This is the day that the Lord has made – let us be glad and rejoice in it. Thank you, Reverend [Raphael] Warnock – and thank you all for welcoming me to this great church and for making me feel like part of the Ebenezer family.
I am grateful for the opportunity to join you in celebrating God’s blessings and in honoring the work of his humble servant – and your former pastor – the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Here, in the church that Reverend King called his home, and in houses of worship across America – his spirit lives. His memory continues to inspire us. His legacy continues to guide us. And his words still have the power to teach and to comfort us.
Dr. King’s legacy binds us together. And this morning, as we come together to honor his life, we are also bound by a common grief.
Last week, a senseless rampage in Tucson, Arizona, reminded us that, more than 40 years after Dr. King’s own tragic death, our long struggle to end suffering, to eradicate violence, and to promote peace goes on.
In times of heartbreak and bereavement, the power of Dr. King’s example becomes even clearer. So, as we continue to mourn those we have lost, and to pray for those now fighting to rebuild their lives, let us recommit ourselves to carrying on Dr. King’s work and to honoring the values that were at the center of his life: tolerance; non-violence; compassion; love; and – above all – justice.
Throughout his life – even in times of difficulty and despair, and of anger and anguish – Dr. King kept faith with these values. Now, we must have faith in their power – not only to heal fresh wounds and long-standing divisions, but also to fuel tomorrow’s progress.
I wish that Dr. King could be here with us to see the America that he helped to create. I wish that Dr. King could see the good will and great works that he still inspires. I wish that Dr. King could see that this place of worship continues to be a place of learning, of healing, and of hope; and that the nation he fought to improve soon will honor his memory by consecrating a memorial in Washington on our national mall – within sight of monuments to our nation’s first President and its Great Emancipator.
Today, we must look upon our nation as Dr. King did – seeing both its history of imperfection and its future promise; working on both its weaknesses and its strengths; appreciating both its challenges and its infinite opportunities.
To be sure, we still have problems to solve. We have obstacles to overcome. We have not reached the end of the road that Dr. King told us we must travel. And we have a dream that – still – has not been fully realized. But we also have cause for optimism. We have signs of encouragement all around us.
Because of Dr. King – and because of so many other committed champions of justice – we know that progress is possible. Miracles are possible. And, here in America, sweeping change – righteous change – is possible. It is not too audacious. It is not too ambitious. And it is not the province of God and prayer alone.
Fifty years ago, President John Kennedy ended his inaugural address by noting that, “on this earth God’s work must truly be our own.”
Know this: each of us has the power, the capacity, to improve the world around us. Know this also: each of us has the responsibility, the duty, to do so. Each of us must act.
No matter what form our service takes, the work of helping one another and of improving the world that we share always begins the same way: with an act of love; with an act of hope; with an act of faith.
Nearly 43 years ago – in the final year of his life and the month before his tragic death – Reverend King delivered what would be his last sermon at this church. That Sunday – March 3rd, 1968 – he said to the congregation before him, “If I can leave anything with you, let me urge you to be sure that you have a strong boat of faith.”
“The winds,” he warned, “are going to blow. The storms of disappointment are coming. The agonies and the anguishes of life are coming.”
“But,” he insisted, “if you have faith…you can stand amid the storms…you can walk with your feet solid to the ground and your head to the air…and you will fear nothing…[because] God is there.”
The faith and the storms that Dr. King spoke of decades ago – from his historic pulpit across the street – remain with us today. And I believe that our faith – both in the divine and, critically, in each other – will allow us to transcend today’s fears, to bridge today’s divisions, to overcome today’s sorrows, to feel the healing comfort of God’s hand upon us, and to find strength in Dr. King’s enduring assurance that, everywhere, and always, “God is there.” God is there.
To that, let me say, simply, “Amen.”