I came across Dr. King’s sermon “The Drum Major Instinct” about 4 years ago. He preached this sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church on February 4th, 1968. This is two months before he was assassinated in Memphis. In this sermon he references what he would like people to say about his life during his eulogy, which makes it especially prophetic.
If you have never read this or heard this, I hope you delve into it. There’s so much in here about servanthood, consumerism, posturing, classism, the evil of supporting oppressors, all woven together in a richly told sermon. How I have been reflecting on it in recent days has been the part about what true greatness looks like, and how that relates to what I would want said at my funeral. Like Dr. King, I’d like for someone to say that I did try to feed the hungry. I’d like for someone to say that I did try to love and serve humanity. I’d like for someone to say that I helped people get into housing, and that I met people where they were, on street corners or under bridges or wherever they were. I’d like for someone to say that I raised my kids to seek justice and to hate racism and to be anti-racist.
One of the classes I am teaching in the spring lends itself to this kind of reflective exercise. In Senior Capstone, we look at professional issues and their big project is a practice evaluation associated with their field placement. But there is also space in the course (and direction from the institution) to have students think about their mission in life, and to think about how they will live out their calling as they move toward graduation and a different phase of life. I have never had students listen to this sermon in full before, but this year I plan to, and I will ask them to use it as a foundation for writing their mission statement and thinking about what it means to have a life well lived.
And, if I want those things to be said at my eulogy, what do I need to keep doing this year? What do I need to be doing differently this year? If my students want to live out their mission fully, what do they need to be doing differently? How can we encourage and support each other in this?
You can find the sermon in its entirety in written form here https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/drum-major-instinct-sermon-delivered-ebenezer-baptist-church You can listen to it here: