MLK Commemoration

Today is a day of blessing. It is a day of memory. We are here united to remember, and to look to our future. Standing on my pulpit, here at Congregation B’nai Israel, the congregation of the children of Israel, I am very aware of the power of memory. In the Jewish tradition, every holiday is one of memory--but we bring those memories to the present and the future. When we celebrate Passover, we are commanded not just to remember the Exodus, the journey from slavery to freedom, but to live AS IF WE WERE THERE. We do not just say that our ancestors were slaves in Egypt, but that WE were slaves in Egypt. Today we remember a man who championed peace, but not a quiet peace where tensions simmered underneath, we remember a man who knew that the path to peace was not always linear, was a path that not only allowed, but required the ruffling of feathers.

As we stand here today, that spirit feels resonant. We are not here just to memorialize a man, but to bring his spirit to life. As we resurrect his words and his actions, we remember a human man, who made human mistakes, had human emotions, and brought inspiration to millions. He was not liked by all people because he had radical views--views that demanded a poor people’s campaign, protesting against a war in Vietnam which sacrificed the lives of so many, and cost millions of dollars, when people at home desperately needed decent jobs and opportunities. We all have heard his dream, but how often do we hear from his letter from the Birmingham Jail?

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." ...

Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

MLK’s words do not just live in the past. Decades after he wrote these words, we still see gerrymandering, voter suppression, and outright racism. We know that MLK spoke out repeatedly against anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, yet on the left and the right, anti-Israel, anti-Jewish sentiment in public and louder than they ever has been. We hear people speak of our Muslim brothers and sisters as terrorists and murderers. We see our native brothers and sisters continually pushed off their lands with their natural resources spoiled. We see people tear off their masks and spout hatred and racist vitriol in public, with no fear or shame. It is despicable.

Yet amidst that turmoil, we also see glimmers of hope. In this city, we see the most diverse city council in our city’s history. We see a mayor who represents our entire city, its past, present and future. We see individuals of all political parties working together to bring about positive change. Last week I had the privilege of offering the invocation and benediction at the swearing in of a class of new police officers. Again, it was a class that looks like the City of St Petersburg, diverse, male, female, with names demonstrating their family histories. I prayed that they would be officers of peace.

Today I pray that all of you will be officers of peace. Let us all work to bring positive dialogue, actual, active listening to our relationships. Rather than shouting at one another, let us listen to one another. I am not the first to tell you we have two ears and one mouth! In this way, let us find peace.

In Hebrew, the word for peace, Shalom, comes from the root Shalem, wholeness. We cannot find real peace until all of us are whole. I pray that each and every one of us will find our sheleimut, our wholeness, will help build a society of wholeness and unity so that we can find true peace--here and everywhere.