Greatest Speech of All Time?

 

I am told and have indeed read that I missed perhaps one of the greatest speeches ever given by an American President last night as the latest State of the Union Address was delivered.  I have also heard or read many of the speeches delivered by some of the world’s greatest orators, so I started pondering the question, what was the greatest speech ever given?

There are several that quickly come to mind.  Based on their content and the climate of their times, it would be difficult to select just one.  Would it be Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you” speech, of maybe Winston Churchill promising to “fight them on the beaches”? How could one not consider the great Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech, still quoted today, or Nelson Mandela’s numerous anti-apartheid speeches?  There’s Patrick Henry declaring “Give me liberty or give me death” and Abe Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address.  And in stark contrast to the current Build a Wall rhetoric, there is the ever memorable “Tear down this wall” speech by my favorite President, Ronald Reagan.  And even more impressive than these is the oration delivered by history’s first recorded Christian martyr, Stephen, a Christian apologetic speech delivered to the Sanhedrin recorded in Acts Chapter 7 just before he is stoned to death for Christ.  So with so many great speeches to choose from, who gets the nod as Numero Uno?

In my most humble of opinions, I don’t believe there has ever been a more meaningful, impactful, history-changing speech ever given than that which Christ gave and first recorded in Matthew 5-7, now commonly referred to as The Sermon on the Mount. In it is contained the essence of all good and proper living.  One does not even need to be of the Christian faith in order to appreciate the heart of what is being taught, but as a believer it may be the most concise delivery of the Christian tenets of faith ever composed in one sitting.  Much has been written throughout history pertaining to the sheer content of this incredible sermon.  In his Fifth Century book Saint Augustine says;

“If any one will piously and soberly consider the sermon which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke on the mount, as w read it in the Gospel according to Matthew, I think that he will find in it, so far as regards to the highest morals, a perfect standard of the Christian Life“.

The great sermon can be broken down into several sub-sections, each worthy  themselves of being considered great speeches. The oration starts with the Beatitudes, or as some refer to them, The Blessings, or even more literal, the Happy sayings.  “Happy are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom; Happy are those who mourn for they will receive comfort; Happy are the meek for they will inherit the earth, and so forth.  These were not new revelations necessarily as many came from previous Old Testament writings, but Jesus shed new light into the heart of each blessing that focused on the ideals of living a life of love, service and humility, a lesson not confined to political or religious views alone.

Then Jesus begins to speak of salt and light, metaphors rich in context as to how believers should live their lives of faith openly and unashamedly.  Jesus refers to himself as the Light of the world.  As believers, we are each imparted with that same light so that we may be lights in the world.  He also uses the terminology of being salt, and how ineffective we become if we lose our faith, or saltiness, good for nothing more than filling in holes on a walking trail.

Then He goes into a discussion where He gives teeth to Old Testament Law with such phrasing as “you have heard it said…but I tell you…”.  Christ doesn’t abolish the law but fulfills it to the “nth” degree with things like, “you say don’t murder but I say don’t even call someone an idiot” or you say don’t commit adultery but I say if you even look at a woman and think about having sex with her you are just as guilty-harsh and difficult teachings for sure.  He goes on with exchanging the old eye-for-an-eye philosophy with instead praying for your enemies and those who wish you evil.  His statements turn their thinking and beliefs upside down!

Form there Jesus teaches his disciples and ultimately the world how we are to pray.  Whether you consider The Lord’s Prayer as a literal and perfect daily prayer or you use it as a model to fashion your own prayers after, it may be the single most cited, recorded and printed piece of literature of all time!  And he immediately follows it up by giving us the key to unlocking the beauty and promise of the prayer, that being the importance of forgiveness, by reminding us that “if we do not forgive others their sins against us, our Father will  not forgive us our sins either“. The prayer has five components, acknowledgement of God’s deity, submission to his will, Petitions for our provisions, forgiveness of our sins and triumphant living over temptation; all we need, any day, every day!

Jesus then reminds us of the folly of worrying with the familiar verse reminding us that if he sees even the tiniest of birds and takes care to feed them, how much more is he concerned with the affairs of the lives of his children.  And as for possessions, if even King Solomon was not as adorned as the flowers in any wild field, how much more God wants to clothe us with all good things.  There is simply too much good stuff to chew on here, basic, sound biblical rules of conduct and promises of God’s provision and sufficiency for our daily lives.

This sermon goes on to deliver so much more than we can take in.  From warnings about being judgmental when we should be more aware of our own faults, to the famous “ask and receive, seek and find, knock and come in” teachings about approaching God in prayer.  And on it goes, the wide and narrow gates, true and false teachers, Smart and stupid builders, Mind Blown!  He left the crowds who had gathered to hear him in shock and amazement as they had never been taught by anyone with such insight and vision or with overwhelming authority.  And it hasn’t changed up to this day, over two thousand years later!

Greatest speech of all time?  I confidently contend that you can’t find one better than the Sermon Christ delivered in Matthew, but what, you may ask, is the differentiator for this speech compared to any of the other worthy candidates?  It’s easy actually, Credibility.  If you were just to read the speech in Matthew 5-7, it would be impressive on its own merit, but what happens immediately after, recorded in Matthew Chapter 8, seals the deal. As Jesus comes down from this famous speech on the mountain, large crowds still followed him.  Among them was a leper, an outcast due to his condition.  The leper humbly bows before Jesus and asks in all good faith for Jesus to heal him.  With the simple words “Be Clean” the leper’s skin condition immediately disappears and his skin is renewed and pure again.  For thousands of witnesses, this elevates Christ from just a good speaker to the Divine Son of God with all power and authority to back up his previous words.  All other speeches that deal with the heart of decent living from that time forward are directly connected in every decent and moral way to the words Christ delivered to us and to the world on the mountain that day, the greatest speech of all time!

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The Death of a King, the Birth of a Dream; MLK’s Legacy Fifty Years Later

MLKDay

April 4th, 1968, approximately 6 PM, fifty years ago today; I was six years old.  On the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN, just down from his room #306 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is bending over the railing discussing dinner plans with Jesse Jackson and others, unaware they would never make it. In a boarding house across from the motel a prison escapee, a man who represented everything wrong with the generation of hate, stood in a bathtub using the bathroom window ledge to rest his Remington .30-06 rifle, and took his one shot at infamy.  The round struck Dr. King in his right cheek, traveled through his vertebrae and spinal cord, severing King’s jugular and a major artery.  The man who just one night before predicted his own death, now lay motionless in a pool of his own blood in prophetic manifestation.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was pronounced deceased at 7:05 PM.

James Earl Ray may be the lone man behind the trigger that ended Dr. King’s earthly life, but King’s blood was on the hands of an entire community of white bigots that led to the highest offices in the land.  Dr. King’s legacy is that of a Civil Rights leader, a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize at the relative young age of just 34 years old. He was in Memphis organnizing a peaceful protest in support of fair wages for sanitation workers. Dr. King acknowledged that obtaining a seat at the lunch counter was easy compared to the guarantee of a fair annual income.  He was the voice for the common black wage earner who simply wanted an equal opportunity at the American dream of propserity that was afforded to all others.  In his “I Have a Dream” Speech Dr. King references the notion of all men being created equally with unalienable rights guaranteed by their creator.  He went on to say that Black Americans instead had received a bad check marked Insufficient Funds.  Dr. King fought for nothing more than for all Americans to receive fair and equal treatment and opportunity.  However many, including politicians, attempted to drown out his voice.  The likes of Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, an outspoken KKK leader, the segregation verbiage and policies of Democratic Governor George Wallace and the hidden agenda of Lyndon Johnson all worked in unison to assure that the right white of traditional American society would continue on, keeping black Americans “in their place”.  Martin Luther King Jr. knew exactly what and who he was up against.

 However, in it’s truest form, Dr. King was an evangelist of the Gospel.  He spoke out about love, about equality as humans, a slap in the face of so-called Christians who inaccurately used God’s Word to justify an atmosphere of hatred and segregation in those times.  Jesus said, “you are the light of the world, but if you hate your brother, you walk in darkness”.  MLK said “only light can drive out darkness”.  Jesus said “whoever doesn’t love his brother or sister who he can see, can’t possibly love God, who they can’t see”. There was nothing in Dr. King’s speeches that was not rooted in the Gospel.  There was most certainly those who used the protests as an opportunity to invoke aggression, resulting in many deaths and injuries, and that troubled Dr. King as he insisted that turning the other cheek was the righteous way to demand respect and be heard.  The riots in Chicago, a seemingly Liberal Northern city, shook Dr. King and gave him pause.  He had expected as much in his marches through Alabama, but not in the Northern states.  And yet his resolve remained-his mission was at the core, noble and righteous, and he would not be stopped or allow his cause to be hijacked by those used him to incite violence.

Dr. King was fully aware that he was exposing himself to great danger and possibly death.  He had been nearly fatally stabbed before as well as hit in the head with a brick during a march. He cowered each time he heard a loud noise, expecting the worse, and yet he marched on, all the way to his premature death.  If Dr. King were still alive today, would he be pleased with the progress made as a result of his activism?  When you look around you can see the black influence and progress in every spectrum, in athletics, in entertainment, in rising wages and corporate promotion and even in politics, including the highest office of the land.  We have come a long way.  Dr. King would be pleased with progress. Would he be satisfied?  I think I can safely say no.  There are still unlevel playing fields in many sectors, including housing and education.  It is no secret that the profits of a privatized prison system come at the expense of an overcrowded penal society made up largely of black males. And no one with open eyes can deny that in many cities racial profiling still exists among rogue officers who shoot first and search for a weapon second. No man alive includig the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will ever irradicate the evil of bigotry or the cancer of hate that has existed since Cain and Abel.  As long as there remains fringes of American societies that hold to supremist ideology, people receiving different treatment and opportunity based solely on skin color, Dr. King would not be satisfied. Those who knew him best and were splattered with his blood fifty years ago today would agree-we have come a long way, but many have still not reached the Promised Land.

Today many will gather across our nation to remember the legacy and the death of Dr. King, and rightly so.  When a person is so convicted and dedicated to a just cause that he is willing to die in order to achieve its birth, that person should be honored and hailed with all due fanfare.  But to truly pay homage to his legacy, we as an American people need to dedicate ourselves only to that which Dr. King preached-to love our neighbors, to extend the right hand of fellowship to all men regardless of color or creed, and to stand up against all perceived racial injustices in a joint effort to see all men obtain the dream of freedom and equality, two ideals that go beyond legislation that can only be enforced with hearts of Christ-like love. No man is “free at last” if any one of them remains bound by the chains of hatred. No man can feel good about being “on the mountain top” if his fellow brothers are still trapped in the valleys below.  No man can bear the cross of Christ in one hand and the torch of bigotry in the other.  We can claim to walk in the spirit of light, but God sees any hidden darkness we keep secret from others.  There remains much work to be done in order to usher in the true Kingdom of Christ.  The civil equality Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for was conceived in the blood he spilled on that balcony fifty years ago today.  It is on us as Christians first and Americans second, to carry on the fight Dr. King started in our words, in our actions and in our ideals.  “In this way the world will know that you are truly my disciples, when they see the love you have for each other”. Well done Dr. King.