by Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
For many church leaders, in the past and present, we have been called to speak out for God’s ways of righteousness and justice, and sometimes we have to speak out against the very institutions that have nurtured us in our call. We have had to overcome the voices of fear inside us or the voices of doubt outside of us that tell us we haven’t heard God’s call and we should go lie back down. It’s not an easy call to follow. As we honor and remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this month we remember King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, in which he writes to some of the very clergy who have supported him but have also tried to stop him, in an attempt to avoid conflict. Prophets are called to speak to conflict, to address it and not run from it, to speak and act out despite their fears and the fears of others. Dr. King certainly did this in his life and ministry. While one can argue for or against calling Dr. King a prophet, it is clear the Dr. King lived his life as many of our Biblical prophets did, speaking and acting out for God’s ways of justice and righteousness. I call him a prophet.
As we honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this month, the Call of the Prophet Samuel is an appropriate reading for today. In reading Samuel’s story, we can find the story of all prophets who have been called to speak out for God’s ways of justice and righteousness. We find the story of many who have heard the call of God but have had that call questioned by others (in this story, Eli questions the call, but not God, and when Eli is certain it is God calling Samuel, he encourages Samuel to listen to God). God calls Samuel to do something that is not easy: to speak out against Eli’s own sons, that they can’t skate by doing whatever they want to by offering sacrifices afterwards, that they can’t get off because their father is a priest. Samuel has to stand up to the family of the very person who has taken him in and cared for him, the very person who has instructed him how to listen to God’s ways. It is not easy to follow the call of the prophet.