For some reason each year I feel things like this a little more. I actually do spend a good part of each MLK Day thinking about this man and his life and sacrifice. I love MLK because I can turn on the radio and catch a bit of one of his speeches and marvel at what an incredible speaker he was, what a teacher he was. I listened to my little bits today and I thought, "The world needs people who can teach the things that he had to teach." Of course in the course of a day like this I have to put up with a lot of King-related blither. I try to be charitable about it, people don't always express themselves in a way that corresponds with the core of their feelings. I mean, sometimes the expression -- silly, boring, cliched, trite, whatever -- falls short of a real feeling. And if there's one day when I'm disposed to think that it's this one. He has become a mythical figure in the lives of people who did know him, and I am uneasy with that too. All that goes to rest for me when I listen to his voice or read his words. It seems to me that everything you need to get from him is there. Which is great, he can still teach.
His papers are available via Stanford's web site, for reading only. Here's a link to a pdf of his last speech, the famous "mountaintop" speech, the one he made to the sanitation workers in Memphis the day before he was killed. Yes there is that famous, darkly prophetic and yet so spiritually exalted and fearless ending.
But if you read the whole thing it brings to mind that he was a thinker. That he didn't just have a gift to work up a crowd. I mean, he had that, he had presence that meant so much to people when he merely showed up, but he was thinking, he was working, he was teaching.
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 tonight. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job?" Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?" The question is not, "If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" The question is, "If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them? That's the question.
He said, "Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness."