Monday, January 16, 2012

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.

I was deeply honored today to give the benediction at Waterville Martin Luther King Day celebration. Here are the remarks that I delivered:

We have all come together today to honor the memory of a great man, a reverend, a teacher, a leader– someone who ultimately sacrificed his life for the cause of social justice. In the face of bigotry and callousness, he stood tall, affirmed the dignity of those held low, and with a steady voice, exposed the ills of his society for the sake of healing, equality, and freedom for all.

One of the clergy who stood with Dr. King was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. When he marched with King at Selma, a reporter asked him, “isn’t it the job of rabbis to lead prayers at the synagogue?” Rabbi Heschel famously responded, “I am praying with my feet.” A survivor of the Holocaust, Heschel fully recognized the face of evil, and was well aware how a government can perpetrate great injustices if not confronted by the passionate cry of its concerned citizens. Both King and Heschel, inspired by their common textual heritage, channeled the message of the Hebrew prophets and the firm command in the Book of Deuteronomy, “Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof,” Justice, Justice you shall surely pursue.

In his work, Strength to Love, King adjured all people of faith that "The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority."

Regardless of the name we ascribe to the Almighty, whether our faith brings us to an organized religion or not, we must always keep King’s message at the forefront of our minds. Just as God takes special care of “ger, yatom, almanah,” the stranger, the orphan, the widow, so too do we need to be the committed custodians of our weakest and most vulnerable citizens. On this hallowed day, let us recommit ourselves to imitate God’s loving care and commitment to justice: clothing the naked, feeding the poor, helping those held low to stand upright, freeing those held hostage to prejudice based on race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation, providing heat to the shivering, and healing to the afflicted. Ken Yihi Ratzon, May it be God’s will, and let us say, Amen.