We closed out our movie series this week with a look at the movie, Selma. The best thing I can recommend for you is to buy or rent the movie and watch it, and then get to www.thesurge.cc and see the video of the message, or subscribe to The Surge podcast on iTunes and listen to the message. Some useful nuggets are in those—including the special music at the end that’s powerful—that won’t show up in this blog, just to keep this fairly short.
What we did with Selma is use it to highlight four specific attributes Martin Luther King, Jr. exhibited that Jesus has told us in the Sermon on the Mount would be evident in Christians, those genuine citizens of the kingdom of God.
Getting Over Ourselves
King and his wife, Coretta, had some great plans for their future together: finish his doctoral work, get a job as a pastor in a small church in a quiet college town, raise their kids, and, maybe, do a little guest speaking here and there in other churches. They moved to Montgomery, Alabama, to be closer to where her parents lived, rather than near Atlanta, where King’s family resided. But it was in Montgomery where Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person that King’s plans got redirected. Asked to lead the effort of a group of women who wanted to protest Parks’ arrest, King was thrust into the civil rights movement, and the rest is history.
True citizens of God’s kingdom submit their own interest to those of their God and King, Jesus. We’re to do that as Christians, just like King and Coretta did. God called them, and He’s called us to a purpose larger than just living for ourselves and socking away treasures here on earth. It’s Philippians 2:3-4 that tells us we should count others as more significant than ourselves. It’s modeling Jesus’ behavior, who decided being perfectly content to be God in heaven, while very cool, was less important than making it possible for people on earth to come to be with Him. So, he abandoned that throne and came to earth to live and die for us.
No one, least of all Jesus, ever said that following Him was going to be a cakewalk. He’s told us in the Sermon on the Mount that we should expect resistance, even from the powerful. We see King in Selma facing down President Johnson on at least two occasions, urging the President to move to protect blacks under fire in this country. And he politely, but resolutely, refuses to be sidetracked.
It’s like the account of Peter in Acts, chapter 3. Peter heals a man lame from birth—he had never walked. But now he’s bouncing all over the place on legs suffering no apparent atrophy. It amazes everyone because they all knew this fellow. Peter uses the presence of a crowd to jump into a sermon, and many people accept Jesus right there on the spot. This angers the religious bigwigs, who thought a crucifixion would end all this Jesus nonsense. They throw Peter and John into prison, where they have to fear for their lives, expecting that what happened to Jesus was about to happen to them. The next day, they are dragged out and sat in the middle of those bigwigs, who demand to know on whose authority they are carrying on so. Maybe a good time to be a little polite and shy, eh? Not Peter. “We want you to know, and we want everyone in all Israel to know, that it’s on the authority of Jesus of Nazareth, whom you killed, but whom God raised from the dead.” The leaders are so flummoxed by the courage that they could only mutter something like, “Well, stop talking about Jesus.” Peter shot back, “You do what you gotta do, but we’re not going to stop proclaiming Jesus.” And they walked out. Crazy courageous.
Ok, that Peter story was pretty cool. But having that kind of courage doesn’t mean everyone is going to back down all the time. We’re to risk it all, to be willing to lose it all, to remember that this really isn’t home for us. And sometimes, it might mean that we are going to take it on the chin. King was assaulted in a hotel there in Selma, but that was just the beginning of the attacks. President Johnson unleashes the FBI to put pressure on King, and they try to drive a wedge between King and his wife. Communications between black leaders are intercepted. The police descend on a peaceful, nighttime protest, beating many and killing a young man named Jimmy Lee Jackson. The first attempt to cross the bridge from Selma to Montgomery ends with the police on horseback charging the crowd, and beating everyone back across the bridge. Fortunately, the national news media recorded it all.
Being a serious citizen of the kingdom may mean that we reach the end of our strength and endurance, and that serves to remind us that we’re not to engage in this spiritual warfare alone. We are not doing this in our own power, but God’s. We are going to need God’s presence, his guidance, and his provision all along the path He’s called us to. We see King tired and hopeless at points in the film, yet we also see him seeking God’s wisdom and direction. And we see God provide encouragement and strength. On the second attempt to cross the bridge, the police suddenly back off, and King is unsure what that means. Is it a trap? In front of thousands of followers, he simply kneels there on the bridge and prays. He then rises, and leads everyone off the bridge. A couple of days later, the judge overturns the Alabama governor’s decision, and grants King permission carry out the march to Montgomery.
We shared how the Apostle Paul, on a missionary journey to the city of Corinth, was beset by fear. God sends him encouragement in the form of Silas and Timothy. But God also responds to the prayers of Paul through a vision, telling him not to fear, to keep on speaking because no one in that city would harm him.
Life to the Full
King was assassinated three years after the events depicted in the movie, at age 39. in his eulogy for Jimmy Lee Jackson, he said this: Our lives are not fully lived if we are not willing to die for those we love and for what we believe. That sounds a lot like Jesus’ words in John 15: Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. The day before King was killed, he preached a sermon that reflected his contentment with his life, with what he had done in service to people and to his God, and that he was not worried one bit about what might happen to him. He could say that because he knew he had run the race God had for him, and whether he lived to be 90 years old, or 39, it was just fine.
Here are the words to the special song we did at the conclusion of the service. Up To The Mountain was written by Patty Griffin as a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., and she drew the lyrics from Dr. King’s final, almost prophetic, sermon.
Up To The Mountain
I went up to the mountain because you asked me to
Up over the clouds to where the sky was blue
I could see all around me everywhere
I could see all around me everywhere
Sometimes I feel like I’ve never been nothing but tired
And I’ll be walking till the day I expire
Sometimes I lay down, no more can I do
But then I go on again because you ask me to
Some days I look down, afraid I will fall
And though the sun shines, I see nothing at all
Then I hear your sweet voice, oh, come and then go
Come and then go
Telling me softly you love me so
The peaceful valley just over the mountain
The peaceful valley few come to know
I may never get there ever in this lifetime
But sooner or later it’s there I will go
Sooner or later It’s there I will go