Reflecting on Strength to Love
By Liam Massey |Fourth Year student
My name is Liam Massey and I am currently a fourth-year student at Seattle Pacific University, (SPU). I had the privilege of being a part of an honorary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. chapel held on Tuesday, January 16th, entitled “Strength to Love”. It was held by University Ministries, (UMin) and was a powerful display of passion as well as remembrance that featured Black students, alumni, and faculty from across campus.
Being asked to be a part of this event was honestly surprising and exciting at the same time.
As a freshman in 2020-2021, the beginning of my college experience was a season of strict quarantine. The lack of contact during lockdown resulted in not knowing of resources and extra- curricular activities to participate in around campus. I only recently discovered a life of being involved in my university community outside of the classroom. Being a part of amazing work opportunities at the John Perkins Center and Urban Involvement and going on the immersive“Perkins Justice Pilgrimage” to The John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation in Jackson, Mississippi with a team of SPU community members allowed me to be introduced to UMin and to many of the wonderful people that I got to speak alongside at the MLK chapel.
As someone who is a believer in Jesus Christ, a biracial man who’s grown up in America and has a family heritage that involves the American Domestic Slave Trade, and as someone who has a deep passion for social issues, this chapel was the perfect environment for me to speak my heart, and really, the heart of Jesus. In preparation for the MLK chapel, there was a planning meeting where the other students who were participating were busy and I was the only student present amongst multiple professors and faculty members, but I let God work in me and speak through me to my brothers and sisters in Christ and struggle. The ideas that formulated in my head as well as my heart along with those of others, blended into the wonderful performance many got to witness.
We decided as a group to base our chapel around Dr. King’s sermon, “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart” which is a part of his book compilation of famous deliveries entitled Strength to Love. This challenging and uplifting piece is based on Jesus’ charge to His disciples in Matthew 10:16 to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves amongst the wolves of this world. We used this concept of how to be as tender as doves and as tough as serpents to enact social change in a way mapped out by our Savior as our theme. We also tied three other sermons of Dr. King’s to show three different avenues of accomplishing this “blending of opposites”, which were called “Antidotes for Fear”, “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence”, and “On Being a Good Neighbor”.
The part of chapel given to me was to share a reflection on being a good neighbor. Dr. King’s “On Being a Good Neighbor” applies the infamous Parable of the Good Samaritan out of Luke chapter 10 to the various social struggles we experience today and ties it into the idea of having a tough mind and tender heart. I not only got to witness the love and genius of Dr. King in how his sermons perfectly balance and play off each other, but also the unending wisdom and revelations of our mighty God. God’s Word perfectly builds off one teaching to the next, over thousands of years, and was made manifest in one Man, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, in order to show us the Jericho Road to a society and world truly made new, in redemption, peace, and grace.
Throughout my reflections I learned that to love like Jesus we need to be daring, or tough enough to risk our safety, comfortability and life to love those who are our fellow humans. I learned that we need to be tender enough to love past obligation, to love out of true neighborly, Samaritan-like compassion for one another. We need to truly lean on the burning love of the Lord to see people as fellow image bearers, not as different members separated into sectarian, ethnic, or doctrinal groups. God told me that we as a church body, with all our rampant division, cannot preach a Gospel of unity to those disparaged by the racial bigotry that Dr. King railed against, if we can’t unite as “perfectly one.” In His “High Priestly Prayer” recorded in John 17, Jesus prayed that we might be as His body. When we let go of our fears, preach a fierce message of unity, and practice being neighbors, not forced by law to coincide with one another, but who are willing to dive into the presence-filled lake of proximity to the hurting, broken, lost, and different, through humility and repentance, God will heal our land. When we surrender ourselves to His blood which was poured out for many, it washes over us and flows out to every nation, tribe, and tongue, drawing all in unity to Him.
I left the MLK chapel that Tuesday morning feeling empowered. This feeling was not purely because of the fact that I got on that stage and spoke to my campus community, and not only because I honored the legacy of Dr. King and my ancestors who prayed as well as fought for change for generations, but because I surrendered to Jesus and let Him speak His heart for this university, our community, our land, and our world, through me, a broken and sinful vessel who is hungry to see the hand of God move freely in our midst.
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