Strength to Love Our Neighbor

January 17, 2011

Forty-eight years ago Martin Luther King Jr. published a collection of sermons entitledStrength to Love.

In this small volume Dr. King explored how inequality across society results in structural injustice, a theme that would pervade his ministry. In winsome but powerful language, King challenges Christians to connect their faith to action, resulting in just systems for all people. These sermons are as relevant today as they were when they were first preached. King writes:

“We are everlasting debtors to known and unknown men and women…. When we arise in the morning, we go into the bathroom where we reach for a sponge provided for us by a Pacific Islander. We reach for soap that is created for us by a Frenchman. The towel is provided by a Turk. Then at the table we drink coffee, which is provided for us by a South American, or tea by a Chinese, or cocoa by a West African. Before we leave for our jobs, we are beholden to more than half the world.”

In 1963 the worldglobalizationwas used only by a handful of social scientists in elite universities. Today, the term has become a household word for both the rich in the Global North and poor in the Global South. Our world is exponentially more connected because of exponential shifts in commerce, transportation and media.

Despite advances, many of the developing world’s growers and producers don’t receive a fair price for the products that we so readily consume. Isolated rural communities lack access to markets and or the ability to market finished goods, resulting in farmers selling premium crops below the cost of production to middlemen who misrepresent global prices. When we consume unjustly, we play a part in their oppression. The prophet Isaiah rebuked Israel for fasting and praying, all the while oppressing their workers. Isaiah reminds Israel that God won’t hear their prayers while they oppress those around them (Isaiah 58). Just stewardship of resources and fair treatment of the poor are extensions of our worship and our relationship to God.

Today, there are more opportunities, than ever, to express God’s love in a world in which “distance no longer determines who is your neighbor.” King got it right – we’re “beholden to more than half of the world” even before we leave our homes. These connections create opportunities to serve and love one another in new ways.

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