The Martin Luther King, Jr. Annual Commemorative Service
Monday, January 20, 2003 at 10:00 a.m.
Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia
Rev. Michael L. Pfleger, Pastor
Faith Community of Saint Sabina
1210 West 78th Place - Chicago, Illinois 60620
He's a God who is able. He's a God who is able.
I thank you Dexter for your kind introduction. I'm really just a kid from the South side of Chicago but my Daddy is King of Kings and He's Lord of Lords and He's Almighty. (applause)
First, I thank God who is Awesome and Almighty - who is Omnipotent and who is Sovereign.
I thank Him for giving us the dreamer and for giving us the dream.
I thank you Mrs. King and your family and I thank you for your friendship and for your sacrifice. I thank you for your selflessness to continue to impact this world with the principles of non-violence and for your desire to continue to call forth and raise up drum majors of justice. May God continue to be your strength and your source and your blessor.
I stand here today both humbled and honored. As Dr. Gardner Taylor said, “What a privilege almost too precious to be mentioned to declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Every time I stand to preach I'm shaken both by the possibility and the responsibility, but to stand before this sacred desk, in this Holy place, in honor of such a Holy Prophet - is indeed overwhelming.
But my desire is simply to try and be authentic first to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and second to his prophet Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - Beyond that, nothing else is important.
As we come to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., I wish first to challenge people across this world not to fall in the trap that I see increasingly taking place in our society.
For more and more I am concerned that America is relegating the life and legacy of Dr. King and his message and challenge, to a once a year celebration or a book on a shelf in history.
A book we pull out each January and become nostalgic with his words, and then put back on the shelf by the end of February and continue on with business as usual in America. (applause)
My brothers and sisters the worst injustice that we can do to Dr. King is to simply remember him and then go on with business as usual.
If indeed we want to honor Dr. King then like this family and the King Center, we must be willing to pick up his mantle and do what he did. We must also be careful to honor the real Dr. King. For too often the media and society have sanitized his message, they have compromised his challenge and the've redefined his mission.
He was first a man of God and he was faithful to God. (applause)
Indeed, Dr. King carried the olive branch of peace, but his message like Jesus was radical and sought to turn over the tables of injustice and uncover the lies of false propaganda and unmet and unkept promises.
Brothers and sisters we find ourselves in a world in 2003, yet in a MIDNIGHT HOUR and if the light is to break through, and smash the darkness, then we must be willing, like the man of the Gospel of Luke to be bold enough and radical enough to knock and keep knocking at the door of darkness until the door is either opened or until the door is taken down all together. Knock with truth, knock with determination and knock with a fully persuaded faith.
We are in a MIDNIGHT HOUR when it is no longer just the choice between chaos and community, but between life and death.
We are in a MIDNIGHT HOUR when it takes not only a whole village to raise a child, but sisters and brothers, we need a whole new village because this present village we call America is sick and it's suffering. (applause)
We must knock with the determination to re-direct this misguided world and build the beloved world house where righteousness does flow like a river and justice like a mighty stream.
It is a MIDNIGHT HOUR when we continue to spend more money on building our prisons than we do on educating our children (applause) and when yet in America today, the quality of education continues to depend on the color of your skin, the neighborhood that you live in and your status and class in society.
It’s a MIDNIGHT HOUR when gun manufacturers and distributors and the NRA under the disguise of rights to hunt, continue to market guns as part of America’s new wardrobe and continue to arm gangs and criminals out of back rooms and back allies of our cities, and then just like the tobacco and alcohol companies, seek like Pilate to wash their hands of the responsibility and accountability, of their death dealing, that causes hearses to drive down the streets of our neighborhoods carrying the bodies of our children and they say "We are not guilty".
Yes, it is a MIDNIGHT HOUR when we live in a society where in America’s present justice system you are better off being rich and guilty than poor and innocent. (applause)
It’s a MIDNIGHT HOUR when we continue to incarcerate a disproportionate number of people of color - locking them up - giving them records and then provide them with no means of re-entering society or starting over again.
It a MIDNIGHT HOUR when someone seeks to begin their life over, but instead of being met with a hand to help them up, they are met with a foot to hold them down, and they are continued to be held by their record for the rest of their life to hold them down.(applause)
And then when a Governor, in my home state of Illinois, declares he’s taking everyone off death row because he sees that our justice system is broke and he refuses to be a part of allowing even one more innocent person to be killed -When he does this - Churches are silent (applause) - the Christian Right condemns his actions and prosecutors and citizens attack him because they say "they must die in order for the healing of victims families to take place". What a sick nation and what a midnight hour when our nation is more interested in vengeance than justice! Thank you Governor Ryan for having the courage. The courage! The courage! (applause)
Brothers and sisters, it is a MIDNIGHT HOUR when we have relegated the term abortion only to what goes on in a womb and at a clinic but have failed to declare that whenever a life is not able to reach its God given potential and achieve the high calling and the purpose God has ordained it for before the foundations of the world. Whenever a life is not allowed to acheive its purpose it is abortion.
Thus we are practicing abortion not just in clinics, but in our homes, in our schools, in our communities, in corporate America, in churches, in board rooms and in work places all across this country. All abortion must be named and all abortion is immoral and evil. It's evil! (applause)
We are in a MIDNIGHT HOUR when America’s greatest addiction is not crack nor cocaine, its still racism!
We still live in a society that is full of double standards, stereotypes, half truths and down right lies.
• We still see difference as something to be feared rather than embraced.
• We still grow up under the assumption in this country that for one to climb up in status - someone else must be kept down.
• We still fail to understand that reconciliation is not duplication or domination.
• We still live in a society where African-American and Latino and Native American history is still an elective in our educational system. (applause) Where we learn world history and European history but we don't learn about the person next door and down the street and American history books have written it out and if they have put it in it's usually scripted in a paragraph of untruth.
• We still live where a person may now be able to go to any hotel, or any lunch counter or college, but still is not able to get the job or the just income to pay for the food, or the lodging or the tuition.
When we're sick we care not the color of the doctor. When we're old we care not the color of the caregiver. When we're in fire we care not the color of the driver who puts it out. But when we're well and healthy we seem to be sick and when we're sick we seem to be healthy. (applause)
It is a MIDNIGHT HOUR when rites of expectancy, entitlement, privilege, white supremacy and good old boys network still exist in politics and board rooms across this country and our children are still fighting battles that their parents thought they had already won.
And if that wasn’t enough, we presently have a President who has demonstrated by his actions since taking the oath of office to be anti Civil Rights and on January 15, Dr. King's birthdate, attacks Affirmative Action at the University of Michigan and sends (applause) and by his actions and his arrogance on such a date, sends a message loud and clear to remind us that Trent Lott is not the problem, nor the exception, rather he is symbolic and representative of thinking across this country and in this White House. Trent Lott’s problem is he just got caught. (applause)
Yes, we're living in a MIDNIGHT HOUR that is seeking to sweep us up in a flag waving, flag draping madness of false patriotism that is seeking to silence disagreement and dissent and bring about a collective amnesia of truth. (applause)
Brothers and sisters we may be living under a government that stole an election, but we must not allow it to steal our minds and our thinking. (applause)
Brothers and sisters we must wake up. We are being led and manipulated by a campaign of fear, to keep us untrusting and afraid, focused across an ocean, so that we might ignore the terrorism of homelessness, the terrorism of poverty, the terrorism of unemployment, the terrorism of unequal education and miseducation, the terrorism of lack of healthcare, and racial profiling and an AIDS epidemic that is killing brothers and sisters not just in Africa but right here in America. (applause)
And we must not be so bamboozled as to think we cannot catch Bin Laden - You see as long as he’s out there, it adds fuel to the campaign of fear. America needs a villain, a boogie man to point to, to fear, and to blame, so that we do not have to look in the mirror of self - reflection.
Have we as a nation been hurt and have not thousands of innocent people lost their lives in the atrocity of 9/11? My God yes!
But sisters and brothers pain and hurt does not give us the license to be immoral.
It does not give us the right to arrogantly tell countries who they can and cannot have as leaders, no matter what we think of them.
It does not give us the right to become world bullies that send out messages that we want leaders dead or alive and either you are with us or against us, and it does not license us or justify us to go down a path of violence and bombs that now we find ourselves obsessed in a war that makes no sense! (applause)
Brothers and sisters, peace can never come and will never come through the weapons of war or through the barrel of a gun. Oh making a war may be easier than making peace, but it is a band-aid solution to a cancerous sickness and if we continue in this path of violence and war, we shall reap its harvest - Birthing many more Osamas, filled with hatred and a vengeance to kill and destroy.
So my charge to all people who seek to honor this Prophet of God and this proclaimer of truth, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is to commit ourselves to do what he did. Live how he lived, confront what he confronted and struggle with what he struggled with.
We have had our seminars, we've had our task forces, our forums, our studies and our conferences, now we must bend our knees before God. (applause) The God who says "Peace I leave with you. Peace is my gift to you ". God who says "beat your swords into plowshares and study war no more.
We must bend our knees before a God who says, “If my people, who are called by my name, humble themselves and pray, seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14.)
We must bend our knees before a God who still cries out from heaven "blessed are the peacemakers" and who did not suggest but who commanded love, love one another, and then like Jesus and like Martin we must get up from our knees and stand. We must stand on our feet, and dress ourselves with the full armor of God and arm ourselves with God's truth and God's justice and decide like Dr. King not to simply fit in the world, but change it.
Not to simply climb the world’s ladder of success, but make sure that every man, woman and child has access to the ladder and an equal playing field.
If we want to honor Dr. King, we must stand, stand up and not just accept things as they are, but as they ought to be and as God called them to be before the beginning of the world.
We must decide each of us that we're not going to adjust to this world, but rather we have the faith, there's a treasure in these earthen vessels that allows us to have the faith and the perseverance and the determination, to adjust it to the kingdom of God.
We must stand up and take the blind fold off of Lady Justice, so that she can see the scales have been tipped, and justice has been denied to too many of God’s children. (applause)
And we then must decide in the synagogue, in the mosque and in the church, not to become the Theologians who rationalize the injustice, and to decide in the mosque, in the synagogue and in the church we're not going to sit and get our picture taken with Pharaoh, but we're going to decide to be the salt and the light that we were called to be, the vessels of change and the voices of consciousness that God called us out of darkness to be, the instruments of peace and the proclaimers of "Thus saith the Lord" to a nation and world that has let go of the hand of God.
You can't keep saying "God Bless America" when your hand has been pulled from the Creator and the Maker and the Sustainer. (applause)
We must take back our authority, we must regain our identity and we must stand up in integrity.
So, I charge us like Dr. King not to be willing to be passive or apathetic nor willing to continue to wait. (applause) For indeed the term wait has been a tranquilizer for business as usual and the cup of endurance indeed is running over in the lives of hurting people.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was an ordinary man who chose to serve God first and put flesh on the Gospel and thus changed the course of history, and so must we if we dare say we're followers of Dr. King. Brothers and sisters faith without works is still dead! It's still dead! It's still dead! (applause)
Many of us, perhaps in this room, have not been at Selma, or were not at Montgomery, or Memphis or the March on Washington, but by God's own destiny and hand, we're here now. And this is the day that the Lord has made. And this morning He requistioned an angel to wake you up and to wake me up to do something for His glory.
So, this is the time for our opportunity and the future of countless generations depends on our response.
So indeed let us build a highway of freedom that leads to a city of equality.
Let us be courageous enough to struggle for the best and willing to wrestle with the worst and let us refuse to settle for mediocrity.
Dr. King told us in his "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" that the greatest stumbling block he saw was not the White Citizen Council of extremists but the so-called people of good will, you know the folk that sit up in church, every week, and give by their silence lukewarm acceptance to evil.
Sisters and Brothers if we want to make Dr. King's birthday a new beginning then understand silence is no longer acceptable. The human family is dismembered. Our homes are divided. Our children is dying. And our country is sounding the trumpet of war. Silence is no longer acceptable.
Frederick Douglass said "Their can be no rain without lightning and thunder." So let us rise up in Dr. King's name, let us rise up in Jesus Christ name. Let us rise up and be the lightning bolt of truth and the thunder of righteousness that calls forth a rain, a rain of revival and rebirth and restoration and reconciliation in our land.
Dr. King said every human being deserves the best that Earth and society have to offer.
My prayer for myself and for us this morning is let us have the guts, let us have the courage, let us have the conviction, and let us have the boldness of faith to be God’s light and destroy this midnight hour once and for all, to demand peace, to expect justice and to offer love, to rise up and stand for truth.
Sometimes we might be crying but stand anyway. Sometimes we might be alone, but stand anyway. Sometimes the church might leave you, and the synangogue might leave you and the mosque might leave you but stand anyway.
Because if we have the guts and the faith to stand, then and only then will we truly honor Dr. King.
Then and only then will “we shall overcome” be more than a song, but it will be an enfleshed reality.
And then and only then Martin Luther King, Jr. will not be a mere voice of the past, or a prophet to be remembered, but he will become the architect of the future generations.
Happy birthday Dr. King. Thank you God for sharing him with us.
Help us God to be like him! God help us to break the Midnight and stand! (applause)
© 2003 Saint Sabina.