Yesterday, Pastor Thysan Sam and I gave the opening prayer at the local MLK event organized by the Middlesex Community College Foundation. In reflecting on just what to pray, I was struck by two quotes from Rev. Dr. King, and meditated on what they might mean when held side by side:
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.“Our God is Marching On!” sermon given 25 March 1965
Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be coworkers with God . . . .“Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” August 1963
Together the quotes remind me of King’s faith that God is still in control, still at work for the reconciliation of the world, but that people of good will cannot be content to sit around and wait for God to complete that work. The first quote gives me hope when I am tired or despairing. The second gives me a kick in the pants to get up and keep working. In that spirit, I offered this prayer at yesterday’s gathering:
God of justice and peace,
We gather on this January afternoon to remember the life
of your servant and prophet Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior
and to renew our commitment to his vision of a Beloved Community;
community where every person’s dignity is honored,
where people of every color and creed have
safe housing, meaningful work, and a voice in our political process;
a community where children from every class and background
have equal access to high-quality education;
a community where racism will be extinguished from the hearts of individuals
and eradicated from the systems and structures that shape our public life.
God of grace,
we thank you for all the people who have been
working, marching, praying, voting, protesting, and legislating for decades and even centuries
to build this kind of community in our nation and around the world –
those who came before Dr. King and those who came after him,
all the way up until today.
We thank you for people of every background
who sacrificed their social status, their economic well-being, and even their lives
to move the dream forward.
We thank you for Fredrick Douglass and Sojourner Truth
for Rosa Parks and Medgar Evers,
for John Lewis and Fannie Lou Hamer
for Patrisse Khan-Cullors and William Barber
for Lura Smith and Marisol Nobrega
for Lowell Votes and the Southeast Asian Water Festival.
We thank you that even when these our predecessors grew weary,
you sustained their dream and kept their feet a-marchin’.
We confess, God of mercy,
that in this second decade of the 21st century
we sometimes feel discouraged or disillusioned, cynical or skeptical.
Empower us, Gracious God, when not only our feet but even our souls are tired.
Remind us that you, O God, are still committed to the reconciliation of the world;
still bending the universe toward justice.
Open our eyes to see our neighbors who are still working for the dream.
Grant us glimpses of Beloved Community in our own homes and churches,
in our own workplaces and neighborhoods.
And strengthen us, God of might.
Make us tireless in our efforts and persistent in our work
so that we might be called coworkers with you,
ushering in your reign of justice and peace for all people.
Strengthen each of us and all of us, O God,
so that we might keep moving the dream forward together.