And as I sit here, in the poorest county in our Nation, I can't help think of the sermon/speech King gave just four days before he was assassinated, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution”:
Jesus told a parable one day, and he reminded us that a man went to hell because he didn’t see the poor. His name was Dives. He was a rich man. And there was a man by the name of Lazarus who was a poor man, but not only was he poor, he was sick. Sores were all over his body, and he was so weak that he could hardly move. But he managed to get to the gate of Dives every day, wanting just to have the crumbs that would fall from his table. And Dives did nothing about it. And the parable ends saying, “Dives went to hell, and there were a fixed gulf now between Lazarus and Dives.”
There is nothing in that parable that said Dives went to hell because he was rich. Jesus never made a universal indictment against all wealth. It is true that one day a rich young ruler came to him, and he advised him to sell all, but in that instance Jesus was prescribing individual surgery and not setting forth a universal diagnosis. And if you will look at that parable with all of its symbolism, you will remember that a conversation took place between heaven and hell, and on the other end of that long-distance call between heaven and hell was Abraham in heaven talking to Dives in hell.
Now Abraham was a very rich man. If you go back to the Old Testament, you see that he was the richest man of his day, so it was not a rich man in hell talking with a poor man in heaven; it was a little millionaire in hell talking with a multimillionaire in heaven. Dives didn’t go to hell because he was rich; Dives didn’t realize that his wealth was his opportunity. It was his opportunity to bridge the gulf that separated him from his brother Lazarus. Dives went to hell because he was passed by Lazarus every day and he never really saw him. He went to hell because he allowed his brother to become invisible. Dives went to hell because he maximized the minimum and minimized the maximum. Indeed, Dives went to hell because he sought to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.
And this can happen to America, the richest nation in the world-and nothing’s wrong with that-this is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.
In a few weeks some of us are coming to Washington to see if the will is still alive or if it is alive in this nation. We are coming to Washington in a Poor People’s Campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. We are going to bring those who have known long years of hurt and neglect. We are going to bring those who have come to feel that life is a long and desolate corridor with no exit signs. We are going to bring children and adults and old people, people who have never seen a doctor or a dentist in their lives.
We are not coming to engage in any histrionic gesture. We are not coming to tear up Washington. We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.
We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic nonviolent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.
Why do we do it this way? We do it this way because it is our experience that the nation doesn’t move around questions of genuine equality for the poor and for black people until it is confronted massively, dramatically in terms of direct action.
Great documents are here to tell us something should be done. We met here some years ago in the White House conference on civil rights. And we came out with the same recommendations that we will be demanding in our campaign here, but nothing has been done. The President’s commission on technology, automation and economic progress recommended these things some time ago. Nothing has been done. Even the urban coalition of mayors of most of the cities of our country and the leading businessmen have said these things should be done. Nothing has been done. The Kerner Commission came out with its report just a few days ago and then made specific recommendations. Nothing has been done.
And I submit that nothing will be done until people of goodwill put their bodies and their souls in motion. And it will be the kind of soul force brought into being as a result of this confrontation that I believe will make the difference.
Yes, it will be a Poor People’s Campaign. This is the question facing America. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. America has not met its obligations and its responsibilities to the poor.
One day we will have to stand before the God of history and we will talk in terms of things we’ve done. Yes, we will be able to say we built gargantuan bridges to span the seas, we built gigantic buildings to kiss the skies. Yes, we made our submarines to penetrate oceanic depths. We brought into being many other things with our scientific and technological power.
It seems that I can hear the God of history saying, “That was not enough! But I was hungry, and ye fed me not. I was naked, and ye clothed me not. I was devoid of a decent sanitary house to live in, and ye provided no shelter for me. And consequently, you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness. If ye do it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye do it unto me.” That’s the question facing America today.
I want to say one other challenge that we face is simply that we must find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Anyone who feels, and there are still a lot of people who feel that way, that war can solve the social problems facing mankind is sleeping through a great revolution. President Kennedy said on one occasion, “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.” The world must hear this. I pray God that America will hear this before it is too late, because today we’re fighting a war.
I am convinced that it is one of the most unjust wars that has ever been fought in the history of the world. Our involvement in the war in Vietnam has torn up the Geneva Accord. It has strengthened the military-industrial complex; it has strengthened the forces of reaction in our nation. It has put us against the self-determination of a vast majority of the Vietnamese people, and put us in the position of protecting a corrupt regime that is stacked against the poor.
It has played havoc with our domestic destinies. This day we are spending five hundred thousand dollars to kill every Vietcong soldier. Every time we kill one we spend about five hundred thousand dollars while we spend only fifty-three dollars a year for every person characterized as poverty-stricken in the so-called poverty program, which is not even a good skirmish against poverty.”
I suppose we spend even more now, to kill our enemies in the Middle East....
--and I see, everyday, the spiritual, moral and physical devastation of poverty --spiritual because there is little hope except to survive, surviving for a chance for your children's children --moral because all I have to do is drive 90 miles and see the accumulated abundance, and how much that is like the pathway in the parable of Dives --physical because I live in the midst of the highest child suicide rate, highest infant mortality, and lowest life expectancy in the nation.
I buried five children this year --a fifteen year old, a twelve year old, a two-day old and two stillborns....
I buried more than I care to count who died from liver failure due to alcohol consumption before the age 40.... And how easy it is to say --well, that's their fault.
No --it is the symptom of oppression, devastation and poverty.
I buried more than I care to count who died because they refused medical care --a decision based in the emotional froth of ignorance and a poor educational system, and afraid of being caught up in "the system" and losing whatever little autonomy they had left.
I look around and see houses that mission groups come and fix up, and within a few years the houses are like bombed out shells again --the inhabitants wreaking the same devastation upon their surroundings as to their bodies --as they do to their souls and hearts and minds --submitting all to the wreckage of hopelessness and despair.
I look around and see discarded cars and trucks and trailers because who can afford to move them? Who can afford to clean it up --tow it, pay the dump fees? The wind will carry it away piece by piece... eventually.
I see the body blows given all around....
And yet --there are the folks who lift their heads, and in the midst of it all remember what it is to be a human being. And they have driven a stake in to the ground and tie themselves to it and promise to stay there for the sake of the people --so that the people might live.
MLK was one of those. Who worked for the sake of the people --so that the people might live.
--in the example of Christ....
And I thank God for his witness and ministry.
At prayer this morning (ending with Ephesians 4:32)
So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.
Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.
Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
I would rather liken the "thieves" to those who make a great deal of money without ever lifting their own hands to the task and not sharing with the needy....
And now, Joel has said something about the rest of the day, so, off I go.