Full text of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last Sunday sermon titled “’Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution” which was delivered on March 31, 1968, from the Canterbury Pulpit at The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here this morning, to have the opportunity of standing in this very great and significant pulpit.
And I do want to express my deep personal appreciation to Dean Sayre and all of the Cathedral clergy for extending the invitation.
It is always a rich and rewarding experience to take a brief break from our day to day demands and the struggle for freedom and human dignity and discuss the issues involved in that struggle with concerned friends of goodwill all over our nation. And certainly it is always a deep and meaningful experience to be in a worship service. And so for many reasons I’m happy to be here today.
I would like to use as a subject from which to preach this morning: ‘Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution’ .
The text for the morning is found in the Book of Revelation. There are two passages there that I would like to quote, in the [21st] chapter of that book:
“Behold, I make all things new (Revelation 21:5); former things are passed away (2 Corinthians 5:17).”
I’m sure that most of you have read that arresting little story from the pen of Washington Irvin entitled ‘Rip Van Winkle’. The one thing that we usually remember about the story is that Rip Van Winkle slept 20 years.
But there is another point in that little story that is almost always completely overlooked. It was a sign in the end from which Rip went up in the mountain for his long sleep. When Rip Van Winkle went up in the mountain, the sign had a picture of King George III of England. When he came down 20 years later, the sign had a picture of George Washington, the first President of the United States.
Rip Van Winkle looked up at the picture of George Washington but in looking at the picture he was amazed. He was completely lost. He knew not who he was.
And this reveals to us that the most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that Rip slept 20 years but that he slept through a revolution.
While he was peacefully snoring up in the mountain, a revolution was taking place that at points would change the course of history and Rip knew nothing about it. He was asleep. As he slept through a revolution.
One of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses that the new situation demands and they end up sleeping through a revolution.
There can be no gainsaying of the fact that the great revolution is taking place in the world today. In the sense it is a triple revolution: that is, a technological revolution with the impact of automation and cybernation; then there is a revolution in weaponry with the emergence of atomic and nuclear weapons of warfare; then there is the human rights revolution with the freedom explosion that is taking place all over the world.
Yes, we do live in a period where changes are taking place, and there is still the voice crying through the vista of time saying, ‘Behold, I make all things new; former things are passed away.’
Now, whenever anything new comes into history it brings with it new challenges and new opportunities. And I would like to deal with the challenges that we face today as a result of this triple revolution that is taking place in the world today.
First, We Are Challenged To Develop A World Perspective.
No individual can live alone. No nation can live alone. And anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution.
The world in which we live is geographically one. The challenge that we face today is to make it one in terms of brotherhood. That is true that the geographical oneness of this age has come in to being to a large extent through modern man’s scientific ingenuity.
Modern man, through his scientific genius has been able to dwarf distance and place, time and change. And our jet planes have compressed into minutes distances that once took weeks and even months.
All of this tells us that our world is a neighborhood. Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood, and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make up it a brotherhood.
But somehow and in some way we’ve got to do this: We must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools.
We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.
This is the way God’s universe is made. This is the way it’s structured.
John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms.
“No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
And he goes on toward end to say, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
We must see this, believe this and live by it, if we are to remain awake through a great revolution.
Secondly, we are challenged to eradicate the last vestiges of racial injustice from our nation.
I must say this morning that racial injustice is still the black man’s burden and the white man’s shame. It is an unhappy truth that racism is a way of life for the vast majority of white Americans. Spoken and unspoken, acknowledged and denied, subtle, sometimes not so subtle, the disease of racism permeates and poisons a whole body politic.
And I can see nothing more urgent than for America to work passionately and unrelentingly to get rid of the disease of racism. Something positive must be done. Everyone must share in the guilt as individuals and as institutions. The government must certainly share the guilt. Individuals must share the guilt. Even the church must share the guilt.
We must face the sad fact at 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand to sing: ‘in Christ there is no east nor west‘, we stand in the most segregated hour of America.
The hour has come for everybody and for all institutions of the public sector and the private sector to work to get rid of racism.
Now, if we are to do it, we must honestly admit certain things and get rid of certain myths that have constantly been disseminated all over our nation.
One is the myth of time. It is the notion that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. And there’re those who often sincerely say to the Negro and his allies in the white community, why don’t you slow up? Stop pushing things so fast. Only time can solve the problem. And if you will just be nice and patient and continue to pray, in 100 or 200 years, the problem will work itself out.