At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of the extremist. … But as I continue to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist in love – “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice – “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ – “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist – “here I stand; I can do none other so help me God.” Was not John Bunyan an extremist – “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist – “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist – “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.” So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice – or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?
– Martin Luther King Jr, “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” (1963)
God of honor and power, mercy and grace, we give You thanks for the witness of Martin Luther King, Jr., who worked all his life to bring true justice and love to our world. He reminded us that You know our hearts, O Creator, and You know our love of extremes. We have filled this world You love with extremes and extremism: Extremism in religion, extremism in the language we use to describe and categorize Your children, and extremism in political and social positions. Yet Dr. King reminds us that we are all extremists, that we all have passions and perspectives to defend and express. Help us to be aware of our extremisms, Lord, and fill our hearts with the right kinds of extremism.
Make us extremists for love, O God. Give us the capacity for the radical kind of love displayed by Your Son and his true followers. Make our hearts overflow with love for all of Your children, and equip us to work for those who most need to see and feel Your love.
- Renew our compassion for the refugees who risk their lives to cross the dangerous Mediterranean Sea in hope of a better life. As we hear news of another set of capsized boats off the coast of Libya that have left over 180 people dead or missing, may we push beyond the calluses of repetition and feel Your holy anger at the loss of these beloved mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters.
- Increase our dedication to bringing peace to war-torn places around the world. Inspire us to use our time, our talents, and our treasures to transform the lives of people who live in fear and insecurity every day. As we hear news of an error by the Nigerian Air Force that resulted in the deaths of 100 people in a refugee camp, may we be filled with resolve to work for real and meaningful change to the circumstances of Your suffering children.
- Rekindle our commitment to remembering the humanity and value of every life. As we hear news that the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 has been suspended may we pause to remember Your call to love the unloved, to remember the forgotten, and to serve the least and lost.
- Stir our hearts toward peace and reconciliation. As many churches around the world observe a week of Prayer for Christian Unity, may we seek ways to overcome cultural and theological barriers that prevent us from seeing the humanity of our neighbors. As we hear news of dozens of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers in the US and England, may we be strengthened in our commitment to fight prejudice of all kinds, so that all people might live in peace and safety.
Make us extremists for justice, O God. Give us eyes to see beyond our own comfort and our own commitments. Shatter our illusions that what we are accustomed to is what ought to be, and make us Your hands, feet, and voice in the world as we work, march, and speak out on behalf of the oppressed.
- Deepen our reliance on Your just and righteous rule for our lives. As the US faces the inauguration of a new president who has promised to turn his policies inward, and as the UK continues to feel the political and economic consequences of its Brexit decision, may we recall the fleeting and imperfect nature of the princes of this world, and may we put our trust in Your everlasting and righteous rule over our lives and our world.
- Focus our minds on the work for justice to which You call each of us. As news of scandal and corruption plague the leaders of this world in places like the US, South Korea, The Gambia, and Russia, may we commit ourselves fully to meaningful action in our own contexts.
- Give us patience and wisdom as we tackle the complicated and messy conflicts of our world. As the two-state solution in Israel-Palestine comes under increasing scrutiny and as skepticism increases, may we find the strength and tenacity to lean into difficult situations and resist the temptation to over-simplify. May we be extremists for peace as we work toward true reconciliation that can only come from You.
- Reawaken our dedication to justice for those who are marginalized. As we hear news of a school shooting/suicide in Monterrey, Mexico, by a 15-year-old student suffering from depression, may we commit ourselves anew to advocating for programs and funding to help those with mental illness.
Make us extremists for the good news of Your Son, O God. Remind us that this news is only good when we shed our extremism for hate and reject our extremism for the preservation of injustice. Make us Your messengers of extreme love and extreme justice in the world. Give us strength to support each other as we live Your call to action through prayer and protest, marching and meditation, and in aiding the distressed and oppressed. May our hearts, overflowing with the love You give us and committed to the justice You bring, shine Your light into all the world, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord.