(Please scroll down and pause the playlist before playing the clip...)
On this 45th anniversary of the I Have a Dream Speech, I want to repost a sermon that I did a few months ago in which I used this iconic piece of Americana as a foundation. I say here, as I said that day, that I use Dr. King's words with fear and trembling, because I so deeply revere his memory, and would never want to demean the importance of what happened that day in Washington in any way. I trust this will be received as a word for CITN, and a tribute to one of the greatest men who ever lived, who said some of the greatest words ever spoken. My intention here is not to try to equate myself with MLK, but to express to you all that I truly do have a dream for this ministry...and I hope that it's your dream, too...
I HAVE A DREAM/ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1963)
I HAVE A DREAM FOR CITN/ Bishop Jim Swilley (2008)
MLK – I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
JES – I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as a great Sunday morning service at Church In The Now.
MLK - Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
JES - One score and three years ago, an idealistic young man came to Conyers, GA to establish a local congregation…a different kind of church that would be built upon the words recorded in Psalms 2:8, Ask of me and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. The revelation of this powerful Scripture came as a great beacon light of hope to that small group of people who met together for the first time in May of 1985 in a little storefront on Royal Drive. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their having no alternative to irrelevant, traditional church, and religious “business as usual”.
MLK - But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
JES - But twenty-three years later, Church In The Now is still trying to walk in the fullness of its unique destiny. Twenty-three years later, this house of worship is still learning to overcome the growth obstacles that exist for a truly multicultural church. Twenty-three years later, CITN is still attempting to create a real sense of community in a church that was not birthed out of an established community or a denomination. Twenty-three years later, the leadership of this church is still trying to instill within this body a sense of ownership among the people, and a comprehension of the need for them to be investors in it. And so we've come here today to speak to the current condition at Church In The Now.
MLK - In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."
JES - In a sense we've come here today to proclaim, once again, our commitment to the ideal of 100% participation among the membership of CITN…the realization of a vision to reach the goal of Everyone Actively Contributing and Helping. It is obvious today that not everyone who attends the church understands this yet.
MLK - But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
JES - But we refuse to believe that the manifestation of a workable E.A.C.H. program – a mindset among the people that causes full community commitment – is a goal that is unrealistic or unreachable.
MLK - We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.
JES -We have also come into this Sanctuary today to remind all who attend this service, either within these walls, or streaming over the internet, along with all who will watch the DVD, or listen to the CD of it, of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of every prophecy that has been spoken over this ministry in the last twenty-three years. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of some of the people doing all of the work and all of the giving, to the sunlit path of everyone pulling their weight and making a real contribution to the greater good. Now is the time to lift our church from the quicksands of mediocrity to the solid rock of being a successful megachurch. Now is the time to make this ministry be all that it can be.
MLK - It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
JES - It would be fatal for CITN to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the church’s core group’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of full church participation. Two Thousand and Eight is not an end, but a beginning. And those who just assume that the administration of the church will figure it out and keep going with things remaining as they now, are will have a rude awakening if the church returns to business as usual.
MLK - But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
JES - But there is something that I must say to those who are already pulling their weight and are actively participating…we must not look down on those who don’t see the vision yet. We must love them, set an example for them, and encourage them to see the benefits of becoming a part of this body that is fitly joined together.
MLK - The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
JES - The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed those who comprehend what this church needs to be must not lead us to reject those who stay on the periphery, for they are our brothers and sisters. Let us pray that they come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny…that they will see and believe that we might not have it all together, but together we have it all!
MLK/JES - We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.
MLK - There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by a sign stating: "For Whites Only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
JES - There are many who are asking those of us who have worked to build this ministry up to where it is today, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as there are services held at CITN week after week with scores of unfilled seats. We can never be satisfied as long as there are so many that never give financially, or if they do give, do not give regularly or sacrificially. We cannot be satisfied as long as the sense of covenant among the people is so weak that they break fellowship with the church at the slightest offence. We can never be satisfied as long as people continue to misunderstand the theological truths of the gospel of reconciliation and believe that salvation is “For Christians Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as the world at large is unable to fully appreciate what an amazing place that CITN is. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until we truly become “a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden”.
MLK - I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
JES - I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great religious bondage. Some of you have come fresh from denominationalism and fundamentalism. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for spiritual truth left you battered by the storms of religious persecution and staggered by the winds of legalism. You have come out of darkness into the light. Continue to work with the faith that they who hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled. Go back to doing what your hand finds to do with all of your might in this ministry, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
MLK - Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
JES - Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the prophetic purposes of God for this region, and for CITN’s ministry to the nations of the earth.
MLK - I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
JES - I have a dream that one day this church will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “Real People Experiencing the Real God in the Real World”
MLK - I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
JES - I have a dream that one day on these 43 acres on I-20, thousands and thousands of sons and daughters of former slaves, and thousand and thousands of sons and daughters of former slave owners will be able to worship together as one voice, whether they clap on the one and the three or the two and the four…and that the Hispanic community would join in the song with them, along with people from every nation who have come to Conyers for such a time as this.
MLK - I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
JES - I have a dream that one day CITN will be able to saturate the surrounding area with the good news of the gospel of liberty, even in the Bible belt, a region sweltering with the heat of condemnation preaching, sweltering with the heat of hellfire and brimstone and damnation, so that it will be transformed into an oasis of the goodness of the Lord which brings people to repentance.
MLK - I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
JES - I have a dream that my four children will one day be able to say that their father fulfilled his destiny in coming to Conyers, GA to create a ministry that shows people how to know one another after the spirit, and not after the flesh.
MLK/JES - I have a dream today!
MLK - I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
JES - I have a dream that one day, all the people of CITN will tithe or give or invest or support – whatever they call it – not because they are afraid that they will be cursed if they don’t, but because they love the Kingdom of God, and because they believe in the vision of a ministry that allows little black boys and black girls to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
MLK/JES - I have a dream today!
MLK/JES - I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."
MLK - This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.
JES - This is our hope, and this is the faith with which I speak the Word over this church.
MLK - With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
JES - With this faith, we will be able to make every member of this church step up and take responsibility for the success of this ministry. With this faith, we will be able to demonstrate to this community the manifested power of the Kingdom of God. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to stand up for the uncompromised word of God together, knowing that we will all be blessed by the ultimate success of this ministry.
MLK - And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
JES - And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of the members and friends of Church In The Now, here in Conyers and all around the world will be able to sing with new meaning:
We speak to nations – be open! We speak to nations – fall on your knees!
We speak to nations – the Kingdom is coming near to you -
We speak to you - Be free!
MLK - And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
JES – And if Church In The Now is to realize its potential, this must become true.
MLK - And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
JES - And so let His kingdom come in every Sunday and Wednesday service at Church In The Now.
MLK - Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
JES - Let His kingdom come in every sermon that is preached, and in every song that is sung.
MLK - Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
JES - Let His kingdom come in every book or CD or DVD that is sold from this media department.
MLK - Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
JES - Let His kingdom come in every outreach ministry and missions project supported by this ministry.
MLK - Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
JES - Let His kingdom come in every relationship formed within this covenant community.
MLK - But not only that: Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
JES - But not only that: Let His kingdom come in The Mix and in ReMix. Let His kingdom come in Kids In The Now and in Kidzzone Learning Center. Let His kingdom come in Street Jam, in the Prison Ministry, in the Angelfood Ministry, in the Streaming Faith outreach, in Wize Gize, the Nation of Worship and all the Worship and Arts Department, in the Flow, Real Women, Men’s Fellowship, Bikers for Christ, His Hands, Body Builders, Now Ministries, the Care Pastors, the Staff, the Ministry of Helps, the cyber-congregation, and in every outreach of CITN, both foreign and domestic, and in the lives of everyone around the world who is influenced by this ministry!
MLK - And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
JES - And when this happens, when we allow the true Kingdom of God to come, when we let it come in every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the song we sing so much around here:
“How great is our God! Sing with me…
How great is our God, and all will see
How great…HOW GREAT IS OUR GOD!!!”