Today is a national holiday honoring the memory and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who fought faithfully for the civil rights of Americans. In pursuit of this dream which sparked in 1955, King traveled more than 6 million miles, gave over 2,500 speeches, and was arrested on 30 occasions for nonviolent protests. To prompt conversations about this man, to share his message with our children and friends is our part in building a strong legacy.

The following is a small part of a sermon that was delivered at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, on Christmas 1957. King wrote it while in jail for committing nonviolent civil disobedience during the Montgomery bus boycott. It is a sermon about loving one another, including your enemies.

I hope it plants a seed of love that everyone can carry with them while interacting with one another throughout each day.  Sometimes we start to view other humans (even co-workers, friends, family, and spouses in particular) as the enemy and this could be a reminder to lead with a spirit of love.  If King could do it in a jail cell, standing up for what he believed, then so can we.

Individuals must discover that as they deal with other individuals, there is a little tree planted on a little hill and on that tree hangs the most influential character that ever came in this world. But never feel that that tree is a meaningless drama that took place on the stages of history. Oh no, it is a telescope through which we look out into the long vista of eternity, and see the love of God breaking forth into time. It is an eternal reminder to a power-drunk generation that love is the only way. It is an eternal reminder to a generation depending on nuclear and atomic energy, a generation depending on physical violence, that love is the only creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe.

So this morning, as I look into your eyes, and into the eyes of all of my brothers in Alabama and all over America and over the world, I say to you, “I love you. I would rather die than hate you.” And I’m foolish enough to believe that through the power of this love somewhere, men of the most recalcitrant bent will be transformed. And then we will be in God’s kingdom. We will be able to matriculate into the university of eternal life because we had the power to love our enemies, to bless those persons that cursed us, to even decide to be good to those persons who hated us, and we even prayed for those persons who despitefully used us.

Oh God, help us in our lives and in all of our attitudes, to work out this controlling force of love, this controlling power that can solve every problem that we confront in all areas. Oh, we talk about politics; we talk about the problems facing our atomic civilization. Grant that all men will come together and discover that as we solve the crisis and solve these problems—the international problems, the problems of atomic energy, the problems of nuclear energy, and yes, even the race problem—let us join together in a great fellowship of love and bow down at the feet of Jesus. Give us this strong determination. In the name and spirit of this Christ, we pray. Amen.

The equality of human dignity and opportunity penned in the Declaration of Independence, and the justice and reconciliation modeled by Jesus Christ, are not yet full realities.  So let us not weary in reconciling humans to God and people to one another, of all races and backgrounds.

* To learn more about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and how it was formed click here.