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"Worship at Its Best," Sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church

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


Recognizing that worship is an elemental component of all religions, King delineates its three fundamental aspects.

Int: There is hardly any drive in human nature more elemental than the practice of worship. Everywhere man appears [to be?] as a worshipping creature. Whether he is a Buddhist praying in his temple, a Confucianist bowing in his shrine, a Moslem knealing in his mosques, a Jew worshiping in his synagogue, or a Christian prasing God in his Cathedral, man is a worshiping creature.1

Since worship is such a basic part of the human response, we may well ask, What is distinguishs true from false worship? What is worship at its best?

Worship at its best consist of a threefold look

  1. The upward look—seeing God high and lifted up. In our day it means going to Church and partaking of the sacramnts.
  2. The inward look—“I am a man of unclean lips.”2 It brings us in contact with the highest and least in reality. We begin to say as Iago said abot Cassio;
      He hath a daily beauty in his life
      that makes me ugly3

    Worship makes us aware of life’s undying dream. (See Miller, The Great Realities, p 24, 32)4

  3. The outward look—“Here am I O lord send me”5 If worship does not lead to service it is meaningless.
    “Why call ye me Lord Lord and do not the things I command.6
      Quote the prophets
        Jermiah about subtituting worship for service.
  4. ‘What doth the Lord requre of thee but to do justly, love mercy.”7

Be not deceived, God is not mocked by empty hymn anthem, and prayer.8 God cannot be placated by pious observances.9

1. Fosdick, Successful Christian Living, p. 165: “Man everywhere appears as a worshiping creature. Some of us have prayed with Buddhists in their temples, bowed with Confucianists in their shrines, knelt with Moslems in their mosques, worshiped many a time in synagogues, and with all sorts of Christians have shared devotion.” King wrote “Preached at Dexter, Dec. 14, 1958” on the folder containing this outline and Fosdick’s sermon, which King had torn out of Successful Christian Living.

2. Cf. Isaiah 6:5.

3. William Shakespeare, Othello, act 5, sc. 1.

4. King cites two references made to persistent dreams by Samuel Miller in The Great Realities (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955). Miller writes: “Under it all there is a dream, perhaps a bit hard to remember, but a dream that will not die completely, however much it is neglected or compromised,” and further states, “This lasting dream which tortures and torments us with its undying hopes, ill treated and neglected as it is, stands embedded in the reality of our human state” (Miller, The Great Realities, pp. 24, 32). Samuel Howard Miller was minister of the Old Cambridge Baptist Church from 1935 until 1959, when he became dean of Harvard Divinity School.

5. Cf. Isaiah 6:8.

6. Cf. Luke 6:46.

7. Cf. Micah 6:8. In King’s notes on this verse, he wrote: “Here again we find one of the high watermarks of the O.T. The divine demand upon men is expressed in terms of elemental simplicity—justice and kindness between man and man, and a humble walk with God. This was religion as Micah saw it. [¶] Jehovah’s good will is served not by a careful observance of the ritual, or by the bringing of sacrifices, whatever may be their intrinsic value, but by a life in accord with the principles of righteousness, by the diligent practice of kindness and brotherliness, and by a living fellowship with God in the spirit of humility. Few notions so sublime have been conceived in the whole history of religion” (King, Notecards on topics from Micah, 22 September 1952-28 January 1953).

8. Fosdick, Successful Christian Living, p. 172: “‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked’ by empty hymns, anthems, and prayers.” Cf. Galatians 6:7.

9. Micah 6:8. King underlined Fosdick’s use of this phrase in his annotated copy of Successful Christian Living, p. 172.


CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands, Sermon file, folder 62, Worship at Its Best.