It is Wednesday, April 3, 1968. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr is in Memphis, Tennessee to participate in the Memphis sanitation workers strike. He is scheduled to speak at Bishop Charles Mason Temple. King is exhausted, and fighting a sore throat and fever. Initially he decides not to give his speech, but then reconsiders and arrives to a standing ovation.
King's words are powerful. At one point he proclaims:
Well, I don't know what will happen now; we've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life—longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I'm happy tonight; I'm not worried about anything; I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
It is a powerful moment of oratory and emotional crescendo as Dr. King finishes his message. The crowd erupts. He sits down. The next day he would be assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. I would encourage you to take a look at this clip.
Yes, King's words are powerful and prophetic -- both for his own life and for ours. This, his last speech, is my personal favorite. It demonstrates so many things: the power of vision and perseverance, a life--not perfect--but well stewarded for God, holy boldness, and the impact of simple words in the mouth of an impassioned leader and skilled orator.
As I think of this leader and this speech, I remember the words of Paul on the importance of government, showing honor, and demonstrating love:
Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:7-10 ESV
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr Day in the United States. It is a day to "pay honor" to Dr. King by remembering his legacy and demonstrating love through acts of service. I also think it is a day to remember the motivating power of seeing the glory of the Lord and the strength that comes from doing His will . . . until we all get to the true Promised Land!
To commemorate MLK Day, here a few other words from this amazing leader:
- "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'"
- "Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.'"
- “Racism is a philosophy based on a contempt for life. It is the arrogant assertion that one race is the center of value and object of devotion, before which other races must kneel in submission."
- “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Biographical notes from "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And The Global Freedom Struggle," www.stanford.edu. Accessed on January 20, 2014.
Excerpt from "I've Been To The Mountain Top" from King, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” in ACall to Conscience, eds. Carson and Shepard, 2001, p. 222-23.