Posts I have seen online in the first two weeks of 2021:

“I’d like to cancel my subscription to 2021. I’ve just finished the free 7-day trial, and I’m not interested.”

“Seems a lot like 2021 keeps asking, ‘What would 2020 do?’ ”

#2020 became a coping-mechanism joke, and so far 2021 is keeping up the habit — and I’m sure I don’t need to remind you why. Each of us carries our own personal list of how the pandemic and political turmoil continue to affect our own lives. We make jokes to try and survive through our hurt and fear.

We live in times that demand more of us than we think we have to give. And as people of faith we are called to more than survival, more than treading water, more than keeping the ball rolling, more than sighing when we hear the news. Washed in the unconditional waters of baptism, we are called to renounce all the forces that defy the will of God, from the cosmic forces of evil, to the powers of this world (like white supremacy, greed, and hate), to the personal temptations we face.

We are called to “trust God, proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship’s rite of Holy Baptism).

But how do we do this when the world is on fire? When we have to take safety precautions just to visit our neighbors? When our capitol was invaded by fellow Americans, and we fear what might come next? When following CDC recommendations becomes something to fight over? When it takes all that we have just to raise our children, keep up with work, worry and mourn our loved ones, and manage our own feelings?

As the nation prepares to commemorate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this weekend, let’s reflect on how God moved in King’s life during his times of trial.

Throughout King’s work for civil rights, he received public criticism, menacing phone calls (up to 40 a day!), and death threats. His home was even bombed by a white supremacist. In recent years we’ve taken these stories in stride as King has become a larger-than-life hero, more symbol than man. But he was human, too.

After one really disturbing phone call, King couldn’t sleep. He stayed awake wondering if he could continue the work. This is how he described that dark night of his soul:

I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud…The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.” … It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you. Even until the end of the world.”…He promised never to leave me alone. At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”

What do you relate to in King’s story? Long nights where sleep won’t come? Exhaustion? Doubt? Others looking to you for confident leadership?

My prayer for all of us this week is that we will also come to connect with the divine element in King’s story. To remember Jesus’ words to his disciples, the promise we inherit: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). 

In the silence of your own dark night, may you hear God speaking those words to you, too.

Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image. Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression. Help us, like your servant Martin Luther King, Jr., to work for justice among people and nations, to the glory of your holy name, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Pastor Kate

Jan. 13, 2021

Rev. Katherine Museus Dabay serves as university pastor at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University and takes turns writing weekly devotions with University Pastor James A. Wetzstein.