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Above all I see the preaching ministry as a [dual] process. On the one hand I must attempt to change the soul of individuals so that their societies may be changed. On the other I must attempt to change the societies so that the individual soul will have a change. Therefore, I must be concerned about unemployment, [slums], and economic insecurity. I am a profound advocator of the socal gospel.

It is quite easy for me to think of a God of love mainly because I grew up in a family where love was central and where lovely relationships were ever present. It is quite easy for me to think of the universe as basically friendly mainly because of my uplifting hereditary and environmental circumstances. It is quite easy for me to lean more toward optimism than pessimism about human nature mainly because of my childhood experiences.

That's the attitude, isn't it? It's all right to disobey the Ten Commandments, but just don't disobey the eleventh, "Thou shall not get caught." [laughter] That's the attitude. That's the prevailing attitude in our culture. (Come on) No matter what you do, just do it with a bit of finesse. (All right) You know, a sort of attitude of the survival of the slickest. Not the Darwinian survival of the fittest, but the survival of the slickest—whoever can be the slickest is the one who right. It's all right to lie, but lie with dignity. [laughter] It's all right to steal and to rob and extort, but do it with a bit of finesse. (Yes) It's even all right to hate, but just dress your hate up in the garments of love and make it appear that you are loving when you are actually hating.

My friends, that attitude is destroying the soul of our culture. (You're right there) It's destroying our nation. (Oh yes) The thing that we need in the world today is a group of men and women who will stand up for right and to be opposed to wrong, wherever it is.

In a very profound passage which has been often misunderstood, Jesus utters this: He says, “Think not that I am come to bring peace. I come not to bring peace but a sword.” Certainly, He is not saying that He comes not to bring peace in the higher sense. What He is saying is: “I come not to bring this peace of escapism, this peace that fails to confront the real issues of life, the peace that makes for stagnant complacency.” Then He says, “I come to bring a sword” not a physical sword. Whenever I come, a conflict is precipitated between the old and the new, between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. I come to declare war over injustice. I come to declare war on evil. Peace is not merely the absence of some negative force–war, tension, confusion, but it is the presence of some positive force–justice, goodwill, the power of the kingdom of God.

"Early on a sleepless morning in January, 1956," King said, "rationality left me." Then, "almost out of nowhere I heard a voice that morning saying to me: "Preach the Gospel, stand up for the truth, stand up for righteousness." King went on, "Since that morning I can stand up without fear. So I'm not afraid of anybody this morning."

And that’s what our religion says to us–that Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of Easter. (Yeah) It says to us that somehow nagging tares may come in to stand in the way of stately wheat but one day the tares must pass away and the wheat will grow on... That’s what Easter says to us (Yeah), that the forces of darkness, the forces of evil, the forces of justice must finally come to the light and must finally come to the forefront. And the forces of darkness and evil must finally pass away.

And so I’m going away this morning, I don’t know about you, but I’m going away determined that wherever He leads me, I will follow. I will follow Him to the garden. I will follow Him to the cross if He wants me to go there. I will follow Him to the dark valleys of death if He wants me to go there. Not my will, but Thy will be done. And when you can cry that, you stand up amid life with an exuberant joy. And you know that God walks with you. Even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you know that God is there.

And one of the prayers that I pray to God everyday is: “O God, help me to see myself in my true perspective. Help me, O God, to see that I’m just a symbol of a movement. Help me to see that I’m the victim of what the Germans call a Zeitgeist and that something was getting ready to happen in history; history was ready for it. And that a boycott would have taken place in Montgomery, Alabama, if I had never come to Alabama. Help me to realize that I’m where I am because of the forces of history and because of the fifty thousand Negroes of Alabama who will never get their names in the papers and in the headline. O God, help me to see that where I stand today, I stand because others helped me to stand there and because the forces of history projected me there. And this moment would have come in history even if M. L. King had never been born.”

So often we come to those points when it gets dark. It seems that the light of life is out. The sunlight of day moves out of our being and out the rest of our faith. We get disillusioned and confused and give up in despair. But if we will only look around we will discover that God has another light. And when we discover that, we need never walk in darkness.

My personal trials have also taught me the value of unmerited suffering. As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways that I could respond to my situation: either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course. Recognizing the necessity for suffering I have tried to make of it a virtue. If only to save myself from bitterness, I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself and heal the people involved in the tragic situation which now obtains. I have lived these last few years with the conviction that unearned suffering is redemptive.

If the Church and Synagogue will free themselves from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering their great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, they will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth and justice.

—"A Challenge to the Churches and Synagogues," 17 January 1963

All three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother." In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

Faith in the dawn arises from the faith that God is good and just. When one believes this, he knows that the contradictions of life are neither final nor ultimate. He can walk through the dark night with the radiant conviction that all things work together for good for those that love God. Even the most starless midnight may herald the dawn of some great fulfillment.

And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?" That's the question before you tonight.


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