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Love is the Motive | Place of Grace Fellowship

Love is the Motive

Martin Luther King Jr. Day; January 16, 2022


In our Acts reading today, the message of the Gospel of Christ begins its journey to the nations. The message was given to Observant Jews from many nations who resided in Jerusalem because of their desire to be near the temple. Their love of God was their motive. The reading captures both the universal nature of the Gospel and its ability to speak to all kinds of people in all sorts of circumstances in their own language and on their terms. Love was God’s motive for reaching out to all the observant Jews in Jerusalem. 


In the message Jesus becomes the subject of Peter’s proclamation. Jesus, who proclaimed the Kingdom of God coming to earth. is proclaimed as the heavenly Lord. Jesus proclaimed God’s love for humanity. Jesus became the son God gave us in grace because love was God’s motive.  The message of Peter demonstrates how the risen Christ empowers the words of the Church through the gift of the Spirit. The gift of the Spirit we receive because love was Christ’s motive.  In the beginning, Jews are the receivers of Christ’s Gospel, but with no limit on place or language. The same message will spread out to all from this limited beginning.


Acts 2:5-12 5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 


In our next reading, we have a vision of “what does this all mean” as a great multitude from every nation and all tribes, peoples and languages worship before the throne of God.


 Revelation 7:9-11 9After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
  “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 


Tomorrow, as a nation, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Few have captured the heart of Christian justice and love like Martin Luther King Jr. He understood that justice began with love. That any Christian’s motive to seek justice and equity begins with their love and their love begins with God’s love. The motive to end segregation began with the motive to love our brother and sister. The motive to seek justice begins with the motive to love. Love is the motive. 


In our passages today, we know that all have sinned, God makes grace available to all and we all have the freedom to accept God’s love or turn from it. We share equally in sin, grace and freedom. In our Revelation passage Every and All means just that. I do not see any level 100, 200 and 300 tickets to God’s throne. We all have the same seat for our eternal worship.


Justice has always been on God’s heart because God’s heart for eternity has been motivated by love. 


Micah 6:8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? 


Amos 5:21-24 I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. 


The justice of God or God’s divine love often comes out in God’s care for those who suffer. There is no justice without love. God’s love and God’s justice are one in the same. God cares for those who suffer and those who are oppressed or poor. Our love of God is most visible in our love of neighbor. We practice our love through our care of our neighbor. 


Love in practice involves equity, fairness and equality. When we participate in justice, the motive is love. To seek justice is to participate in the love of God and others. Matin Luther King sought equality and justice for the African American, but mostly he asked all the United States to love their brother and sister in Christ. If we loved, then the Every and All of God’s heaven could become the Every and All of our nation and justice could roll down like the waters.


15 years ago, I was our church leader on a Justice journey with Salem Baptist church from the Southside of Chicago. Together, we toured the civil rights sites of the south in a chartered bus. One of our stops was the Martin Luther King Jr. Museum in Memphis. The visit brought back memories of his assassination in 1968. 


I watched it on TV with my dad. It was one of the few times I ever saw him cry. We lived in a small rural town in Northern Michigan, I never met an African American, however the importance of his message has been with me from that day. I was 9 years old.


Anyway, back to the bus. I had numerous conversations on that bus, walked the Selma bridge, felt shame, deep sadness, anger, resignation, despair and knew that Satan was busy at work in human history. Of all the conversations, I remember one well. It wasn’t the most profound. In many ways, it was the most relaxed and easy of all the conversations. I was talking with an African American man. We were both without work. He was talking about a job offer across town. He decided not to take the job. It involved like three bus transfers, hours to get there and back and the pay was not substantial. In his mind, when he weighed the costs, it was not worth it. At that time, jobs were much harder to come by then they are today. I listened and couldn’t argue with his logic, but my choice would have been different, I would have taken the job. My reasons why spoke volumes to the differences in our worlds. I would take the job because I believed it would lead to a better job. He did not believe it would lead to a better job. I would take the job because I could prove myself and move up. Even if he proved himself, he had no assurance of moving up. I could travel safely. He did not have that freedom. Before God’s throne, we were equals. Before an employer, we were not. Before God we could expect equity and Justice. Before the world, I assumed a measure of equity and justice. My African American counterpart assumed there was no equity or justice for him.


On that same bus, I did not speak to one African American man who had not been stopped by a cop for no reason. I have never been stopped by a cop without due cause.


Equality, Equity and Justice have become terms with many meanings, and they carry great weight for almost everyone. It is as if there are as many definitions of these terms as there are people who use them. I do not care about what society tells me of their definitions. What does God tell me? 


Equality—before God we are all equal. Every and All means just that, no qualification needed. If that is heaven, then it should be the Church.


Equity. Defined in Christian love for our neighbor, we should all seek equity. How we seek equity can take on many different points of view, government preferences and ways of practicing equity. We may, as faithful Christians, take apposing approaches. If the ends we seek demonstrate love for our neighbor and the way we hope to achieve the outcome we desire is done in genuine love and not in some biased accommodation, then we are faithful. If love is our motive, we can stand united in faith as brothers and sisters in Christ. Our ways of achieving equity can seem at odds if love is our motive.


Justice for God means improving the condition of the poor, the oppressed and the suffering. As Christians, our love of neighbor trumps all other concerns. Like equity, we all approach justice differently. We can approach justice differently. Yet, with love as our motive, we cannot, as Christians ignore injustice. Scripture speaks often of the desire of God that we commit to the practice of justice as a witness to our love of God and neighbor. 


Equality, Equity and Justice have been on my heart for as long as I can remember. That said, as much as I desire to seek equality, equity and justice, I will say something stupid to people that are not of my race or culture. With all good intentions, I will not understand, I will fail to appreciate their challenges, I will feel totally helpless in addressing many of their needs and the harshness of trading for a living can make callous or unforgiving. Further, no matter how hard I try, I will never reach the level of love that the Holy Spirit calls me to live. I am sorry, I ask for your grace. In return, I will commit to listen, I will value your experiences as a gift you share with me and I will continue to seek equality, equity and justice.


In closing, I want to read a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. It shares with the reader a review of his book, Why We Can’t Wait written in 1964. The review is written in Martin Luther King Jr’s vocabulary—it may offend current conventions, but it makes the tribute more authentic.


Why We Can’t Wait

Martin Luther King Jr. has become the embodiment of the Civil Rights movement.  He acted as the leader of the non-violent uprisings of the African American community during the fifties and sixties.  King was their voice and the one who structured the theology and workings of the movement.  What made King so extraordinary, however, was his ability to personalize the struggles of the African American.  Many writers have discussed the impacts of social movements, nations and groups, but they have not embodied the experience of those involved the way that King did.  In referring to the work of Martin Buber, King says that segregation substitutes an “I-thou” relationship with an “I-it” relationship (King, p. 71). In other words, segregation sees people as things and not as persons.


    King’s method was determined by this relationship.  He was determined to place before the world African Americans as people.  He intended to break the barrier of segregation that allowed a complacent world and the African American themselves to consider the African American as “it”—a thing. 


This method is apparent in the Introduction to Why We Can’t Wait


 It is the beginning of the year of our Lord 1963.  I see a young Negro boy.  He is sitting on a stoop in front of a vermin-infested apartment house in Harlem… I see a young Negro girl.  She is sitting on the stoop of a rickety wooden one-family house in Birmingham.  (King p. viii)


King will continue by developing the character of the lives of these two people and thus, the characterization of this Negro boy and girl.  


King will tell a story.  As he relates the short story of their lives, he builds narrative pressure.  He speaks of white supremacists, Supreme Court decisions, poor jobs, unjust labor practices and the Negro living in the ghetto in the richest land in the world.  He announces that this is the hundredth anniversary of their freedom, but they are not free.  As the weight of injustice and virtual slavery mounted in the lives and minds of the Negro, it was “The boy in Harlem stood up.  The girl in Birmingham arose.”  (King, p. x)  Through the story of the boy and girl, King tells the struggles of the African American people, the story of the movement.  He gives voice to all the battles of the civil rights movement, the confrontations with the powers of segregation and the slowness and caution of the churches and of Washington.  The reader is forced to encounter the Negro as a “thou.” 


King’s writings put the reader face to face with the human tragedy of segregation.  In a “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” we meet a man talking to his six year old daughter and explaining to her the realities of segregation that prevent her from going to an amusement park.  Can we imagine the bright eyes of a six-year old girl dulling under the inferiority imposed by racism, then enliven with the rekindled fire of hatred as she ponders the white person.  It is hard to imagine a reader, especially a pastor, not responding with sympathy to the story of a father explaining the “mean” actions of “white people” to a five-year old boy.  (King p. 69)


The boy in Harlem and the girl in Birmingham, this is their story.  They were bitten by the fangs of dogs, they were blown over by the fire hoses, the girl was killed by a bomb in Sunday school and the boy’s “brother” was killed by a gang of white boys in Birmingham.   This boy and girl had a face that the United States could no longer ignore.  King made us look them in the eyes and made us decide how we should treat them.  “It was a step that rocked the richest, most powerful nation to its foundation.”  (King p. x)  It was a step into our living rooms on national television, it was a step onto our newspapers, but it was a step into our face that demanded that we treat the Negro as human, as our fellow, as “thou.”  “This is the story of that boy and that girl.  This is the story of Why We Can’t Wait.”  (King p. x)      

About Pastor Tim

Tim Holmes

Senior Pastor

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