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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration Invocation

By Rabbi Renée Bauer

Madison, Wisconsin
January 19, 2009

It is Jewish tradition to sing a series of psalms on joyous days of celebration. Today is such a day so I invoke the words of Psalm 118 to begin tonight’s celebration:

Open the gates of justice for me, that I may enter them and give thanks unto God…
I give thanks to you for you have answered me and have been my deliverance. 
The stone rejected by the builders has become the chief cornerstone.
This is God’s doing; it is marvelous in our sight.
This is the day God has made. Let us celebrate it and express our joy”
          -- Psalm 118, verses 19 and 21-24

We join together tonight to give thanks that our calls for justice and equality have been answered. As an African-American family moves into the White House tomorrow indeed we can see that those who were rejected by the builders of this country are becoming the cornerstone of our democracy. It is truly marvelous in our sight. But before we rejoice in the festivities of tomorrow we celebrate this joyous day, the day on which we honor the life and work of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.

To honor King is to not only rejoice and thank God but to take action. As Reverend King said to the striking sanitation workers in Memphis in one of the final speeches of his life,

Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know now, that it isn't enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn't have enough money to buy a hamburger?... We are saying, "Now is the time." Get the word across to everybody in power in this town that now is the time to make real the promises of democracy” 
          -- Martin Luther King, Jr., speech to the striking sanitation workers,
             Memphis Tennessee March 18, 1968

Now is the time… It is not enough to have an African-American president if all residents of our country cannot provide food for their children, do not have access to health care and struggle to keep a roof above their heads. We must get the word across to those in power that now is the time to make real the promise of democracy that promise that all people – no matter if they are Black or White, Muslim, Jewish or Christian, if they recently crossed a border or were born in this country, if they collect our trash or teach our children – all need to be treated with dignity and have access to a decent livelihood.

Let us pray. Let us pray for the strength to harness the groundswell of change that is sweeping across our country and work to open the gates of justice even wider so that all people can enter and truly give thanks to God. Amen