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Controversial Love

LischerEd.’s Note: The following excerpt is from the sermon “The View from the Ditch,” preached Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011, by Richard Lischer, James T. and Alice Mead Cleland Professor of Preaching, at Duke University Chapel in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings. Lischer is the author of The Preacher King: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Word That Moved America.

In his day, King made a controversial proposal. On the basis of Jesus’ life, ministry, and death on a cross, he suggested that we try to love one another. It’s hard to imagine how the idea of love could be controversial, especially coming from a preacher.  But he made it very controversial because he took love out from under the canopy of the pulpit, where it’s the safe, expected word, and injected it into the realm of social conflict and public policy. He was forever speaking about love in all the “wrong” places: on highways, in pool halls, city halls, fire-bombed churches, even in Page Auditorium (in a university that for all practical purposes was still segregated). When he might have been talking about revenge or strategy, he spoke of reconciliation.  

… If you believe love belongs only in private relationships, like romance or friendship, King’s use of it is unsettling. We’re tempted to say that love has no place in a violent world like ours, forgetting that the love of God in Jesus crashed into the political process and submitted to its rough justice. Jesus got himself crucified in a world like ours. 

So if we find ourselves reaching up for a helping hand amidst the violence of this week, the “Samaritan option” is one to consider.

The story of the Good Samaritan is really two separate stories. Viewed from the road, it’s a story of encouragement to reach out to those who are lost and hurting, the way King did in Memphis, the way Jesus did throughout his ministry, the way we do in our better moments. 

But this same story, when viewed from the ditch, where all of us have been at one time or another, takes on a different character. It asks an even more profound question: Despite your own privileged education, your wealth, or your power—do you understand how God might be using someone or something you never imagined to teach you and make you new? 

Watch the sermon »

Watch “The Legacy of M.L. King Jr.,” an interview with Lischer and N.C. NAACP president William Barber II D’89 »