I was not alive in 1963 when a quarter of a million people gathered for the Great March on Washington, and I cannot remember the first time I saw the video and heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s voice resounding: “I have a dream.” It was such an important part of the world in which I grew up that I could hardly imagine a time when those words were not well known.
Having grown up in South Carolina, I knew first-hand the red-clay soil about which Dr. King spoke when he said, “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
When I went to Washington, DC, as a young adult, I journeyed to the Lincoln Memorial and looked out on the National Mall from the spot where Dr. King made his speech.
I decided to pursue a Ph.D. degree in social ethics at Boston University in part because that was where Dr. King studied, and I studied with the Martin Luther King, Jr., Professor of Social Ethics. I learned more of the theological and philosophical underpinnings of King’s nonviolent social action designed to bring the Beloved Community.
I remember the first time I visited the space that was his former dormitory room on campus; I found myself taking a deep breath from the solemnity of the experience for me. I spent time in the King Reading Room in the university’s library, and I attended the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Event and joined in the loud chorus singing, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Today, I cannot claim to know the feelings of those who attended the March on Washington, but I do have a sense of the powerful depth of that moment and the important changes it helped bring to our country. So, I celebrate this day as one whose life has been dramatically improved by the Civil Rights Movement. And, I join my prayers with those who ask God’s guidance and direction as, together, we seek to make the dream a reality.
A church member submitted my name to the Carolina Panthers football team, and I have been asked to deliver the invocation prior to the preseason game on August 29. Accepting the invitation was fun and easy. Now that it is time to prepare the invocation, I have been wondering how I should pray and what I should say.
I agree with the team’s requirement that prayers should be respectful and ecumenical. I also agree with the requirement that they should last less than one minute.
My challenge has been to craft words that recognize the importance of prayer, fit within the time limit, and respect all the people who will be present.
I keep considering a question: what is prayer in a setting like this?
I think it is an effort to lift our sights beyond ourselves, to affirm good things about the event and participants, and to offer a good word.
Is there something else or something more? If you have ideas, I would appreciate knowing them. You may reply to this post, or you may send them to Dean@FernwoodChurch.org.
Each week during worship at our church, after the readings from the Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospel, the reader says, “This is the Word of the Lord.” The congregation responds, “Thanks be to God.”
Normally, the readings are either familiar passages many of us have heard for years or nice and helpful teachings that guide, encourage, or inspire us. Thus, uttering our thanks to God is easy and comfortable.
Last Sunday’s reading, from Ecclesiastes chapters 1 and 2, was different. The most familiar passage from Ecclesiastes is found in chapter 3: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
Just prior to this passage, however, we hear challenging words from Qoheleth, the book’s author who often is named “Teacher” or “Preacher” in English.
My wife, Lisa, read chapters 1 and 2, and after reading, she held up the Bible and said, “Like it or not, this is the Word of the Lord.” The congregation said, in rather hushed tones, “Thanks be to God.”
In Ecclesiastes 1 and 2, Qoheleth reflects on his life and says, “All is vanity and chasing after the wind. I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind.”
In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates these words in this manner: “I’ve seen it all and it’s nothing but smoke – smoke, and spitting in the wind. I hate life. As far as I can see, what happens on earth is bad business. It’s smoke – and spitting in the wind.”
You don’t usually hear these words from the pulpit!
The Bible is a wonderful book because it contains many lessons for faithful living, stories of faithful people, and prayers of praise and lament. When we read the Scripture in its entirety, we receive both words of comfort and words of challenge. We hear words of joy, and we hear cries of despair. And, the good news is this: God is in the midst of all of them.
The first two chapters of Ecclesiastes are, for me, more challenging than comforting – yet it is important to read them, to reflect on them, to be challenged by them. They are indeed, “The Word of the Lord.”
Thanks be to God.