Sermons from San Diego

The Kitchen Table: A Young Dr. King Prays for Courage

January 16, 2024 Mission Hills UCC - United Church of Christ Season 2 Episode 4
The Kitchen Table: A Young Dr. King Prays for Courage
Sermons from San Diego
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Sermons from San Diego
The Kitchen Table: A Young Dr. King Prays for Courage
Jan 16, 2024 Season 2 Episode 4
Mission Hills UCC - United Church of Christ

This sermon includes stories from Jonathan Eig's new biography King: A Life.  And references a famous line from the Prophet Amos.

If this sermon was meaningful to you, learn more about the rest of our church at You are invited to support the ministry of Mission Hills United Church of Christ with a one time or recurring contribution -

Show Notes Transcript

This sermon includes stories from Jonathan Eig's new biography King: A Life.  And references a famous line from the Prophet Amos.

If this sermon was meaningful to you, learn more about the rest of our church at You are invited to support the ministry of Mission Hills United Church of Christ with a one time or recurring contribution -

Sermons from Mission Hills UCC

San Diego, California


Rev. Dr. David Bahr


January 14, 2024


“The Kitchen Table”


Amos 5: 14-15, 21-24 – Common English Bible

Seek good and not evil,
         that you may live;
     and so the Lord, the God of heavenly forces,
         will be with you just as you have said.
 15 Hate evil, love good,
         and establish justice at the city gate.
 Perhaps the Lord God of heavenly forces
         will be gracious to what is left of Joseph.

 21 I hate, I reject your festivals;
     I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies.
 22 If you bring me your entirely burned offerings and gifts of food—
         I won’t be pleased;
     I won’t even look at your offerings of well-fed animals.
 23 Take away the noise of your songs;
         I won’t listen to the melody of your harps.
 24 But let justice roll down like waters,
         and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.


Michael King was born in the second-floor master bedroom of a lovely house on a beautiful street lined with elm and sycamore trees, an oasis in Atlanta where many Black middle-class families lived.[1]  The house was perched on a small hill, set back almost forty feet from the street with a covered porch wrapped around two sides and big windows through which sunlight beamed in the afternoon.  It was a house his parents shared with the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta – the associate pastor upstairs, the senior pastor downstairs, who is also the father in-law – an arrangement I would not find appealing!  


Michael’s childhood was absolutely idyllic in comparison to his father who was born the son of a sharecropper in a tiny shack – literally dirt poor.  His father’s early life was brutal and their survival a miracle.  Through all this, as a teenager, Michael’s father saw his potential in becoming a preacher, even though he could barely read or write or even speak clearly.  He walked without shoes to Atlanta where he met his future wife, Alberta, who made him the force he became.  Her father, A.D. Williams, was a prominent pastor, her husband his associate.  But M.L. King didn’t serve long as the associate.  His father-in-law died and suddenly he was the senior pastor of a large church with a good reputation that paid pretty well and he could provide a good life for his growing family.  


Yet, despite some relative privilege, Little Mike, as he was called, couldn’t be shielded from indignity.  He learned an early lesson at age 6 when suddenly the little white boy he played with every evening told him that his parents wouldn’t let them play together anymore.  Mike’s name was changed to Martin after his father had a powerful experience in front of the doors to the Wittenberg Church where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses.  


Martin Jr. was smart and at the end of his junior year in high school he tested to gain early admission to Morehouse College and because of that was afforded an opportunity to go north with other college students to work in Connecticut for the summer.  They were tobacco fields, but he experienced a whole other way to be a young black man in the world outside of the South.  


With both his father and grandfather as pastors, Martin may have been expected to become a pastor but he imagined other callings – like practicing law or a professor.  His parents were happy when he called home during his second summer in Connecticut to announce his intention to become a pastor.  But friends teased that maybe this was more a preemptive attempt to avoid getting in trouble with his parents for something that had happened than a call from God.  King described his calling not as miraculous or supernatural but that he recognized the central importance of the church in Black life and at age 18, he could imagine a career as a “rational” minister, one who dedicated his life to God and justice and new ideas, perhaps on a college campus.


These stories and many more are part of a new biography called King: A Life by Jonathan Eig.  I especially appreciated the stories that revealed his and his parents childhood and young-adulthood.  


Upon graduation from Morehouse, Martin made an unpopular choice in the eyes of his father.  He chose to go to a predominantly-white seminary in a small town in Pennsylvania – Crozer Theological Seminary – which embraced liberal ideas and accepted Darwin’s theory of evolution and prepared students to think with a modern mind.  Listen to this quote from one of his sermons in the 1950s.  “Science investigates; religion interprets.  Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values.  The two are not rivals.”[2]  Not necessarily what you might expect coming from a Baptist pulpit in Alabama.


That pulpit was Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, a small church two blocks from the Alabama State Capital with a highly educated congregation.  His father wanted him back in Atlanta, but he reluctantly accepted his son’s desire to go out on his own, so he pulled some strings in Montgomery in a church he thought would appreciate his son as a pastor-scholar, a place that would appreciate his frequent references to philosophers as often as biblical texts.  


But a year into his pastorate, things changed drastically.  The young preacher with a PhD fresh from Boston University went to a meeting of ministers that was prompted by Rosa Parks refusal to give up her seat for a white man.  The ministers were considering organizing a bus boycott, but who would lead the group?  No one wanted to take charge – at least out front.  And then they pointed to the new 27-year-old pastor in town with less to lose.  It was a huge responsibility to thrust upon anyone, but he picked up the mantle, never imagining their boycott would drag out for over a year or that many people would want to call it off to get back to normal even if normal was wrong.  And never knowing the full extent of vitriolic opposition from white residents in Montgomery.


Martin Luther King, Jr., grew up in a house perched on a small hill with a covered porch and big windows through which sunlight beamed in the afternoon.  He attended the prestigious Morehouse College where he studied with the best professors and the brightest students.  He spent summers away from the soul-crushing oppression of Jim Crow South.  He went to an intellectually challenging seminary, earned a PhD in Boston, and envisioned ministry surrounded by books and stimulating conversations.  He never expected the life of a prophet.  


Neither did Amos envision his life as a prophet.  He also grew up in relative privilege, perhaps a shepherd within a royal household or maybe the owner of flocks and groves – it’s not quite clear.[3]  He was obviously educated during a time when few people were literate.  He lived in the southern part of the divided kingdom and traveled north to the great marketplaces of flocks and wool.  While he was there, Amos observed the moral excesses of the people and the influence on paganism on their shared religious practices.  Reluctantly, he felt compelled to warn the people of impending disaster.  He was a prophet for only a few months before being kicked out, but surprisingly his writings survived.  


It was this prophecy of Amos and other biblical prophets that impacted Martin Luther King Jr’s view of the role of religion in society.  Amos claimed God hated religious rituals that were disconnected from doing good, seeking life.  Amos wrote, “Hate evil, love good, and establish justice at the city gate.”  “Take away the noise of your songs but instead let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  Words that Dr. King quoted often.


The phone rang a lot at the King family residence, the church parsonage.  Between organizers calling about a meeting or opponents calling to harass, without caller ID or answering machines, you picked up the phone.  And so it was one night around midnight, after a long night of meetings, Dr. King answered the phone.  It was another racist spewing hatred, but this one was different.  It was a threat to bomb his house and kill his family if he didn’t leave Montgomery.  He said, “I sat at the kitchen table with my cup of coffee and was ready to quit.  How could I step aside without appearing to be a coward?”  With all courage gone, he decided to pray.


Now, Pastor King was a man of faith but he was more likely to wrestle intellectually with questions of faith rather than turn to prayer.  This is not to disparage him or suggest he wasn’t a prayerful man, but it simply wouldn’t have been his first impulse and shows how desperate he felt.  “I’m afraid.  I have no more strength and courage.  I’m at the end of my powers.  I have nothing left.”  Have you ever gotten to that point?  He said, “I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”  What do we do?  We may believe in God, we may pray in church and take our faith seriously, but while some people feel very comfortable turning to God in prayer and can speak about it confidently, for many people, like Dr. King, it would take a lot to conclude:  “all I can do is pray.”  


For this man of rational faith, it was a real turning point that he felt so discouraged that he would turn to prayer.  Something I think some of us can relate to.  And for us to be encouraged by, because that’s the moment he heard an answer to his desperate plea – the voice of God, an inner voice, saying:  “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and I will be at your side forever.”  He said, “Almost at once my fears began to go, my uncertainty disappeared, and I was ready to face anything.”  Not that he didn’t have any fears ever again, not that he wasn’t repeatedly uncertain over the course of the years to come, and not that he was always ready and willing to face anything, but he had been reassured, when you stand up for justice, when you stand up for truth, God will be at your side forever because that is what God desires over any kind of outward displays of religion.  Take away the noise of your songs and stand for justice.


But it didn’t take away the danger.  A few days later his home was indeed bombed.  Fortunately, providentially, no one was home at the time.  


When we’re sitting at our own kitchen table, when our resolve is almost gone and our way is unclear, when we are afraid and feel alone and ready to give up, you can turn to God in prayer too.  God will be there.   


[1] This description and those to follow are based on stories in Jonathan Eig’s new biography King: A Life, 2023
[2]A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,” 1959, preached at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church

[3] Richard R. Losch, All the People in the Bible, Eerdmans, 2008