In honor of the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement, I wanted to share a true story that involves my loved ones. Before he was the Rev. Dr., he was a student at Boston University and my grandfather, James Marshall Smith, was in his class. Martin was from the Baptist tradition and my Grandfather, my Dad’s father was from the Methodist tradition. You may be wondering, wait, why did Martin go to a Methodist seminary, he was an ordained Baptist minister by 1948 after all, but he wanted to get his Doctorate. At that point, no colleges or universities in the south were admitting black students for PHD’s and so he ended up in the northern part of the United States at Boston University in 1951 where he studied ethics and philosophy. At some point during his Doctoral Degree and my Grandfather’s Masters’s degree, they were in class together. As a child, I remember hearing my grandfather share this connection and it has stuck with me ever since. We were talking about the importance of this past holiday when I was in Middle School, and my Grandpa shared that he was classmates with this amazing man and so I asked him, “Grandpa, what kind of student was he? Was he a great preacher and orator even then?”
My grandfather responded, “Actually, he was rather quiet and shy. Unfortunately, he was the only black student in any of my classes at BU, but no, he never really spoke up or talked much in class.”
This surprised me of course, because the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King would go on to preach hundreds of times as a Baptist minister, and he would speak passionately and prophetically to thousands over his short lifetime. It was his voice, and others like it, that was the match that lit the flame for the Civil Rights movement.
And so what changed?
Simply put, we are not YET who we are becoming!
That is a powerful word, YET, and our God uses it constantly. As Wesleyans, we believe that we are called to personal and social holiness and that over time we strive to go onto Perfection. We are not YET perfect at loving God and loving others, but we are growing into becoming perfect in loving God and others. Throughout our everyday lives, we will have a chance to see how we are doing on this. And we will have our share of YET moments. Sometimes those YET moments are full of joy as we look back and see that we are different than we once were, more patient, more understanding, more respectful, more confident. Other times those YET moments will be moments of challenge. Maybe we will face conflict and wonder if we are really able to love our enemy as Jesus asks us to do. A relationship may fall a part and we are left trying to put back together the pieces with grace. We fight an illness or a health crisis or financial upheaval and get to see where our hope real lies. In other words, our lives will have many moments that test who we are BECOMING. And the beautiful thing is that God loves us just as we are but at the same time, sees us as what we can BECOME.
My encouragement to you this week is that you ask God to start to show you what you are BECOMING. If this story from my Grandfather’s past taught me anything, it is that we are meant to GROW because God gives us the power to become our best self. And in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s case, God used his YET moments to grow him into who he was BECOMING. Those moments of challenge led to growth to take on the generational sin of racism, the unjust laws and policies of that time and to remind people of every background they we are all Beloved Children of God.
“3-5 There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!”
Romans 5: 3-5 The Message