At the place I work we were encouraged on MLK day to do things MLK-ish. In the middle of the morning class, I decided that our class would read one of King’s sermons aloud right before our lunch break. I gathered all the participants in one room and we began to read King’s sermon called the Three Dimensions of a Complete Life. I chose this sermon because it contains a few remarks about the dignity of one’s labor which we referenced a few days earlier in class.
The relevant comments come in a subsection about vocation within King’s elaboration on the length of life (which, by the way, is the love of one’s self, a rational self-interest). King says that after we love ourselves we should discover what we are called to do. After we make that discovery we should strive “to do that work so well that the living, the dead, or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.” His vivid remarks about a shoe shiner in Montgomery having a PhD in shoe shining were particularly helpful in conversation with the job seekers in class. King’s supplication was for the congregation and us to live fully into our calling, that, whether we are painters or street sweepers, we should aspire to be the Michelangelos of our crafts.
The sermons we were reading together are based of off recordings from his sermons. Because of this, there are parentheses in the text marking when the congregation responded in spirit and agreement. We improvised and decided that those who were not reading would mimic what the congregation said in response to King–from preach, preach to alright to oh yeah. This injection of creativity ended up working well, bringing affirmation, enthusiasm, and levity to our mini-congregation–and patience for those whose literacy was sub-par.
The thrust (to oversimplify) of the rest of the sermon is that a complete life is composed of the proper length, breadth, and heighth which correspond to loving one’s self, loving your neighbor, and loving God. There is a wonderful and beautiful depth in this sermon, while it simultaneously comes across quite simply. King’s message is clear, and while delivering it he makes passing references to Tillich, Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, and Augustine, describes the historical situation of John of Patmos in his Apocalypse, while avoiding a slip in to pedantry and theological/philosophical jargon. His message never loses it contextual relevance yet retains a sophisticated depth.