Friday, April 04, 2008

Remembering Dr King


Today is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jnr, and this is the last in a short series of posts that have sought to share something of his message, in places particularly timely for the situation we find ourselves in.

In meditating on his words these past days I’ve been acutely aware that often the words we read about and the descriptions of Dr King come from others. So today I share with you a quotation from “The Drum Major’s Instinct”; a sermon King preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia on the 4th February 1968, just two months before he was killed. Here we see how King understood himself, his faith, and his position as one seeking to see the kingdom of God - a kingdom of justice and love - established, strengthened and extended.

From “The Drum Major’s Instinct”,

Every now and then I guess we all think realistically (Yes, sir) about that day when we will be victimized with what is life's final common denominator—that something that we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don't think of it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself, "What is it that I would want said?" And I leave the word to you this morning.

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)

I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)

I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that's all I want to say.

If I can help somebody as I pass along,

If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,

If I can show somebody he's traveling wrong,

Then my living will not be in vain.

If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,

If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,

If I can spread the message as the master taught,

Then my living will not be in vain.

Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side, (Yes) not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Powerful preaching indeed.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jonathan for the posts. I am struck by the last paragraph. It seems that much of our desire for a position of closeness to Jesus stems from our basic need for comfort and assurance and possibly status within our church communities, rather than from a love of and desire to allign oneself with the transforming work of Jesus in the world. King's words resound with me because they were backed up by very pratical and consitent action. Bill F.

Jonathan said...

Bill, you're right that people wanting to truly align themselves to the transforming and re-forming ministry of Jesus in the world seem fairly rare in ChurchWorld. The life of someone like Dr King throws that into sharp relief.

I've been asked for further resources regarding the life and teaching of Dr King. I'd recommend looking online - there's stacks out there, and much of the archives is onlione now. If you like good old-fashioned books then maybe A Knock at Midnight which is a collection of sermons, and the Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jnr which is a compilation of his teaching, diaries and speeches edited together to make his biography in his own words. Both of these are edited by Claybourne Carson who's had great access to the King archives.