Wembley Downs Uniting Church
Best Ever Speeches (Karen Sloan) 31.8.2008
The ABC some months ago ran a competition to determine the best ever speeches. The speeches could come from any era and have been given either here or overseas. It is not surprising really that the one voted the greatest speech ever was delivered by Martin Luther King on the transformation of society. His `I have a dream` speech, was given on the centenary of Abraham Lincolns emancipation proclamation in 1963. When Philip Randolph, dean of the black American leaders, proposed a march on Washington for jobs and freedom 210,000 people gathered at the Washington memorial and marched to the Lincoln memorial. The high point of the day was the speech by Martin Luther King, the voice of black America.
Most people, however, only know one part of it, the part towards the end which gives the speech its title. Few would realise how radical the speech was, and how much it contains Christ`s message to us in a contemporary setting. I would like to read some excerpts which demonstrate this and I will finish with his voice. Firstly he opens by naming the injustice Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we`ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. He then calls for action now We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God`s children. He continues with a call for community and a non violent response But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvellous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. He finishes his speech with a hope that only comes with faith Tape Martin Luther King got the message of Jesus. A message based on love of others, community, forgiveness, justice and equity, non violence and the power of hope. A hope of transformation, both personal and societal, based on the knowledge that God is working in us, through us and often in spite of us. But he also saw the flip side, that the message may involve the loss of his life for the sake of it. In the reading today Peter just didn`t get it. Jesus is frustrated after all that has gone before, that Peter still thinks he will overcome with power, instead of love, and that there is no cost for his followers. There is great cost, for bringing the kingdom of God into the here and now, a central part of the message, entails going against the cultural norm, the status quo, and the established structures that maintain injustice in society. This is often a dangerous and threatening activity to those with the power, both then and now. However, no one said it was going to be easy, least of all Jesus. We are like Peter, sometimes the message is clear, sometimes not, and sometimes the message is too hard, the cost too high. In this Peter represents every Christian, caught between faith and doubt, understanding and confusion, obedience and disobedience. In his strengths and weaknesses he represents ordinary Christians who strive yet often fail to be loyal followers of Jesus in a consistent sustainable way. Yet there is grace in faith, because we are allowed to start again, we are allowed to reassess, we are allowed to make mistakes. Peter continued his up and down, near and far journey with Jesus because he experienced the possibility of renewal that also comes with faith. Yet we cannot deny the urgency of action. The reading from Matthew makes it clear that we will be judged not by our status or even by if we are `Christian` but by our performance in the world. From Jesus to Paul to Martin Luther King and to the many others who speak out, the message is the same. Christianity is more than just a personal faith. We have to decide how we are going to live our lives. We have choices to make about how we respond to others and what things are important to us. This applies regardless of our age, our stage in life and how powerful we think we are. As Paul points out, it entails living a life of `intention`, it doesn`t automatically come to us. We have decisions to make at every level, from how we greet our neighbour, to how and what work we choose to do, to being involved in community, public and global action. And some of those decisions are hard because they often come at a cost of our comfortable lives. But if we make those decisions we will find our true life, our fullness of life, regardless of the consequences. We have to let go of the life we have for the sake of the gospel to find a life in Christ. Words of Albert Schweitzer In every age there are examples of people who get what it all means. Martin Luther King was one of those people, living out his faith for others in the world. Let us also be people who get the message and with the help of God answer the call.
130 Calais Road, (crnr of Minibah Street)
Wembley Downs, Western Australia.
Phone 08 9245 2882
Ten kilometres northwest of Perth city centre,
set amongst the suburbs of City Beach, Churchlands, Scarborough, Wembley Downs and Woodlands