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"A Way Out"

King, Martin Luther, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Career in Ministry


This handwritten document, the earliest known text of any sermon King delivered as associate pastor at Ebenezer,1 illustrates his use of personal experiences and relationships in his preaching. In the sermons he delivered at his home church during the summer of 1949, King displayed a willingness to address the issue of race relations.

{That is the way out and the only successful way.}

A few days ago I had a very long conversation with one of my very close classmates. In the course of the conversation he related to me some of the tragic experiences that came to him a year before entering the seminary. He said, “you know King, just before a year ago I lost my wife and my mother within three weeks time. My wife died the first week in May and my mother died the last week in May. These were very tragic experience for me mainly because I wasn't prepared for them. At the funeral of both my wife and mother the minister said, ‘this is the will of God, therefore it cannot be wrong.’ But the great conflict that faced me at this [moment] was that it was not my will that my wife and mother should die. Here my will was in direct conflict with God's will. It was at this point that I almost cracked up. I had almost lost all hope in life. But finally after paryer and hard work I was able to balence myself. I came to see with the poet that into each life some rain must fall.2 It is my firm belief that if I had not had a deep faith in God and a strong belief in the efficacy of prayer I would have never pulled through this crisis.”

Jesus found himself in a similar crisis. We have set ourselves over the years to believe that Jesus wanted to die.

These types of experiences are not only peculiar to my friend, but they present themselves in all levels of human nature. Men are forever confronted with crisis situations Sometime ago Jesus found himself in a similar situation. He found himself confronted with the question of life or death. Of course many of us have set our minds to believe that Jesus was never confronted with this question. Moreover we have come to believe that He wanted to die in the beginning. But a close analysis of the scripture reveals the contrary. In fact it states clearly that Jesus had a deep-seated desire to escape death. In Luke's gospel we find these words, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me.” Here we see that Jesus' will is the direct anthersis of God's will. At this moment Jesus didn't want to die, but his father in Heaven saw the necessity of his death. The question immediately arises, how was it that Jesus in the same verse could say, “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”3 In other words, what resource did Jesus have to make his will become God's will? What was his way out in this moment of crisis? This is the question that I will attempt to answer before this sermon is ended.4

Before answering this question let us place this familiar picture in a modern frame and show the weakness of many of the resources that men turn to in crisis situation. I need not dwell on the fact that most people are at some time confronted with crisis: both the rich and the poor; the young and the old; the ups and ins; the downs and outs. Of course the forms of these crisis may be as diverse as the number of human beings. It may result from the death of a love one; it may result from an unsuccessful love affair; it may result from the lose of some economic security, it may result from the failure to make the antiscipated grade in school; or it may result from a childs failure to [come?] up to his parents expectation. Although the form of these situations is different, the result is the same—crisis, crisis, crisis.

When men find themselves in these crisis situations they are forever trying to find a way out. They are forever attempting to rise above the mighty tempestuous seas of confusion to the smooth seas of comfort. What are some of the methods that men have used to come out of these crisis.

First, men have used the method of escapism. This was the method that the disciples used when they were confronted with the crisis of the death of their leader. They saw the solution of their problem in their feet. So they ran back to Galilee. But was this a solution to the problem? Had not the personality of this dynamic leader so intoxicated the minds of these men that a escape to Galilee was only a temporary escape from a problem which could not be so easily solved.

Modern man has attempted to use this method of escapism through such media as drunkeness, sensual indulgence, and even suicide. It seems that the contemporary soul is turning almost haphazardly to these avenues of escape. But do these methods actually solve the gigantic problems that we face in moments of crisis, or do they only push the problems back a step futher. It seems to me that the latter is the more logical. for we never solve problem by attempting to run from them. Our running only gives a tempory allevation not a permanent solution. For an instance, if I owe John Doe $50 and find myself unable to pay him, will getting drunk solve the problen for me. It may help me to forget my debt for a few hours, but when I get sober I still owe John $50.

The psychaitrists tell us that there is also a psychological danger in the use of drugs and alcohol in the moment of crisis. They tell us that the more we use these methods to escape the grim realities of life, the thiner and thiner our personalities become until ultimately they split. This may account for the increasing split personalities that we have today. So let us not turn to the various methods of escapism when we come to the crisis of life.

Men have turned to a second source in moments of crisis, namely to the companionship of friends. It seems that man's social instinct is most conspicuous in moments of crisis. So that words of friends in moments of crisis may be very consoling. N.P. The late Dr. George Truit of Texas, tells the story, in one of his books, of a great fire that broke out in a hotel of one of the southern cities.5 The firemen were on the job with their net and ladder until it was believed that all in the building had been rescued. Suddenly a cry of dismay came from the top floor of the hotel, and immediatly the crowd began looking up. There they saw the white face of a little girl. Speedily the chief set forth the longest ladder and sent the youngest and bravest fireman. The crowd stood tense as this young fireman ascending the ladder. Finally he reached the little girl and began slowly to descend the ladder. Just at the time that he had gotten half way down the ladder billows of smoke began to flow from the window below him and flames began to leap from each side. Here the young fireman lost his courage. He began to hesitate falter and sway. Immediately the fire chief at the bottom of the ladder shouted, “Cheer him up boys, cheer him up,” and cheer after cheer rang out.

Very soon the sound of the cheers from below reached the young fireman on the ladder. The crowds watched as the young firemen regained his strength and courage and once again began to descend the ladder until he finally brought the little girl to safty.

I guess many men have been able [strikeout illegible] to go through many crisis because of the cheers and kind words of friends ringing in their ears. But is this alway the case? Can we always rely on friends in moments of crisis? Suppose Jesus had relied on this source. Would he have been able to master this crisis. Did not his friend Peter deny him?6 Did not his frind Judus betray him?7 Did not the other disciples run to Galilee?8 Yes, when Jesus faced the bitter cup, when he stood in Pilates judgment hall, when he bore his cross up the slopes of Calvery, there were no cheers. So we cannot alway depend on our friend in moment of crisis. You see, your susposedly best friend may be your worst enemy. And this type of enemy is more dangerous than an obvious enemy, for he knows your inner secrets, your weaknesses and your shortcomings. He knows the definite point of attact.

Again friend may only stick with you in moment of triumph and victory. These types of friend are quite prevelant in our world. They are present in our victory but absent in our defeat. So friendship might not be the best source toward which to turn in moment of crisis, for friendship might only be an external front with no internal basis.

Where then shall we turn, what road shall we travel, in the endless, basic, and all important attempt to remain stable in moments of crisis.

This brings us directly to original question. How did Jesus finally cone to the point that his will, which had in the beginning been contrary to God's will, become one with God will. The scripture tells us that he prayed. In other word Jesus turned to God in his moment of crisis It is this method that I recomend to you this morning. I guess many of you are saying that solution is to naive, too often do preachers tell us to pray and turn to God.

Why is it that on one occasion we hear Jeremiah saying, “cursed be the day wherein I was born” and on another occasion we hear him saying; “the word of God was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones.9 It was because he turned to God in moments of crisis. Why is it that on one occasion we hear Deutero Isaiah saying, “Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of lsrael, the Saviour,” but on another occasion we hear him saying, “the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever.”10 It is because he turned to God in moments of crisis. Why is it that on one occasion we hear Habakkuk crying, “O Lord how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear,” but on another occasion we hear him crying, “The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.”11 Why is it that on an occasion we hear Job saying, “O that I knew where I could find him that I might come to his dweeling. And I would set my case in order before him,” but on another occasion we hear him saying, “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the ladder day upon earth.12

1. King's announced sermon topic for 22 May 1949 at Ebenezer was “A Way Out” (“‘A Way Out’ Rev. M. L. King Jr.'s Subject,” Atlanta Daily World, 21 May 1949).

2. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Rainy Day” (1841): “Thy fate is the common fate of all,/ Into each life some rain must fall.”

3. Luke 22:42.

4. King also reflected on these questions in a 1957 Palm Sunday sermon (King, Garden of Gethsemane, Sermon Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 14 April 1957, p. 275-283 in this volume).

5. George W. Truett was the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, from 1897 until his death in 1944 and served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1927 until 1929. King refers to an illustration from Truett's sermon “What To Do With Life's Burdens” (Truett, A Quest for Souls: Comprising All the Sermons Preached and Prayers Offered in a Series of Gospel Meetings, Held in Fort Worth, Texas [New York: George H. Doran, 1917], p. 22).

6. For an example of Peter's denials of Jesus, see Matthew 26:69-75.

7. For an example of Judas' betrayal of Jesus, see Luke 22.

8. Matthew 26:56.

9. Jeremiah 20:14, 20:9.

10. Isaiah 45:15, 40:8.

11. Habakkuk 1:2, 3:19.

12. Job 23:3-4, 19:25.


CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands, Sermon file, folder 13, A Way Out.