What makes King a particularly appropriate person to commemorate with a national holiday is his powerful summons to our country to live up to its own ideals. King dedicated his life to the ideals of liberty, equality, and justice. He found those ideals in our founding documents, especially the Declaration of Independence.
But King was also keenly aware of the many ways the United States failed to live up to the promise of those ideals. King could have ignored our national failure. Or, King could have given up on our nation. Instead, King believed in America enough to fight for our collective soul, and his faith in America’s potential has made us all a little better. Truly King was a great citizen and patriot.
Like our nation, the Episcopal Church commemorates King. This, too, strikes me right and good, but for quite different reasons. We commemorate King for his Christian witness. The Declaration of Independence was not the only, or even the primary, source for King’s ideals. King’s witness for justice was rooted in the message of the Old Testament prophets. King was sustained through the hard times by a powerful sense of God’s nurturing presence and a powerful faith in the good news of Jesus Christ. Truly King was a model Christian.
King was able to combine his Christian faith and his public, political witness. Indeed it was that combination that made him so effective. I wrestle in my own way to apply the Christian gospel as I understand it to the challenges our nation faces today. My considerably lower profile struggles for Christian justice make me even more grateful for what Dr. Martin Luther King Junior was able to accomplish in his short lifetime.
My hope and my prayer is that this day will inspire all of us to follow the example of Dr. King, a great Christian citizen and patriot.