many of us in life start out building temples: temples of character, temples
of justice, temples of peace. And so often we
don’t finish them. Because life is like Schubert’s
"Unfinished Symphony." At so many points we start, we try, we set
out to build our various temples. And I guess one of the great agonies of
life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable. We are commanded to do that. And so we,
like David, find ourselves in so many instances having to face the fact that
our dreams are not fulfilled.
Now let us notice first that life is a continual story of shattered dreams.
Mahatma Gandhi labored for years and years for the independence of his
people. And through a powerful nonviolent revolution he was able to win that
independence. For years the Indian people had been dominated politically,
exploited economically, segregated and humiliated by foreign powers, and
Gandhi struggled against it. He struggled to unite his own people, and
nothing was greater in his mind than to have India’s one great, united
country moving toward a higher destiny. This was his dream.
But Gandhi had to face the fact that he was assassinated and died with a
broken heart, because that nation that he wanted to unite ended up being
divided between India and Pakistan as a result of the conflict between the
Hindus and the Moslems. Life is a long, continual story of setting out to build
a great temple and not being able to finish it.
Woodrow Wilson dreamed a dream of a League of Nations, but he died before the
promise was delivered.
The Apostle Paul talked one day about wanting to go to Spain. It was
Paul’s greatest dream to go to Spain, to carry the gospel there. Paul
never got to Spain. He ended up in a prison cell in Rome. This is the story
So many of our forebearers used to sing about
freedom. And they dreamed of the day that they would be able to get out of
the bosom of slavery, the long night of injustice. And they used to sing
little songs: "Nobody knows de trouble I seen, nobody knows but
Jesus." They thought about a better day as they dreamed their dream. And
they would say, "I’m so glad the trouble don’t last always.
By and by, by and by I’m going to lay down my heavy load." And
they used to sing it because of a powerful dream. But so many died without
having the dream fulfilled.
And each of you this morning in some way is building some kind of temple. The
struggle is always there. It gets discouraging sometimes. It gets very
disenchanting sometimes. Some of us are trying to build a temple of peace. We
speak out against war, we protest, but it seems that your head is going
against a concrete wall. It seems to mean nothing. And so often as you set
out to build the temple of peace you are left lonesome; you are left
discouraged; you are left bewildered.
Well, that is the story of life. And the thing that makes me happy is that I
can hear a voice crying through the vista of time, saying: "It may not
come today or it may not come tomorrow, but it is well that it is within
thine heart. It’s well that you are trying." You may not see it.
The dream may not be fulfilled, but it’s just good that you have a
desire to bring it into reality. It’s well that it’s in thine
Thank God this morning that we do have hearts to put something meaningful in.
Life is a continual story of shattered dreams.
Now let me bring out another point. Whenever you set out to build a creative temple,
whatever it may be, you must face the fact that there is a tension at the
heart of the universe between good and evil. It’s there: a tension at
the heart of the universe between good and evil. Hinduism refers to this as a
struggle between illusion and reality. Platonic philosophy used to refer to
it as a tension between body and soul. Zoroastrianism, a religion of old,
used to refer to it as a tension between the god of light and the god of
darkness. Traditional Judaism and Christianity refer to it as a tension
between God and Satan. Whatever you call it, there is a struggle in the
universe between good and evil.
Now not only is that struggle structured out somewhere in the external forces
of the universe, it’s structured in our own lives. Psychologists have
tried to grapple with it in their way, and so they say various things.
Sigmund Freud used to say that this tension is a tension between what he
called the id and the superego.
But you know, some of us feel that it’s a tension between God and man.
And in every one of us this morning, there’s a war going on. It’s
a civil war. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care where you
live, there is a civil war going on in your life. And every time you set out
to be good, there’s something pulling on you, telling you to be evil.
It’s going on in your life. Every time you set out to love, something
keeps pulling on you, trying to get you to hate. Every time you set out to be
kind and say nice things about people, something is pulling on you to be
jealous and envious and to spread evil gossip about them.
There’s a civil war going on. There is a schizophrenia, as the
psychologists or the psychiatrists would call it, going on within all of us.
And there are times that all of us know somehow that there is a Mr. Hyde and
a Dr. Jekyll in us. And we end up having to cry out with Ovid, the Latin
poet, "I see and approve the better things of life, but the evil things
I do." We end up having to agree with Plato that the human personality
is like a charioteer with two headstrong horses, each wanting to go in
different directions. Or sometimes we even have to end up crying out with
Saint Augustine as he said in his Confessions, "Lord, make me pure, but
not yet." We end up crying out with the Apostle Paul, "The good
that I would I do not: And the evil that I would not, that I do." Or we
end up having to say with Goethe that "there’s enough stuff in me
to make both a gentleman and a rogue."
There’s a tension at the heart of human nature. And whenever we set out
to dream our dreams and to build our temples, we must be honest enough to
And this brings me to the basic point of the text. In the final analysis, God
does not judge us by the separate incidents or the separate mistakes that we
make, but by the total bent of our lives. In the final analysis, God knows
that his children are weak and they are frail. In the final analysis, what
God requires is that your heart is right. Salvation isn’t reaching the
destination of absolute morality, but it’s being in the process and on
the right road.
There’s a highway called Highway 80. I’ve marched on that highway
from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery. But I never will forget my first
experience with Highway 80 was driving with Coretta and Ralph and Juanita
Abernathy to California. We drove from Montgomery all the way to Los Angeles
on Highway 80—it goes all the way out to Los Angeles. And you know,
being a good man, being a good woman, does not mean that you’ve arrived
in Los Angeles. It simply means that you’re on Highway 80. Maybe you
haven’t gotten as far as Selma, or maybe you haven’t gotten as
far as Meridian, Mississippi, or Monroe, Louisiana—that isn’t the
question. The question is whether you are on the right road. Salvation is
being on the right road, not having reached a destination.
Oh, we have to finally face the point that there is none good but the father.
But, if you’re on the right road, God has the power and he has
something called Grace. And he puts you where you ought to be.
Now the terrible thing in life is to be trying to get to Los Angeles on
Highway 78. That’s when you are lost. That sheep was lost, not merely
because he was doing something wrong in that parable, but he was on the wrong
road. And he didn’t even know where he was going; he became so involved
in what he was doing, nibbling sweet grass, that he got on the wrong road.
Salvation is being sure that you’re on the right road. It is
well—that’s what I like about it—that it was within thine
Some weeks ago somebody was saying something to me about a person that I have
great, magnificent respect for. And they were trying to say something that
didn’t sound too good about his character, something he was doing. And
I said, "Number one, I don’t believe it. But number two, even if
he is, he’s a good man because his heart is right." And in the
final analysis, God isn’t going to judge him by that little separate
mistake that he’s making, because the bent of his life is right.
And the question I want to raise this morning with you: is your heart right?
If your heart isn’t right, fix it up today; get God to fix it up. Get
somebody to be able to say about you, "He may not have reached the
highest height, he may not have realized all of his dreams, but he
tried." Isn’t that a wonderful thing for somebody to say about
you? "He tried to be a good man. He tried to be a just man. He tried to
be an honest man. His heart was in the right place." And I can hear a
voice saying, crying out through the eternities, "I accept you. You are
a recipient of my grace because it was in your heart. And it is so well that
it was within thine heart."
I don’t know this morning about you, but I can make a testimony. You
don’t need to go out this morning saying that Martin Luther King is a
saint. Oh, no. I want you to know this morning that I’m a sinner like
all of God’s children. But I want to be a good man. And I want to hear
a voice saying to me one day, "I take you in and I bless you, because
you try. It is well that it was within thine heart." What’s in
your heart this morning? If you get your heart right . . . [gap in tape]
Oh this morning, if I can leave anything with you, let me urge you to be sure
that you have a strong boat of faith. The winds are going to blow. The storms
of disappointment are coming. The agonies and the anguishes of life are
coming. And be sure that your boat is strong, and also be very sure that you
have an anchor. In times like these, you need an anchor. And be very sure
that your anchor holds.
It will be dark sometimes, and it will be dismal and trying, and tribulations
will come. But if you have faith in the God that I’m talking about this
morning, it doesn’t matter. For you can stand up amid the storms. And I
say it to you out of experience this morning, yes, I’ve seen the lightning
flash. I’ve heard the thunder roll. I’ve felt sin-breakers
dashing, trying to conquer my soul. But I heard the voice of Jesus, saying
still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.
No, never alone. No, never alone. He promised never to leave me. Never to
leave me alone.
And when you get this faith, you can walk with your feet solid to the ground
and your head to the air, and you fear no man. And you fear nothing that
comes before you. Because you know that God is even in Crete. If you ascend
to the heavens, God is there. If you descend to hell, God is even there. If
you take the wings of the morning and fly out to the uttermost parts of the
sea, even God is there. Everywhere we turn we find him. We can never escape
King, Ebenezer Baptist
Church, Atlanta, Georgia, 3 March 1968
Martin Luther King was murdered, 44 year ago, on April 4, 1968, one month
after giving this sermon to his church.
He was murdered because of his principled stand against war and oppression,
and greed and deception, which are the twin temples of the rich and the
powerful. He knotted his belt, and in his righteousness, exposed their
injustice. And even in his gentleness, they hated him for it, because they
could not bear the light.
As a very young man, and it seems so long ago, I
spent some time walking with those who spoke out against injustice. Later, as
a grown man and thankfully as a visitor, I stood in the same dark cells of
the Mamertine Prison in Rome, where Paul and Peter were imprisoned, and where
Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, a letter from jail, where he was
held by the power of an empire that, at that time, ruled the world.
And I walked along some of the paths in the catacombs, the hidden places of
the early believers who did not yet even have the name of Christians, but
simply called their beliefs 'the good news' and 'the Way.' And they loved one
another, and watered the roots of their faith with the blood of martyrs.
We are travelers through history, although slowly, one step, one day at a
time. But we are in it, in history, and we play our part of it. It is not
something distant, but real. This is our moment. And Christ calls us to
follow him now, even as he did then, in those days when he walked the earth,
when he was a passing figure in the crowd, and beckoned with a simple wave of
his hand, and the sound of his voice.
Now as an old man I see a nation that has been given great power, and has
come once again to a decision point, where it may choose for the truth, or
take a darker road. And it seems as though we have already turned away from
the truth, and are going down that fateful path, the way of greed and fear
and above all pride, and the worship of worldly power for its own sake,
cleverness, deception and the arrogance of money, in our willful blindness.
And may God have mercy on us, and our children and our grandchildren, if we