When I was in seminary, another student and I were fortunate enough to have a weekly preaching tutorial with the late Jim McClendon. Each week one of us would prepare a sermon to present to Jim and each other. I remember a lot about those weekly meetings, but what might stand out the most is the time Jim said, “When you prepare a sermon, imagine that Martin Luther King, Jr. will be sitting in the congregation that hears that sermon. Will your words make sense to a life like that?”
I think what Jim was trying to say to us is this: Many sermons are true whether or not God exists. That is, they are good advice from which any life would benefit. But disciples like Martin Luther King don't need good advice. They need Good News. They need a message that only makes sense if God exists as god is revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Disciples like Martin Luther King need a message that will keep them loving their enemies and fill them with hope in spite of the continual setbacks and the relentless hatred of others.
The voice from the empty tomb on Easter morning commanded the women to go and tell the disciples and Peter that Christ is risen. Whether you are a preacher or not, Easter is a season to go and tell others the Good News that the abundant life revealed in Jesus can't be snuffed out. The Easter message is that God has raised this life from the dead, never to die again, and we can embody it in our own lives. As we share this Good News, we need to ask ourselves: Would our message speak to the likes of Martin Luther King, or are we just offering good advice? Would our message speak to someone who believes that non-violent resistance to evil is the only way to really change the world? Would our message sustain someone who faces the wrath of political and religious leaders? Would our message give hope to someone whose wife and children live in constant danger because of what he was doing and saying?
If our message would speak to such a life, then this message just might change the lives of the listener. If we are indeed sharing Good News, we shouldn't be surprised if those who receive it begin living with the kind of conviction and fearlessness of Martin Luther King. Such a message would truly be the word that goes goes out and doesn't return empty but accomplishes God's purpose (cf. Isaiah 55:11).