Seeds of Grace: The Sower’s Journey Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
As we start the new year, we are exploring a popular passage from Scripture, the Parable of the Sower. Jesus was travelling around Galilee preaching and healing people. He was a preacher who travelled with a crew of disciples, both men and women. Jesus tells a story of a Sower who spreads seed. The seed he scatters is the Word of God.
This week, we celebrate the life of another Sower, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was a Sower, much like Jesus. While he didn’t tell parables, he did tell stories of hope in what seemed like hopeless circumstances. His hope was infectious, and he travelled with hopeful disciples. He had many followers everywhere he visited. In a small town in Northern Michigan, he had a disciple in my father.
Martin Luther King Jr. told stories of faith in people and institutions that appeared unworthy of any faith. He told stories of love in places where hatred and violence should have been expected. He sowed the Word of God when he sowed faith, hope and love to people whose hearts were hardened with power, control, hatred, and segregation. Like seed sown on a hard path, their seeds of love had been long snatched by devil birds. He sowed faith, hope and love to people formed by social pressure to prefer racial discrimination. For people who were open to equality for African Americans, there was no support from their churches, friends, businesses, and communities. Like seed that falls on rocky ground and not nourished, they would become emotionally dehydrated. Dr. King sowed faith, hope and love to those who supported his vision but were choked by the cost of support. They sat on the side and watched and asked him to wait and be patient. Like seed among thorns, their support was choked by apathy, fear, and a lack of courage.
Finally, he sowed faith, hope and love in fertile soil. He loved and people listened. He showed the plight of African Americans, and people watched. Martin Luther King Jr. painted a picture of the injustices suffered by African Americans and called on the white church to fight with him for justice. Despite their opposition, he always saw them as brothers and sisters in Christ. The Word of God is not only a spiritual word. It is a word that calls us to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. As followers of Christ, when we sow the Word of God, we must also sow justice and mercy and we must do it always with faith, hope and love.
Let’s read Luke 8:4-8:
4 While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. 6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
Sixty years ago, this year, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior wrote his Letter from the Birmingham Jail. It stands as one of the greatest writings in all of history. It called for justice and equality given in faith, hope and love towards a white society that refused to abandon the brutality, intimidation, demeaning, murderous injustice of segregation. Its call challenges all Christ followers to take a close look at our lives and ask, can I live with the injustices I see around me? In the face of immense injustice and cruelty, Rev. King did not yell or become violent. He persevered, and he did not lose hope. If in the face of great hatred and pain inflicted by ardent segregationists, Rev. King could extend faith, hope and love, are my hatreds and unfriendliness towards others justified?
Based on faith, hope and love, Dr. King’s letter promoted profound change in America. It Called for Moral and Ethical Awakening. The letter served as a moral compass. It awakened the conscience of the nation. He showed America and his white brothers and sisters in Christ the injustice of segregation. He asked both white and black America to exercise their moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. His faith in the people of this country changed public opinion. Many people changed their views on race and justice. He hoped beyond hope that others would realize that the equality of African Americans was a cause that all people needed to support as a moral necessity.
He calmly shared the facts of segregation, and the country, and the world, finally saw. I want to share some excerpts from the letter where he communicates the reality faced by his community. “But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim…when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society…when you see tears welling up in her young eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children… when you see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky…when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”…when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”
In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his letter in response to eight white clergy who criticized his efforts as “untimely and unwise.” These pastors criticized him for breaking the law, even though they were unjust laws executed by a segregationist power structure. Yet these same men of God did not criticize the segregationists violating a 1954 Supreme Court Law outlawing segregation in the public schools. Dr. King quoting St. Augustine, said “an unjust law is no law at all.” The painting before you was drawn by our brother, Timothy Lister. It shows Martin Luther King Jr. walking children to school to uphold that 1954 Supreme Court Decision. In the words of Dr. King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Ultimately, Dr. King’s letter changed the legal foundation of American society. It Influenced Legislation and Policy. The letter significantly influenced the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. King’s description of the struggles faced by African Americans helped build momentum for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. His arguments laid bare the moral and legal deficiencies of segregationist policies.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” holds a deep commitment to faith, hope, and love. Martin Luther King Jr. sowed tension and challenge for his white brothers and sisters in Christ. He created the tension, not through name calling, hatred, division, or dissent, but by asking tough questions and speaking about their unity in Christ. He asked what their faith demanded of them. Our Christian faith demands that we concern ourselves with Justice.
Martin Luther King Jr. had an unwavering faith in the potential for change, particularly among his fellow Christians. It was a cornerstone of his letter. He believed strongly in the power of faith to unite people across racial and religious divides. He wrote, “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.” He held faith in our shared humanity and the ability of his fellow Christians to recognize and rectify injustices.
His letter holds hope for America and its people. Despite the challenges and resistance faced by the civil rights movement, he remained hopeful about the nation’s potential for growth and justice. He stated, “We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom.” He never lost his enduring hope in the nation’s foundational principles and its capacity for moral evolution. More than any other group, he had hope in the church of Christ to rise up and tear down the injustice of segregation.
Love is perhaps the most striking theme in King’s letter. His approach to activism and his response to injustice were deeply rooted in a philosophy of love, not hate. He expressed this sentiment by saying, “In the struggle for human dignity, the oppressed people of the world must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or indulging in hate campaigns.” This philosophy of love, even towards those who opposed him, set a powerful example and has been one of the most enduring aspects of his legacy.
King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” not only challenged the injustices of his time but also offered a profound message of faith, hope, and love. These principles were not abstract concepts for Rev. King; they were tangible forces that guided his actions and his vision for a more just and equitable society. His letter serves as a testament to the power of sowing faith, hope and love.
It is a popular saying that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Imagine for a minute, that you have led a peaceful rally, but are attacked by angry cops, dogs, and water hoses. The segregationist political forces put you in jail. Then, after all that, your brothers, and sisters in Christ criticize you for acting “unwise and untimely.” How would you respond? Would you yell, scream expletives, call them names like racist or segregationists? Would you challenge their faith? I can see a response like this, “if you were a Christian, you would speak out against this injustice. You are not following Christ; you cannot call yourself a Christian. You are just like those people in Revelation whose faith is lukewarm and, I can tell you, Christ spits you out. Your faith is worthless, you are unfaithful, and your faith is meaningless. You are segregationist minions of Satan.”
I am obviously less grace-filled than Martin Luther King Jr. He did not respond with my words. He responded with these words, “Since I feel that you are men of genuine good will, and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.” Later in the letter he challenges them with these words: “I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership…I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.”
Throughout his letter, he always sows faith, hope and love. He believes in the unity of all of us in Christ, even in the tension of profound disagreement and disappointment. The unity we all share is captured in this quote: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
He ends his letter to these eight white clergy with these gracious words, “If I have said anything in this letter that is an understatement of the truth and is indicative of an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything in this letter that is an overstatement of the truth and is indicative of my having a patience that makes me patient with anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.”
I love Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. I cannot help but be awe struck and choked up whenever I read his writings. He was a profound figure in my childhood, as my father was a devotee of his. When he was killed in 1968, my father was crushed, and he lost hope in America. It was one of only two times I saw him cry.
I love our movement, Church of God Anderson, because of its significant diversity. Sadly, it is one of only four denominations or movements in Christianity that are diverse. I love our church here for many reasons, but one being the way our church stands against the injustice of food stress in a country that is the world’s breadbasket.
Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. and A Letter from Birmingham Jail has many lessons to teach us. Here are a few:
In our relationships:
Sow Seeds of Affirmation: Regularly express appreciation, love, and respect. Affirmative words nourish and strengthen your loved one, just as water and sunlight nurture a growing plant.
Cultivate Patience and Forgiveness: Be patient with each other’s flaws and mistakes. Transformation and understanding do not come easily. As Dr. King demonstrated love in the face of injustice, practice forgiveness in your personal relationships. Like thorns choke plants, holding onto grudges can choke the growth of love.
In our community:
Sow Seeds of Justice and Equality: Be a voice for the voiceless in our community. Stand against injustices and strive to make our community better.
Cultivate Change through Service: Just as a Sower scatters seeds, spread goodwill by volunteering and helping those in need. Demonstrate the values of respect, mercy, and kindness. Like the Sower, your actions can plant seeds of positive change in others.
Above all, let us sow faith, hope and love, that is our inheritance of the Holy Spirit that unites us in Jesus Christ. Amen.
We give thanks for the lessons learned from the Parable of the Sower and the enduring legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. May these teachings continue to nurture our hearts and minds, guiding us in our journey of faith, hope, and love.
Lord, we ask for Your guidance as we strive daily to sow seeds of justice, kindness, and understanding. Help us to be receptive like the good soil, open to Your Word and the needs of those around us. May our actions reflect the love and compassion of Christ, as we seek to make a positive impact in our families and our community.
We pray for the strength and courage to face the challenges ahead. Grant us the wisdom to navigate our relationships with empathy and patience, and the resolve to stand firm against injustice and inequality.
As we close our worship today and go about our business this week, let Your peace and grace accompany us. May we carry the spirit of unity and brotherhood in our hearts, spreading Your light wherever we go.
In Jesus’ name, we pray,