The new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church USA celebrated the life of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King in her first official service in the Diocese of New York this week - at St Ann's Church in the Bronx, on 15 January 2007. She stressed the difficult call to radical non-violence as a key Christian vocation arising from his legacy.
Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori served as celebrant of communion and preacher at the event. It marked the the 21st anniversary of the national holiday and would have been King's 78th birthday, had he lived.
Dr Jefferts Schori, speaking in both English and Spanish, told the standing-room only crowd that nearly 40 years after King's death "we still have not fully achieved that dream."
"Some still live in oppression because of the color of their skin. Some still live in oppression because of their national origin and heritage," she said. "Some have arrived on these shores to work because we want their labor, but they live in oppression because we are not willing to allow them to become free and equal citizens."
Bishop Jefferts Schori stressed that the gospel "is about the love God has for all of us" and that "week by week, we promise to show that love to the world by the way we live and act."
"Dr. King was a powerful witness to the ability of love to change the world ‚Äì that radically non-violent form of gospel love," she said. "It means loving yourself and recognizing the image of God in yourself, and then doing the same with others."
She acknowledged that "non-violent loving is not necessarily easy" but said "it can change the world."
"Dr King taught people to live in a way that says, 'even if you disregard me, I am a full human being and your equal.' It led to taking a seat at lunch counters and on buses. Sometimes that assertion drew a violent response, like the fire hoses that were used on peaceful demonstrators," said Jefferts Schori. "But that out-of-proportion response began to change public opinion, and began to change the system that permitted oppression to continue."
She also spoke of giving to everyone who begs from you and lending, expecting nothing in return "because none of what we have is really ours ‚Äì it belongs to God and we are only stewards."
She said when King's house was bombed, he began to understand that his life would probably be forfeit, but he continued to love nonetheless.
Jefferts Schori went on to recall the recent act of bravery of Wesley Autrey, a New Yorker who saved the life of a stranger, who had fallen onto the subway tracks, by lying on top of him just before a train approached.
"You and I can love with abandon, we can keep on loving folks who disagree with us or hate us, and we can change the world," she said. "Dr King offered a life lived with that kind of freedom. His dream began in setting his own people free. His dream continued to enlarge, to setting free those in poverty, those who suffered under systems of injustice, those who were sent to war and those who were warred upon."
Jefferts Schori said "as long as anyone is in bondage, none of us will ever be free."
"God asks us to dream dreams, love the unlovable, and have mercy on the merciless. When we do, we will join Martin in worshipping God on the mountaintop," she concluded.
With thanks to the Episcopal News Service