calendar January 21, 2013 in Bishop, Bishop messages

Honoring Dr. King With a New Narrative

Fifty years after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. penned his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the American civil rights story is “turning a chapter and, I hope and pray, writing a new narrative,” Bishop Claire Burkat said at the Jan. 20 worship service celebrating King’s life and dreams in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod.

The bishop preached at the service, held at St. Mark’s on Broad Street, sponsored by the African Descent Lutheran Association Philadelphia Chapter.

Bishop Burkat noted that in April, on the 50th anniversary of King’s letter, the leaders of Christian Churches Together will gather in Birmingham to release a response that expresses gratitude for the sacrifices of civil rights leaders and calls on Christians to embrac America’s interdependence with others around the globe, to work to eliminate the causes of systemic injustice rather than just treat its symptoms, and to strive to create “a community that honors the full equality of all people.”

Bishop Burkat joined leaders of the African Descent Lutheran Association, Philadelphia Chapter.

Bishop Burkat joined leaders of the African Descent Lutheran Association, Philadelphia Chapter.

CCT brings together representatives of Roman Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical and Pentecostal churches, and historic Black and Protestant churches to pray, plan and work together about common issues. Bishop Burkat represents the ELCA at CCT.

“What would Dr. King think if he knew that five decades after he penned his now-famous letter, representatives from 26 major Christian denominations would commit to meet for mutual support, to foster Christian unity, to encourage cooperative not competitive evangelism, and to speak to society with a common voice?” the bishop said in her sermon.

“How would it feel for him to know that his life’s work — all his marching and writing and preaching and yes, dying — would not be in vain?  That 50 years later, clergy leaders would attempt to respond to his letter the way those eight original clergy should have – with a response that calls our society to address the causes of injustice, not just the symptoms; to seek a higher standard for economic, political and public policy; and to continue engaging in nonviolent direct action to effect a social transformation.”

Young musicians helped lead the festive worship

Young musicians helped lead the festive worship

The bishop called for SEPA congregations to band together to address issues of social justice amid the many pressures and priorities that face the church and its leaders.

“I know that the issues of social justice can look like a giant mountain of crusty snow in front of the driveway of progress with no plow and no spring thaw in sight.  Sometimes it makes you just want to sit down and cry.  But here’s what I know: The mountain is big, but it’s not insurmountable.”

“I may be out here with just my little shovel – but what gives me the chutzpah to tackle that mountain is knowing that you’re over there with your little shovel, too.  And my little shovel – well, it gives me purpose, gives me one area to focus on, and helps to frame my ministry. We must hold each other accountable to Dr. King’s legacy.  We must ask ourselves and each other:  what is one thing I can do?”


Photos by the Rev. Jesse W. Brown.