MLK Jr. Day: Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! May we not only celebrate the man, but seek to share and live out his dreams in greater ways in 2009, trusting that his dreams find their ultimate fulfillment in the gospel. Racism and racial segregation result from sin entering into the world. When humanity chose to turn our backs on God, we were not only estranged from him but from one another as well. That’s why animosity exists in the world. That’s why soon after humanity rejected God, Cain killed his brother Abel and asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9).

In the 1960s, Ian Ferguson wrote a little-known hymn and titled it with the same question: “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” I encourage you to read and meditate on the lyrics:

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” the muttered cry was drowned
by Abel’s life-blood shouting in silence from the ground.
For no man is an island, divided from the main;
the bell which tolled for Abel tolled equally for Cain.

The ruler called for water, and thought his hands were clean,
Christ counted less than order, the man than the machine.
The crowd cried, “Crucify him!” their malice wouldn’t budge,
so Pilate called for water, and history’s his judge.

As long as people hungry, as long as people thirst,
and ignorance and illness and warfare do their worst,
as long as there’s injustice in any of God’s lands,
I am my brother’s keeper; I dare not wash my hands.

The good news of the gospel and the final solution to racism are one and the same. God sent his Son into the world to be become a human being like one of us, a Jew who experienced the worst of animosity at the hands of guilty sinners through his death on the cross. What’s more, on behalf of such sinners he experienced the just animosity of God on that cross so that we could be reconciled to him and one another by faith in him.

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2 Responses to MLK Jr. Day: Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

  1. Martin says:

    We used to sing that at my high school back in the 1970s. Usually around Easter. I resonated with me because I grew up in an extended family of trade unionists and anit vietnam war protesters.

    Happy birthday MLK!

  2. Susan S says:

    Has the hymn “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” been copyrighted with any publisher? Does it have a copyrighted tune associated with it? We are tracking down a possible connection between this text and a tune written by a writer in our church.

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