The Pulpit Power of Martin Luther King Jr.

Selections from his sermons.

 

Although Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been off the stage and away from the pulpit for more than three decades, his sermons are just as topical and timely today, Mervyn A. Warren writes in his book "King Came Preaching." Here is how King addressed several common themes and subject matters, according to Warren's research:

"On Being a Good Neighbor"
(The theme of brotherhood/sisterhood)

"The real tragedy--is that we see people as entities or merely as things. Too seldom do we see people in their true humanness. A spiritual myopia limits our vision to external accidents. We see men as Jews or Gentiles, Catholics or Protestants, Chinese or American, Negroes or whites. We fail to think of them as fellow human beings made from the same basic stuff as we, molded in the same divine image. The priest and the Levite saw only a bleeding body, not a human being like themselves. But the Good Samaritan will always remind us to remove the cataracts of provincialism from our spiritual eyes and see men as men."

"The Death of Evil Upon the Seashore"
(On the theme of God)

"We must be reminded anew that God is at work in his universe. He is not outside the world looking on with a sort of cold indifference. Here on all the roads of life, he is striving in our striving. Like an ever-loving Father, he is working through history for the salvation of his children. As we struggle to defeat the forces of evil, the God of the universe struggles with us."

"A Knock at Midnight"

(On the church)



The church must be reminded once again that it is not to be the master or the servant of the state, but the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state--never its tool. As long as the church is a tool of the state it will be unable to provide even a modicum of bread for men at midnight."

"A Knock at Midnight"
(On the church's position about war)

"In the terrible midnight of war men have knocked on the door of the church to ask for the bread of peace, but the church has often disappointed them. What more pathetically reveals the irrelevancy of the church in present-day world affairs than its witness regarding war? In a world gone mad with arms buildup, chauvinistic passions and imperialistic exploitation, the church has either endorsed these activities or remained appallingly silent. ...A weary world, pleading desperately for peace, has often found the church morally sanctioning war."

"A Knock at Midnight"

(On the role of the black church)



"There are two types of Negro churches that have failed to provide the bread at midnight. One is a church that burns up with emotionalism and the other is a church that freezes up with classism. The former is a church that reduces worship to entertainment, and places more emphasis on volume than on content. It confuses spirituality with muscularity. The danger of this church is that its members will end up with more religion in their hands and feet than in their hearts and souls. So many people have gone by this type of church at midnight, and it had neither the vitality nor the relevant gospel to feed their hungry souls.

The other type of Negro church that leaves men unfed at midnight is a church that develops a class system within. It boasts of the fact that it is a dignified church, and most of its members are professional people. It takes pride in its exclusiveness. In this church the worship service is cold and meaningless. ...The tragedy of this type of church is that it fails to see that worship at its best is a social experience with people of all levels of life coming together to realize their oneness and unity under God."

"A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart"
(On the race problem)

"This text has a great deal of bearing on our struggle for racial justice. We as Negroes must combine tough-mindedness and tender-heartedness if we are to move creatively toward the goal of freedom and justice. There are those soft-minded individuals among us who feel that the only way to deal with oppression is to adjust to it. ...But this is not the way out. This soft-minded acquiescence is the way of the coward. My friends, we cannot win the respect of the white people of the South or the peoples of the world if we are willing to sell the future of our children for our personal and immediate safety and comfort. Moreover, we must learn that the passive acceptance of an unjust system is to cooperate with that system, and thereby become a participant in its evil. Noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good."

"Antidote for Fears"
(On the role of whites)

"If your white brothers are to master fear, they must depend not only on their commitment to Christian love but also on the Christ-like love which the Negro generates toward them. Only through our adherence to love and nonviolence will the fear in the white community be mitigated. A guilt-ridden white minority fears that if the Negro attains power, he will without restraint or pity act to revenge the accumulated injustices and brutality of the years. ...Many white men fear retaliation. The Negro must show them that they have nothing to fear, for the Negro forgives and is willing to forget the past."

"The Answer to a Perplexing Question"
(On overcoming a bad habit)

"What, then, is the way out? Not by our own efforts, and not by a purely external help from God. One cannot remove an evil habit by my resolution; nor can it be done by simply calling on God to do the job. It can be done only when a man lifts himself up until he can put his will into the hands of God's will as an instrument."

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