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Editorial: The parable of the street sweeper


“Let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King and recognize that there are ties between us, all men and women living on the earth. Ties of hope and love …”

James Taylor penned those words in his 1991 song “Shed a Little Light” as he honored King’s legacy. As followers of Christ, we yearn for unity among men and women worldwide, under the grace-filled lordship of Jesus Christ.

We struggle to live up to the ideals set forth in his “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in our nation’s capital in 1963. King knew it would take unrelenting effort across multiple generations to bring about racial unity in the United States. 

In our church pews, we’re still not there. We can do better. We need to work harder.

King was an ardent supporter of hard work, as evidenced in another speech he gave on Oct. 26, 1967 — about six months before he was assassinated. Speaking to a group of students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia, he delivered a speech titled “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint.” He urged the students to stay in school and to root themselves in “a deep belief in your own dignity, your worth and your own somebodiness.”

Here’s an excerpt from the address, often referred to as “the street sweeper speech.” 

And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. 

Don’t just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. 

Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. 

We’re reminded of the apostle Paul’s admonition to Christians in Colossians 3: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

May God grant us energy to work toward the equality and unity that he desires. 

May we sweep our jobs well.

Filed under: Editorial

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