On Sunday, we remembered a revered member of the communion of saints, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Below are excerpts from a sermon delivered by Dr. King at New Covenant Baptist Church, Gage Park, Chicago, on April 9, 1967. King delivered a version of this sermon, “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life,” many times throughout his ministry. Following these excerpts is Pastor Goede’s sermon referencing the excerpts.
Excerpts from Dr. King’s “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life”
“There are three dimensions of any complete life to which we can fitly give the words of this text: length, breadth, and height. (Yes) Now the length of life as we shall use it here is the inward concern for one’s own welfare. (Yes) In other words, it is that inward concern that causes one to push forward, to achieve his own goals and ambitions. (All right) The breadth of life as we shall use it here is the outward concern for the welfare of others. (All right) And the height of life is the upward reach for God. (All right) Now you got to have all three of these to have a complete life…
As I come to my conclusion this morning, I want to say that we should search for him. We were made for God, and we will be restless until we find rest in him. (Oh yeah) And I say to you this morning that this is the personal faith that has kept me going. (Yes) I’m not worried about the future. You know, even on this race question, I’m not worried. I was down in Alabama the other day, and I started thinking about the state of Alabama where we worked so hard and may continue to elect the Wallaces. And down in my home state of Georgia, we have another sick governor by the name of Lester Maddox. (Yes) And all of these things can get you confused, but they don’t worry me. (All right) Because the God that I worship is a God that has a way of saying even to kings and even to governors, “Be still, and know that I am God.” And God has not yet turned over this universe to Lester Maddox and Lurleen Wallace. Somewhere I read, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, and I’m going on because I have faith in Him. (Oh yeah) I do not know what the future holds, but I do know who holds the future. (Yes) And if He’ll guide us and hold our hand, we’ll go on in…
And when you get all three of these together, you can walk and never get weary. You can look up and see the morning stars singing together, and the sons of God shouting for joy. When you get all of these working together in your very life, judgement will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
When you get all the three of these together, the lamb will lie down with the lion.
When you get all three of these together, you look up and every valley will be exalted, and every hill and mountain will be made low; the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh will see it together.
Our Spiritual Posture – Pointing to Jesus
Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday 2020 – Pastor Goede
You might know that Martin Luther King, Jr., was Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. King was a pastor who over time transformed into a national leader. On the insert in the bulletin, you can read an excerpt from one of his favorite sermons. I say favorite because this was a sermon that King preached many times in his career. He first gave it when he was going through the call process for his first call at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. People in that church and at Ebenezer in Atlanta said that he preached it at the beginning of every year. You can see that the excerpts have phrases like, all right, in parentheses, because this is a transcript of one of the times that King delivered this sermon, here in Chicago, in Gage Park. Somebody recorded King preaching, and they recorded a lot of other people urging him on.
The sermon was called “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life,” and when you understand the title, you understand why King preached it so often. Like a lot of good sermons, he was preaching to himself, he preached what he needed to hear. You could say the three dimensions were three spiritual postures, all well known to Christians. Sometimes, for good or bad, we are turned inward. But a mature faith turns us outwards, facing others, and a mature faith centers us in God. It was a sign of an active, mature, striving faith that King took time often to stop, reevaluate and reposition. If you imagine all of the forces pushing against him, trying to throw him off balance, knock him down, it makes sense that this was a way to be strong, to imagine that his inner life, public life and devotional life were all in balance.
Today in the gospel, John the Baptist positions us one more way. Remember that when he is with others and he sees Jesus, John says, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” and you know that when he says this, he’s pointing to Jesus. John is with some of his disciples, and he testifies to them, he tells them how he knows that Jesus is the Lamb of God.
He’s pointing with his arm and his hand, but John understands that he is pointing with his very being. The Pharisees ask John why he’s baptizing people in the river and preaching in the wilderness, and they ask him if he’s the messiah, or maybe Elijah. John says no, I’m not the one. John quotes Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness / Make straight the way of the Lord.”
Everything about John points to Jesus, about the one who is to come, who is right there among the people. Jesus is the one, look to him, listen to him. I’m sad we never hear in the lectionary lessons one of John’s best lines. John says, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” Jesus must increase, I must decrease. John understood his role. It was all about pointing to Jesus. John baptized, he preached, he helped people understand the Hebrew scripture that we know, like the prophet Isaiah. Lots of people wanted John to be the messiah, but he was clear about who he was.
That’s one of the most engaging things about Reverend Doctor King. He was clear about who he was, and who he wasn’t. So many times he says, I’m in danger of losing my life but it doesn’t matter. There is someone greater than me, above me and centered in me. There is a community of saints to which I belong, and we are all centered in God and turned out towards the world, witnessing to the one who is justice incarnate. I am not the Lamb of God sacrificed for the people. There he is.
That was such a prophetic stance, because just as he predicted, King was killed after just a bit more than a decade of ministry. But he understood that his witness would continue even after his death, just like so many prophets before him. He was so great, and yet one of his most important contributions was to very ordinary people like us. In King, we can see the importance of witness, even when at the time it seems futile and while some are working so hard to turn back the clock and return our country to the good old days in so many ways.
Some witnesses are like John or Reverend King, ones who lead the way in pointing to the Lamb of God and the truth and justice he embodies. But we have a role as disciples, as ones who also teach and preach and witness. John and Reverend King teach us our role as witnesses. Doctor King would be much harder to remember today without an army of people who continued to tell stories about him, without people who shared recordings of the time he preached in their church, without people who had marched with him. Today we are inspired by him to be truth-tellers and prophets who continue on as he did, pointing to the one who embodies the justice we seek, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.