Thank you for that kind introduction.
I want to thank everyone for coming here this morning for today’s tribute to the life and legacy of Dr. King.
Today I’d like to talk to you about how this great and good man viewed the calling of our nation and its people.
For Dr. King, the central question facing every American was…
Are we just another country, pursuing business as usual, or are we a truly unique nation -- called to be a shining example for the world?
Long before America became a nation, as early as the 1600s, John Winthrop of Massachusetts, echoing the famed words of the Sermon on the Mount, answered that question as follows:
“[W]e shall be a city upon a hill; the eyes of all people are upon us.”
For Winthrop’s generation, this land was the New World, a place of new beginnings, a place that was going to be different from any other.
But the heartbreaking truth is that even then, the Old World, the world as it had always been, had already made its way to these shores.
For when Winthrop spoke those words, fellow human beings were being kidnapped in West Africa, shipped across the Atlantic, and enslaved in the New World.
Simply stated, Dr. King saw -- with complete clarity -- how that great vision was seriously compromised from the beginning.
But as Dr. King observed, that was not the end of the story.
Over a century later, the vision rose again with the signing of the Declaration of Independence and its insistence that every human being on the face of the earth was created equal, and endowed with basic rights that no person or government had the authority to deny.
It rose yet again nearly a century later, with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.
And yet, when King’s ministry began, African Americans were still being denied their dignity and their fundamental rights as citizens of this nation.
Faced with this undeniable fact, King’s mission was clear:
Secure their rights and affirm their dignity by calling on America to recall its great vision and embrace its noble purpose.
As King helped launch the civil rights movement and brought it to the citadels of segregation and bigotry, the words of John Winthrop were fulfilled:
The eyes of people everywhere were upon America.
As a great struggle ensued, the world watched -- and held its breath.
When the dust had settled, the New World had won, and Jim Crow was no more.
The legal edifice of racial inequality was destroyed.
And yet, the struggle was far from over.
For the New World was not just about having our laws changed – it also was about having our hearts transformed.
Just as America as a nation faced a struggle between the Old and New World, between business as usual and a better, brighter way, so, too, do we face that same struggle in our own lives.
What we need is a personal vision that is just as powerful, just as compelling, as our national vision.
Once again, John Winthrop said it best and I quote:
“We must delight in each other, [we must] make others’ conditions our own…[we] must rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together….as members of the same body.”
Dr. King referred to this inner struggle in Biblical terms – as a struggle between the new self and the old self.
He called on people like ourselves to embrace a new altruism based on agape – on unconditional, unshakable love leading to compassion, reconciliation, and service to others.
And that is exactly why, each year at this time, we seek to honor Dr. King’s life and legacy with a call to every American to serve those in need.
With laws changed, hearts transformed, and lives dedicated to others, we can build together that “city upon a hill” which Dr. King called the beloved community.
So let us heed this great call.
Let us rise up together, and step by step, day by day, fulfill the vision of Dr. King, and the vision of America.
Thank you and God bless you.