Home Equipping Leaders African American The Making of a Prophet:  Celebrating the Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Making of a Prophet:  Celebrating the Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Introductory note: This worship service was celebrated on January 15, 2003, at the Wightman Chapel of the Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville, Tennessee. The Center for Worship Resourcing posts it here so that churches and communities who may want to adapt it for use in their settings will have the benefit of this powerful recollection of the voice of Dr. King.

Those born after 1968 did not hear the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the evening news; and many of us born before 1968 only recall them in the brief "sound bites" that are used in our yearly MLK celebrations. "The Making of a Prophet" provides an opportunity for both younger adults and older adults to hear and reflect upon several of the historic speeches that shook the foundations of America and forever changed how we live with one another. This service compares the experiences of Moses to those of Martin Luther King, Jr., and provides an opportunity for those present to reflect upon the ways that God prepares people to stand as prophets.

Planning Considerations
For this service, you will need:

  • One or more skilled readers to be the "voice" or "presence" of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • One narrator
  • Up to six readers, who will be seated at various places in the pews as part of the congregation
  • One or more soloists
  • One or more musicians on piano/organ and/or other instruments that are familiar to your congregation's worship life. (Note: Songs may be done without musical instruments, as was often the case during the Civil Rights Movement.) (optional)
  • Candles or tea lights to be lit in memory of those who suffered or died during the Civil Rights Era. (optional)
  • Colorful banners with headlines from the Civil Rights Era (optional)

Meditation

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
— Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, 1776

It would take nearly two centuries for these words to become a reality for all Americans — due in large part to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who allowed God to make him a prophet. But what is involved in the making of a prophet? How do we know if it is our turn to stand up for a righteous cause? What responsibility do we have when God reveals to us that we can no longer ignore injustice? What is the price of answering God's call to be prophetic? The lives of Moses and Martin may help us discover answers to these questions. Perhaps today you will hear God's call to stand as prophet, to speak and to serve.

PRELUDE

WELCOME

PROCESSION
"Go Down, Moses" (UMH 448)
(Congregation sings while seated.)
Procession may include readers, narrators, community/church officials, singers, banners, and so forth.

GOD NOTICES SUFFERING PEOPLE

Scripture (read by narrator)
Exodus 2:23-25

Martin's Childhood Reflections
Martin's childhood reflections reveal his struggle with racism at an early age. Suggested reflections, delivered in the first person, may be adapted from Martin and Malcolm and America: A Dream or a Nightmare, by James Cone (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), Chapter 1, "The Making of a Dreamer (1929-55)," pages 19-57. See especially page 23.

Historic Events From the Civil Rights Era
Readers share headlines from the Civil Rights Era while seated among worshipers in the congregation. For larger sanctuaries, consider the use of a cordless microphone.

For example

Reflections from Martin's High School Years
Reflections from Martin's high school years reveal that Martin, like other African-Americans living in the South, was forced to deal with segregation laws and the feelings of second-class citizenship that these laws created. Suggested reflections, delivered in the first person, may be adapted from Martin and Malcolm and America: A Dream or a Nightmare, by James Cone (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), Chapter 1, "The Making of a Dreamer (1929-55)," pages 19-57. See especially page 25.

More Historic Headlines From the Civil Rights Era
For example:

Congregational Response
"Go Down, Moses" (refrain only)

GOD PREPARES A DELIVERER

Scripture (read by narrator)
Exodus 3:4-10

Martin's Reflections on Church and Morehouse College
By the time that Martin entered Morehouse College, he had begun to actively resist the bitterness that the experience of racism in childhood and youth could easily have created. He learned that a significant number of whites also felt that racism and segregation were wrong. Suggested reflections, delivered in the first person, may be adapted from Martin and Malcolm and America: A Dream or a Nightmare, by James Cone (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), Chapter 1, "The Making of a Dreamer (1929-55)," pages 19-57. See especially pages 25 and 26.

More Events from the Civil Rights Era

  • Reader 6: Black and White Freedom RidersBoard Buses to Test Desegregation Laws
  • Reader 1: Mob of 200 Stones and Firebombs Bus Carrying Freedom Riders

Martin's Call to Ministry
Suggested reflections, delivered in the first person, may be adapted from Martin and Malcolm and America: A Dream or a Nightmare, by James Cone (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), Chapter 1, "The Making of a Dreamer (1929-55)," pages 19-57. See especially pages 26 and 27.

Historic Event Draws King Into Civil Rights
Reader 2: Fifteen-Year-Old Claudette Colvin, High School Student, Pulled From Bus, Handcuffed, and Taken to Jail for Refusing to Give Up Her Seat toa White Passenger.

Martin Struggles With Personal Involvement in Civil Rights
What should I do? I have a wife and a young family. The dangers of speaking out against racism are real and often end tragically. This is my first pastorate in a silk-stocking Baptist church that caters to black middle-class values. What will they think if I come in and develop a reputation as a rabble-rouser? The members of Dexter Avenue are the black bourgeois who believe that black people can make it if they "study hard, work hard, save their money and stay out of trouble."
Additional reflections, delivered in the first person, may be adapted from Martin and Malcolm and America: A Dream or a Nightmare, by James Cone (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), Chapter 1, "The Making of a Dreamer (1929-55)," pages 19-57. See especially pages 35 and 36.

Narrator: But life is not convenient. Trouble never knocks before bursting into the room. The time for Martin to decide was at hand. This was a time for seeking God's guidance.

Congregational Response
"Lead Me, Guide Me" (TFWS 2214) (This may be sung by a soloist or by the congregation.)

Historic Turning Point
Reader 3: Rosa ParksArrested for Refusing to Give Up Her Seat to a White Passenger.

Martin and Rosa Parks
The incident involving Rosa Parks was no accident. She was tracked down by God's loving purpose in the struggle for righteousness.
Additional reflections, delivered in the first person, may be adapted from Martin and Malcolm and America: A Dream or a Nightmare, by James Cone (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), "We Must Love Our White Brothers," pages 120-150. See especially page 134.

THE PROPHET FACES THE MIXED REACTIONS OF THE PEOPLE

Scripture (read by narrator)
Exodus 6:6-9

Martin shares insights about the opposition he faced among different factions of his people.
The African-American community approached the Civil Rights Movement and its struggle for equality with mixed feelings. Many instinctively knew that power concedes nothing without a struggle — a struggle that would eventually cost many their lives and their jobs.
Consider using excerpts where Martin challenges black leadership in "Give Us the Ballot,"Address Delivered at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom 17 May 1957, Washington, D.C.

Soloist
"Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round"
It is reported that Ralph Abernathy, a prominent leader of the Civil Rights Movement, taught this song to a mass meeting of the black community held in Albany, GA, in the summer of 1962. It was televised by CBS and soon became identified with the Civil Rights Movement. It can be found in Jerry Silverman's Songs of Protest and Civil Rights(New York: Chelsea House, 1992), pages 56-57.

THE PROPHET COURAGEOUSLY CONFRONTS PHARAOH

Scripture (read by narrator)
Exodus 7:14-16, 20

Martin openly confronts racism in the United States
Consider using excerpts from "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," which appeared in King's book Why We Can't Wait, 1964. This speech may also be found online
.

Responsive Reading
Psalm 13 (UMH 746)

Martin's Response
Consider using excerpts from Dr. King's Montgomery Alabama Address: "How Long? Not Long?"given March 25, 1965, at the end of the Selma-to-Montgomery march, steps of the capitol, "Message Delivered at the Prayer Pilgrimage." Excerpts of this speech may be found in James Cone's Martin and Malcolm and America: A Dream or a Nightmare (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), Chapter 8, "Shattered Dreams (1965-68)," pages 213-243. See especially page 219.

Narrator: Many people may have preferred Dr. King to limit his outcry to the realm of racial equality and civil rights. But the call of a prophet is to speak against injustice anywhere, even in times of war.

Modern Headlines
Consider using headlines from recent US news,
Martin shares his reflections about Vietnam
Consider using excerpts from Martin's speech "Beyond Vietnam
," delivered April 4, 1967, in New York, N.Y.

Narrator: If Dr. King were alive today, it is certain that he would raise challenging moral questions for our nation to consider. But his voice was silenced on April 4, 1968, when a sniper's bullet assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. on a hotel balcony in Memphis.

Congregational Response
"O Healing River"
by Fran Minkoff and Fred Hellerman.

CANDLE LIGHTING AND REMEMBRANCE
Worshipers are invited to come to the altar or a separate table and light a candle or tea light in memory of those who suffered or died during the Civil Rights Movement.

CALL TO PRAYER
"Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying" (TFWS 2193) (This may be sung during the candle lighting or after the candles have been lit in silence.)

HYMN OF PRAISE
"Lift Every Voice and Sing" (UMH 519)

SENDING FORTH
Suggested sending forth: When Elijah fled to Horeb after his confrontation with the 450 prophets of Baal, he complained to God that he alone was the only faithful prophet yet living (1 Kings 19:14). God responded that there were thousands of faithful people remaining in Israel. As we contemplate the empty place that Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death has created, we are forced to consider that the next great prophets may already be in our midst. Today's sending forth comes in the form of a question: Is it you? Is it you? Is it you?

Service Notes This worship service was celebrated on January 15, 2003 at the Wightman Chapel of the Scarritt-Bennett Center, in Nashville, Tennessee. It was designed by the following people:

Tom Albin, Dean of the Upper Room Chapel, The Upper Room, The United Methodist Church

Becky Waldrop, Program Department, Scarritt-Bennett Center, Nashville, Tennessee

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