Martin Luther King, Jr is well known for so many reasons. A civil rights leader, great orator, great Christian, great pacifist. It is no surprise to find all those elements in “A Gift of Love: Sermons from ‘Strength to Love’ and Other Preachings.” As sermons, they are rooted in the Christian faith. But his call for civil rights, his call for a non-violent struggle, are prominent throughout. King was a preacher of the moment, responding to the needs of his congregation and beyond through the lens of his faith. And his strong oration style can be heard even in reading the sermons, as he brings home his points with a cadence which cannot be missed.
The weaknesses in the sermons are more a matter of their context rather than their thinking. Some of them slip toward self-help language, but they reflect the growing awareness of psychology in one’s thinking. Some of the world political issues are now a moot point, and some of what he sought we have reached.
But that our world has not reached the racial integration he sought is clear, and shameful, 50 years after some of these sermons were preached. What does come through in reading these sermons is King’s faith. He was a Christian, and he interprets what he sees through those eyes. These sermons will not allow him to become a secular hero. The civil rights movement was an expression of his Christian faith. His pacifist viewpoint, which was strengthened by the example of Gandhi, was rooted in his Christian faith.
I will not attempt a break down of each sermon. I read this over a long period and was more interested in their impact on my own faith than that of a book review. His sermon, “Antidotes for Fear,” was given to me by a doctor treating my son, who has been battling cancer for over two years. He is not likely to survive another year, and King’s words spoke to my condition. What stronger testament is there to one’s power as a writer or thinker that 50 years later, they still reach people where needed.