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The 3 Kings of Memphis

Recently we took a drive up to Memphis to hear our daughters college band play. Memphis is an interesting story with some historical sights related to the 2 kings of Memphis.

One is The King, he Elvis, which is an anagram for he lives. (Our friend in Wisconsin learned this with her personal plate HeLives, referring to Jesus, but whom many mistakenly thought she was referring to Elvis) I was watching a Cubs game when they interrupted the broadcast to inform us Elvis had passed away. Now I was no Elvis fan, but it was still interesting. I was waiting for them to say, “now back to the ballgame”. Elvis has some amazing gospel music he recorded that is really pretty moving. Of course he’s much more known for introducing sex drugs and rock and roll to the musical world. Had he followed Mahalia Jackson’s resolve to not sign a hefty contract to make secular music, he might still be alive.

Our drive around Memphis revealed markers of Elvis’ musical roots in that city. In fact, right across the street of the studio where Elvis got his start sits a gas station that we unloaded some of our snacks for the drive home on some homeless people. Interesting contrast to me.

The other king of Memphis was not from Memphis. But it was in the same city that Martin Luther King Jr. went to a church on April 3, 1968 to make a speech on behalf of the striking sanitation workers of Memphis.

He often spoke for justice.  Until the last few years I mistakenly thought justice referred only to what happened in the court room.  Recently I’ve heard the term referred to in terms of education, hiring, police brutality, housing, health care and even the environment.  (Environmental justice I scoffed?  Well when the allegations are made that poor people live in the most air polluted parts of Baton Rouge and are most susceptible to air born carcinogens, maybe it has some merit.)  The Bible, Dr. King was very aware, spoke often of justice.  Dr. King had ‘popularized’ Amos 5:24 at the March on Washington “I have a dream” speech.

During his speech on April 3rd, he made a very straightforward application of the Good Samaritan parable:

And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

That’s the question before you tonight. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.”

After telling an interesting story about being stabbed and nearly killed by an insane story Dr. King spoke of the more recent threats against his life.  Undaunted he spoke these words, among his most memorable:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

If you drive around Memphis there are reminders of Dr. King.  He was murdered the day after making his speech.  There’s a Civil Rights museum at the motel where the killing took place.  We didn’t see the church where he made the speech, but I’d imagine there’s a plaque there remembering what happened there.  He wasn’t afraid of what would happen to him if he spoke up.  He was afraid of what would happen to others if he didn’t speak up. 

How could he do this?  It’s because of the 3rd King, Jesus Christ.  He’s Dr. King’s King.  Was He Elvis’ King?  All will bow before Him we’re told.  We will be called to take account of what we’ve done with our lives.  Taking risk for neighbors is not easy.  It cost Dr. King his life.  Yet that is the expectation for us who know Jesus Christ, “Love your neighbor as yourself”.  What neighbor needs you?

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