The great preacher Martin Luther King, Jr. now stands 30 feet tall overlooking the National Mall.
It is a fitting sign of the social significance of gospel preaching, a rebuke to those who bemoan the declining influence of the pulpit, and an encouragement to all who sense the call to take up the vocation of the preacher.
The King memorial sits on 4 acres of federal land square in the middle of the triangle formed by the Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson monuments. It is easily the largest tribute to a non-president in our nation’s capital.
Fourteen inscriptions taken from King’s sermons and speeches adorn a 450-foot wall. Two massive limestone rocks frame the entrance; they represent the “mountain of despair” mentioned in the famous 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech. King himself is chiseled emerging from the separate “stone of hope.”
The famous speech with its powerful metaphor illustrates the ministry of public preaching (as distinct from parish preaching). This dominant biblical pattern of preaching–so wonderfully embodied by the King memorial–addresses not merely the Christian community but the wider human community.
Another quote is adapted from a February 4, 1968, sermon King delivered at the Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, on the subject of what kind of eulogy might be given at his death: “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”
The dedication of the King memorial was scheduled for this past August but was postponed due to the advance of Hurricane Irene. What cannot be postponed is a new phase in the famous preacher’s influence on the moral and political life of the American people.