“If you want to be important — wonderful. If you want to be recognized — wonderful. If you want to be great — wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness. And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.”
— The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Two months before he was assassinated and nearly 48 years ago, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in which he envisioned his own funeral and discussed how he wanted to be remembered. His Nobel Peace Prize, accolades and degrees were not to be his measure. He wanted to be remembered for his service.
As you walk down the street today, know that every fourth person you pass serves as a volunteer. Know that three of every five people you pass help their neighbors. And remember that as we celebrate King’s birthday today, it should not be just another day off — it should be a day when we join the ranks of those who serve.
Service doesn’t have to be confined to joining with a large group to do organized good. It can be an individual picking up trash along the road. It can be visiting with an older person. It can be picking up the lunch tab for those who serve every day. It can be sharing a kindness with someone you might otherwise ignore.
Our community held its breath as the fires of Ferguson smoldered. Months later we learned that Michael Brown’s death was the spark, but the kindling was piled up for years as some community members were marginalized by their institutions.
Service disperses the fuel of hate and anger. We grow when we get to know those we serve and those with whom we serve. The spirit of community is strongest when we band together with a common mission to enhance the common good.
When we get to the end of our days, will our funerals be filled with memories of our power, or our money, or our prestige? Or will our selfless acts be our legacy?
Remember the Rev. King with your service today and until your last day.