Martin Luther King Shabbat @ Beth El

Here are the thoughts that I wrote for this past Friday’s MLK Shabbat, which was a shared service in partnership between our congregation, Johnson C. Smith University, and East Stonewall AME Zion Church. Many wonderful words were spoken by many speakers. May Dr. King’s birthday be an impetus for us to deepen relationships between religious communities, racial and ethnic groups, and fellow citizens.

The Rabbis of the Talmud asked the question: Why did God begin the world by creating only one human being, only Adam? And they answered: So that no one might say “My ancestors were greater than yours.” It is easy to forget we are part of one human family. It is easy to live in fear of those who are different from us – who look different, speak differently, worship differently. It is much harder to reach out a hand and say Shalom.

Today would have been Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 80th birthday. As we come together, we celebrate an idea that he fought for and an idea that he continues to stand for, but an idea that is much older than he is: that all people are created equal; that we are responsible for each other and responsible to each other; that we are descended – every one of us – from the same Adam and the same Eve. And that makes every person in this room and every person out there sisters and brothers. There is no better way to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday than to sit together, and pray together, and grow together so that we come to realize that there is much more that unites us than divides us.

We live today in a society that seems to be ever more polarized, segregated, and fearful. It is a great reminder that we are not here tonight to celebrate Dr. King’s dream come to fruition, but rather to urge ourselves to continue the work of creating a better world.

In Judaism, the Sabbath is known as Me’ein Olam Haba – a taste of the world to come. Shabbat is meant to be a taste of that better world, a world without hatred or poverty or injustice, a world where we are judged “not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character.” On this Sabbath, may we celebrate our common dream. And as we welcome Shabbat with the singing of Lecha Dodi, may we resolve to make it a reality.

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