherhood.