Prayer service highlights serving others, human dignity

An ensemble voiced key quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at a prayer service held January 20 at St. Therese Little Flower Parish in Kansas City. (Megan Marley/Key photo)

Megan Marley

“Most Americans think of Dr. King as a civil rights leader—he was. But none of that would have made any sense or had any force, or would have any impact, if Dr. King had not first been Christian,” said Bishop James Johnston in a reflection at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Service held January 20 at St. Therese Little Flower parish in Kansas City. “His words had power because, for the most part, they were not his words but his way of applying God’s Word to the people and the times that he lived in.”

Applying the Word through service of others and renewing commitment to serve was a major theme in the songs, prayers and elements of the prayer service.

“Dr. King’s message was, yeah, it was peace and it was justice, but it was to serve our brothers and sisters who needed our help; and so what better way to celebrate,” said Estelle Tunley, director of liturgy and Music at St. Therese Little Flower, who helped coordinate the prayer service. Members from area parishes, including St. Therese’s, St. Monica’s, St. Elizabeth’s and St. Peter’s, and Protestant denominations such as the Metropolitan Spiritual Church of Christ and First Lutheran Church contributed to the ceremony.

As people entered for the event, they were invited to write down ways they serve the community on slips of paper to tie to a ‘service tree’ standing in the back of church. The service began with the song ‘I’m Available to You’, an opening prayer led Fr. Matt Rotert, pastor of St. Therese, and Psalm 141. Then an ensemble processed in and voiced some words of Dr. King.

“God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.”

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“This is the faith that will be a lamp unto our weary feet and a light unto our meandering path.”

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“The non-violent resistor not only avoids external, physical violence, but he avoids internal violence of spirit. He not only refuses to shoot his opponent, but he refuses to hate him. And he stands with understanding, goodwill at all times.”

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“The dawn will come. Disappointment, sorrow, and despair are born at midnight, but morning follows.”

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

Deacon Darwin Dupree of St. Monica’s Parish read the Scriptures, Matthew 25:34-40: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? …whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me.’

Bishop James Johnston, Jr. then gave a reflection.

“We meet Him in the poor, we serve Him in the poor, we love Him in the poor, and conversely, we neglect Him in the poor,” he said.

“Any preacher worth his salt calls people to conversion…about leaving sin behind and living a new life,” said Johnston.

“But you know, people don’t like change—we like things the way we like them. We watch news and read magazines that reinforce what we think, we tell the preacher ‘tell us what we want to hear’, and not ‘tell us what we need to hear’—and many preachers are intimidated because calling people to change is hard and even dangerous.”

But: “When we put on the mind of Christ and respond to his grace in our lives, we begin to act like Christ. We love ourselves rightly, and we love others as ourselves, and we love God,” he continued.

Johnston said that Dr. King once illustrated how thinking with the mind of Christ affects our acting by using the parable of the Good Samaritan.

“King said that we often presume that the priest and the Levite didn’t stop because they were too busy, or because they were maybe preoccupied with some religious duty that they had; instead, Dr. King suggested they were simply afraid. The road to Jerusalem from Jericho was dangerous, and they likely thought ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ King said then the Good Samaritan came by and reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”

“Without this new vision, people aren’t seen as persons—they’re seen as problems. And when people become problems, they become expendable…we push them aside, we put them out of our sight, we warehouse them, we segregate them, and in some instances we even eliminate them!” the bishop said.

“On this Friday, I will again join tens of thousands of young people for the March for Life in Washington, in essence to witness to the personhood of the unborn… they are persons, we must care for them and their mothers and not see them as problems to be eliminated. The same is true with every person, if we think consistently with the Gospel.”

Johnston said that serious commitment to Christ’s teaching was the bedrock of Dr. King’s preaching and roots of his advocacy for justice and solidarity, and we should live Christ as well.

“Brothers and sisters, this humble preacher asks you: are you significantly challenged today? Let us hear God’s Word, let us have our minds renewed, and then let us act,” Johnston concluded.

Following the bishop’s exhortation, Roberta Gumbel sang and Alexis Cross-Tunley interpreted in dance the song ‘If I Can Help Somebody’ as a response to the reflection. Prayers of the Faithful were offered—for love, right judgment, peace, equality and justice—and then those attending were invited to process up with a symbol of their service in the community: food, clothing, household essentials, pens and other objects. (Tunley later said any of these items not to be returned would be made into care packages for persons in need.)

The Bishop then gave a service-commissioning blessing, and ‘I’m Available to You’ was once again sung before Fr. Rotert concluded the service, thanking those who contributed to its construction. A rousing rendition of the gospel song ‘For the Rest of My Life’ and a carillon of ‘Bells of Peace’ ushered prayer service attendees downstairs for brunch following.

A combined-parishes choir performs at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. prayer service Jan. 20.


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October 29, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph