"I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment I still have a dream." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today is the 49th anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech at the March on Washington. I was only 5 years old in 1963 but when I grew up I would read parts of his speech into the mirror hoping to have a little Martin Luther King, Jr. rub off on me. Below is an excerpt of a "sermon" I gave in 2007 - actually it is a love letter to one of the greatest men in history, one of my mentors who I never met.
Please forgive the informality of my salutation. I did not have the privilege of knowing you when you were alive. I was only 11 years old when you were killed. I lived in San Francisco, far away from the South where you were changing the course of history. Most people call you Dr. King today and as someone who people sometimes call Reverend, I understand the respect and dignity that is afforded such a title.
But you have become for me, and many others, someone who stands on the same sacred ground as Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi and Mohammed. Now I know of course you would bristle at such a suggestion, especially since Jesus and Gandhi were your mentors and inspiration, but your name, Martin, and your legacy stand in the prophetic Parthenon of history as deservedly as any person who has ever walked this earth.
Unfortunately there are other reasons to compare you with Jesus. You, like Jesus and so many other prophets, were killed because of your radical message. Your words, like those of Jesus, are selectively followed and misinterpreted by most of us. Too many people today pick and chose the words and the message you left us that best matches their political and religious beliefs.Some people tell us that if you lived today you would be an opponent to affirmative action and that you would swell in pride at the that so many of the dreams you challenged our country with on that hot August afternoon in Washington, DC over 43 years ago have been realized. Others, in their passionate and righteous concern for justice, have seemingly forgotten how important faith, nonviolence, and trust in a loving God were to creating a fair and just world. Your words about peace and love, forgiveness and service, poverty and the silence of those who prefer the status quo, are too challenging, too radical for most of us to heed.
Where would you stand on the issues of same gender marriage, the growing gap between the haves and the have nots, the role of religion in government, and global warming? How I wish you were here today to offer your prophetic voice to our struggles to live and do right. How I wish your example of non-violent protest and your unequivocal commitment to peace were on our television sets every night. How I wish your wisdom, your courage, your inspirational leadership and your words from the sixties could be translated for these fearful days of the early 21st century.
On a more personal note, I want to say thank you. Thank you for the life you lived and for the example you were for loving, forgiving, serving and giving one’s life to something bigger. Thank you for showing me a way to deepen my relationship and commitment to justice, goodness, to hope, to love, to God.
I would not be a minister if it were not for your words, your challenges, to live and to die for something that makes a difference today, tomorrow and forevermore. Your words inspire me to love more deeply, forgive more often, practice peace more widely, and to speak, and more importantly, act for justice for those who society has forgotten, more passionately than I am wont do.
I sometimes imagine that you are sitting on my shoulder when I step into my pulpit whispering affirmation and love into my ear. You tell me to speak the truth with love, you challenge me to reach deeper into my soul so that I can articulate, in my own words, a vision of justice, of peace, of forgiveness, of love that those who hear me can live more fully. Most days I fall far short of what I wish I could say, most days I fall short of the love, the forgiveness, the peace that your words have taught me can be true. On those days when I realize my failings and how far my reality is from your vision, I find comfort and hope in your words once again, and I remember that the fight for peace and justice is a long battle with setbacks each and every day.
On the day you gave the eulogy for one of our Unitarian Universalist martyrs, the Rev. James Reeb, who was killed in Selma, Alabama when he answered your call to march for civil rights, you invoked these words from Romeo & Juliet to describe his short life, And if he should die, Take his body, and cut it into little stars. He will make the face of heaven so fine That all the world will be in love with night.
I hope you know that the stars your life left behind have been lighting the sky and illuminating the darkness for millions each and every night since the day you died. You have made the face of heaven so fine that when I look at the “beautiful stars as they bedeck the heavens like swinging lanterns of eternity,” I find the comfort, inspiration and hope to live another day and to try again to make your dream come true.
We shall overcome. We shall be free. We shall live in peace. One day.
With thanks and love, Your faithful disciple and hopeful partner in peace, Don