Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Some will observe it. Some will ignore it. I will celebrate. Martin Luther King is one of my heroes and I need all the heroes I can find
It is an unhappy country that has no heroes. It is an unhappy country that needs heroes.
Heroes seem to be a fading memory in our time. A hero is remembered for an extraordinary achievement. Even by this bare definition the hero’s deed rebukes us. We struggle frantically merely to achieve the ordinary. The hero, in contrast, overcomes the ordinary and attains greatness.The hero’s example tells us that we fail, not by aiming too high, but by aiming far too low. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “The characteristic of heroism is its persistency. All men have wandering impulses, fits and starts of generosity. But when you have chosen your part, abide by it, and do not weakly try to reconcile yourself with the world. Always do what you are afraid to do. Whoso is heroic will always find crises to try his edge.”
With the death of Martin Luther King at the hands of an assassin we learned again the truth of the words of Joseph’s brothers in the Old Testament: “Here comes this dreamer; let us slay him and then we shall see what will become of his dreams.” Dr King was killed very close to what we know as Passion week, a time very near Palm Sunday and Easter. For whatever reason we have moved the commemoration from the tragedy laden time of his death to the more hopeful time of his birth. By doing this we have managed to place this man, always difficult to live with into a myth with which we can be more comfortable. This too is often the fate of the hero.
I hope we remember him because he was part of that great company of witnesses God raises up in times of crisis to challenge and inspire us. Our own courage grows larger when we recall heroes from our history. John Hancock who risked all to create this land. Nathan Hale who gave his all for our independence. Lincoln who suffered and died to end slavery and preserve the union These are heroes by any standard and our debt to them is immeasurable. Our debt to heroes, wherever and whenever we find them is not simply a metaphor but the substance of a free society. The hero, turning life and even death into triumph, heralds the transcendent purpose to our lives that we sorely need today. Heroes serve as beacons for us lighting the way into a future which may seem dangerous but may also be inspiring. A real hero always attracts attention that is directed beyond himself or herself and reflects what we must do and what God can do. Any real hero who is worthy of our praise reveals what we could be and what God is. Let Peter Gomes, the former chaplain at Harvard, conclude our thinking today. In speaking of Martin Luther King, Jr. he said: “The dream lives on. How could we mortals be expected to handle it? He and we should have known that it was too much for us, and yet the grace of his life and ours is that God continues to inject himself into this world where he is both needed and not wanted. Such is his love toward us that he sends us himself and gives us dreams to disturb our slumber and dreamers to disturb our waking. God grant that in our pilgrimage it may ever be so.”