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Summary: Martin Luther King Birthday 1989: Solomon began with promise, but lost his identity and squandered his gifts. African-Americans and the church must recommit to solid teaching, to evangelizing, and to fighting the scourge of drugs, lest we waste a whole

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There is a kind of presumptuousness involved when a white preacher stands to offer any words on this the anniversary of the birthday of Martin Luther King. It is audacious indeed, as Janice Williams pointed out when she was teaching our foreign mission study on South Africa about a month ago, for white folks to presume to stand before a largely black audience and deal with sensitive matters like race relations and racial justice and black history. It is presumptuous and it is audacious, but I hope that when we are finished today you will also see that it is necessary.

It is necessary because, as Frederick Douglass Patterson said, "What we have in this country was not the contribution of any single race or group. This nation is truly the combined contribution of all of those who reside in it. …. We have a blended culture."

It is necessary, too, because as I work toward being the pastor of all of God’s people gathered in this place, I am learning how much we need to instruct each other, how much we need to share with one another, and how much we can learn from one another.

And most of all, then, it is necessary for me to be presumptuous and audacious this morning because as your pastor I will still stand on God’s word and speak not so much my opinion as God's truth, not so much my biases and even prejudices, but, as far as in me lies, God's word that cuts through bones and marrow, joint and sinew, judging all of us of all races, and yet also offering hope and salvation to all of us of all races.

I hope and trust, I say, that when we are done today you will not have heard the wanton ramblings of a sometime white liberal wistful for the sixties, but rather the considered judgments of a preacher of the word of the Living God. So let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, 0 Lord my strength and my redeemer.

Now last year we began something that I hope to be able to maintain for some while to come. We began to blend our observance of Martin Luther King Sunday or of Black History Month with a recognition of the contributions of some distinguished black Christian. Last year, if you will recall, Rev. Arnold and I did a dialogue message, in which he read portions of James Baldwin's works and I brought a Biblical message around some of those literary themes. It was occasioned, of course, by the death, not too many weeks before, of that noted and controversial author. Baldwin may not have felt like and looked like a Christian writer to a good many of us, and yet the truth is that he could never shake his Christian roots and his experiences as a child preacher. Baldwin may not have been a conventional Christian, but he was still in many ways gripped by the word of God, and we allowed him to illumine that word for us last year, following his decease.

This past April the world of higher education was saddened to learn of the death of another distinguished black Christian American. This one was far more conventional as a Christian believer than Baldwin, and a very different figure, a very different personality. But his contributions were magnificent and his wisdom was substantial. I am speaking of Frederick Douglass Patterson. Frederick Douglass Patterson was born in Washington in 1901, was raised in Texas and graduated from Prairie View, from Iowa State with a degree in veterinary medicine, and from Cornell University. Dr. Patterson taught first at Virginia State College, then went to Tuskegee Institute to teach veterinary medicine. In 1935 he became president of the school, which is now Tuskegee University, and a few years later, while still heading the school, he formed a consortium of historically black colleges desperately in need of financial resources and called it the United Negro College Fund. During the 45 years that the fund has been in operation, it has channeled more than 400 million dollars in assistance to 42 member institutions and has provided scholarship aid for around 50,000 students. Dr. Patterson’s long life ended in April of this year.


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