Only weeks before his 1968 assassination in Memphis, King delivered one of his most powerfully prophetic sermons at the National Cathedral in Washington.
He titled it "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution," and his text was from Revelation 21: "Behold I make all things new ..."
His words and illustrations speak powerfully 44 years later:
"I am sure that most of you have read that arresting little story from the pen of Washington Irving entitled 'Rip Van Winkle.' The one thing that we usually remember about the story is that Rip Van Winkle slept twenty years. But there is another point in that little story that is almost completely overlooked. It was the sign in the end, from which Rip went up in the mountain for his long sleep.
"When Rip Van Winkle went up into the mountain, the sign had a picture of King George the Third of England. When he came down twenty years later the sign had a picture of George Washington, the first president of the United States. ... And this reveals to us that the most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that Rip slept twenty years, but that he slept through a revolution."
The 21st century is changing much faster than the revolutionary period of the late 18th century, and the Rip Van Winkles of our own time need only have a long blink to miss the changes, many for the good of everyone.
King said a great revolution was taking place worldwide in 1968. He was part of it, and in the events of the past year in the Middle East, in the Occupy protests in the U.S. and also in the passionate populist politics of the Tea Party movement and the reassertion of Libertarians, the power of revolutionary thinking is clearly strong.
King called the collective movements a "freedom explosion."
King understood before globalization became a part of the conversation that "no individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping ..."
We must all learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will perish as fools, King said from the cathedral pulpit.
The past four decades have only bold-faced his words.
He also spoke to the scandal of poverty in America:
"I was in Marks, Mississippi, the other day ... And I saw mothers and fathers who said to me not only were they unemployed, they didn't get any kind of income... I said, 'How do you live?' And they say, 'Well, we go around to the neighbors and ask them for a little something. When the berry season comes, we pick berries. When the rabbit season comes, we hunt and catch a few rabbits. And that's about it.'"
Jesus, King reminded that congregation, of a parable about a man who went to hell because he didn't see the poor.
"His name was Dives. He was a rich man. And there was a man by the name of Lazarus who was a poor man, but not only was he poor, he was sick. Sores were all over his body, and he was so weak that he could hardly move. But he managed to get to the gate of Dives every day, wanting just to have the crumbs that would fall from his table. And Dives did nothing about it. And the parable ends saying, "Dives went to hell, and there were a fixed gulf now between Lazarus and Dives.
"... Dives didn't go to hell because he was rich; ... Dives went to hell because he passed by Lazarus every day and he never really saw him."
King admonished, "There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right."
Thank God for John of Patmos, King said, because he caught vision of a new Jerusalem from God and heard a voice saying, "Behold, I make all things new; former things are passed away."
Will we see and will we act because it is right?