A Knock at Midnight is the title of a sermon Martin Luther King Jr. preached in 1967 on Jesus’ parable of a man who knocks on his neighbor’s door at midnight asking for bread to serve guests in their home (Luke 11:1-13). The parable offers important instruction about persistence and prayer. Additionally, for King, this parable serves as a clarion call for the church to respond to the midnight terrors of injustice impacting people around the world, and to answer those knocking at our door who hunger for the “bread of faith, hope and love.”
Both Jesus’ and King’s words are prophetic for today because they remind us there is a divine will for the order of our world. A will that Jesus teaches his disciples after they ask him how to pray and he responds:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
Christians all over the world would do well to heed the words in this prayer which we profess weekly in our houses of worship. This prayer is not merely instruction on how to get our individual needs met, this prayer speaks of God’s larger desire for the earth to reflect the realities and values of heaven. Values to end hunger and forgive debts. Values ultimately leading to our deliverance from evil.
This desire is for us to know a place where, in the words of the Staples Sisters, “ain’t nobody crying, ain’t nobody worried, ain’t no smiling facing lying to the races.” And God surely desires to take us there, but there remain principalities, powers and people, spiritual wickedness in heavenly and earthly places, interfering with God’s will to return near to earth a beloved community built on the foundation of justice and love.
On this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, it is important to tell the truth about those who do not wish to see King’s vision for a “world house” that calls us away from rampant individualism toward neighborliness and “an all-embracing and unconditional love” for all humankind.
Sixty years after King’s Birmingham letter, moderate politicians, whom King described as more dangerous than the Klan, are holding hostage an economic recovery bill aimed at giving much-needed debt forgiveness and child care support for working and low-wealth families.
Each year, 38 million Americans and 12 million children are stricken with hunger and kept from receiving their daily bread. Moreover, there persists a concerted effort by members of both political parties to allow the vestiges of Jim Crow to decide the fate of our democracy via a racist Senate filibuster, thus leaving voting rights unprotected.
There are those who would spend their weekend eating at a King Day breakfast and marching in a King Day parade yet would attempt to neuter the radical, revolutionary nature of King’s message for political gain and at the same time weaponize his words to be used as bullets aimed against the people he desired we save.
“It is undeniable that we are in the midnight hour of the political, social and spiritual conscience of our nation.”
It is undeniable that we are in the midnight hour of the political, social and spiritual conscience of our nation.
However, God is our friend who is knocking on the nation’s door beckoning us to enter. God is knocking and calling us to love our neighbors as ourselves. God is knocking to announce the coming of God’s kingdom which is just beyond the threshold. God is knocking because a new world awaits where no one lacks, where no one is made to feel the hunger pangs of neglect.
Likewise, God is knocking on the doors of the church, reminding us to heed our prophetic and radical responsibility. Even though we might find the doors of justice shuttered and locked from within, people of God must keep on knocking — knocking with our hands, our feet, and our vote — as our act of persistence and prayer.
If we wish to properly honor Martin Luther King’s legacy, then we must knock until “justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” We must knock until that day when all is delivered from evil, the doors of justice are opened, and all God’s people are given what they need.
Darrell R. Hamilton II serves as executive minister for operations and resource development at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City. Previously, he served as pastor for formation and outreach at First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, Mass. He is an ordained Baptist minister and graduate of Wake Forest School of Divinity.
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