God bless America and God bless the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!

This past summer, my wife and I were blessed to visit Atlanta, Georgia. There are many great sights to see in that metropolitan city. It was our goal to see the sights referring to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We were blessed to go to his birth house where we heard stories of how he did not like to take his piano lessons. We visited his eternal flame and gravesite where he is buried. We met and talked with some of the historians in the new King Center, which is a part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site.

We also visited Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church that he and his father pastored. We spent time on Sweet Auburn Street and watched films on the movement at the old time firehouse. It was a life-changing experience. I could not help but think of how he was a light in a dark world.

The story is told of the Andrea Doria, which was one of the most elegant passenger liners in the world, the pride of the Italian Line. On July 25, 1956, with 1,134 passengers and crew of 572 on board, she was struck by the Swedish-American liner Stockholm off Nantucket Island, Mass. She sank the next day.

The Andrea Doria had left Genoa, Italy on her 51st voyage to New York. A dense fog enveloped the ship as she approached the Nantucket lightship. In her wheelhouse, Captain Piero Calamai maintained a speed of 22 knots.

The Stockholm, which had left New York that morning, was outbound at 18 knots. At 11:45 p.m., the vessels suddenly came into view of each other.

The Stockholm’s bow sliced the Andrea Doria’s starboard hull like a butter knife, tearing a gash 30 feet deep. The Italian liner dragged the smaller ship until the Stockholm, her bow sheared away, disengaged and slipped back into the fog. To avoid panic, Calamai refused to sound the alarm and intended to save the vessel by beaching her.

Throughout the night, the Andrea Doria listed closer and closer to the water. An SOS brought three ships, but they were too small to handle all the people attempting to escape the sinking liner. Another ship altered her Europe-bound course and raced through the night to answer the SOS.

The Andrea Doria’s passengers, beginning to feel themselves lost, cheered and wept when they saw the huge white letters of the liner, the Ile de France. On board the French liner, Captain Raouel de Beaudean commanded, “Turn on the lights, all the lights, let them know we’re here!”

The glow from the Ile de France, lowering her huge lifeboats as she came alongside the stricken Andrea Doria, was one of the most inspiring sights ever witnessed at sea. In one of the most dramatic ocean rescue operation ever, the Ile de France and the others saved all but 52 lives.

Dr. King was an amazing light for his time, but now it is time to turn on all the lights and for all of us to make our community better.

This week, we celebrate the birthday and the holiday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was born at noon, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 1929, at the family home in Atlanta, Georgia. It became his mission to make us look at life with all its imperfections.

No wonder Dr. King once said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” On another occasion he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Once he said, “Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.” Also, “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.” So he concluded by saying, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great of a burden to bear.”

Scattered around the coast of Iceland stand more than 100 lighthouses. Also ready to help hapless seafarers are the 53 rescue stations offering huts for shelter from storm, ice, and shrieking winds. Including among the equipment for rescue and first-aid in these stations are lifeboats, long ropes, heavy blankets, and nourishing foods.

Never knowing when the cry for help might be raised, rescuers stand ready to man the boats to lift water victims from the clutches of the sea. While preferring not to have to use the equipment at all, brave islanders quickly respond to need any hour of the day or night. Lights from Iceland’s lighthouses prevent many shipping accidents, as would be expected.

Yet those lights must not be permitted to stop for an instant. The worse the storm, the more light is needed.

So it is with the world. Scattered throughout the world, good people are to radiate the light of God’s love. It is both a privilege and heavy responsibility to “Let the lower lights be burning! Send the gleam across the wave!”

Shortly after the Second World War, a devastated city in England began its work of restoration. In the old city square had stood a large statue of Jesus Christ, with hand outspread in an attitude of invitation. On the pedestal was carved, “Come unto me.”

In restoring the statue, master artists and sculptors eventually reassembled the figure, except for the hands, of which no fragments could be discovered anywhere in the surrounding rubble. Someone suggested that the artist would have to fashion new hands. Later came a public protest, couched in the words, “No; leave Him without hands!” So, today in the public square of that English city, the restored statue of Christ stands without hands, and on its base are carved the words, “Christ has no hands but ours!”

Let me close by using a few more of Dr. King’s statements:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

God bless America and God bless the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!

Rev. Cummings is pastor of Bethlehem Temple in Wheeling, WV, and Shiloh Apostolic Faith Assembly in Weirton, WV.

COMMENTS