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Monday, May 24, 2010

The Power of Speech

“Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down.  His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying...” (Matthew 5: 1-2.)

Have you ever seen or heard a great speech?  I remember seeing on video once the speech that President Kennedy made at the Berlin Wall in 1963.  Now keep in mind the context in which this speech was given. 

It was the height of the cold war.  The Soviets had built the Berlin Wall in 1961 because so many East Germans were fleeing to the west.  In October of 1962 the U.S. and the Soviet Union had come within an eyelash of nuclear war. 

In the summer of 1963, Kennedy spoke to several hundred thousand West Germans in West Berlin at the Berlin Wall.  Remember, these were people who had mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and assorted kinfolk trapped in East Berlin.  Many were questioning if freedom was worth its price.  Others were losing all hope. 

As he looked over the mass of humanity, Kennedy calmly said:
There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the communist world.

Let them come to Berlin!

There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future.

Let them come to Berlin!

And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the communists.

Let them come to Berlin!

And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress.

Lass sie nach Berlin Kommen!  Let them come to Berlin!

Kennedy then concluded his dramatic speech with these words, "All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words 'Ich bin ein Berliner'. "

In that strong, staccato, dramatic, intense tone of voice, Kennedy had resolutely stated his call.  Of that moment the famous historian Arthur Schlesinger writes,  "The crowd shook itself and rose and roared like an animal."  There was an avalanche of energy that surged almost visibly through the square.  It was as if he could have said,  "'March to the Wall-tear it down,' (and) his listeners would have marched." Such is the power of a great speech.

Jesus' speech on the mount was a great speech.  You may or may not know this but it is found in many textbooks today as a model for young students of rhetoric. As good as President Kennedy’s speech was, I believe even he would have said that Jesus’ speech was better. 

We Christians refer to Jesus’ speech in other way; we call it a sermon. Jesus’ sermon has moved people for two thousand years. Such is the power of preaching.

I believe in preaching. I believe in the power of preaching. I always will.

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