The Temple & Ebenezer Baptist Church

Virtual MLK Jr. Shabbat Service – Friday January 14

37th Annual Celebration – Virtual this year

Video includes archival footage from musical numbers performed in previous years

The Rev. Senator Warnock’s sermon begins at 55 minutes & time codes below indicate where specific excerpts begin.


57:46… And, so as we reflect on the life and the witness of our brother Martin Luther King Jr., I want to raise in your hearing and center our thoughts around a passage of scripture found in the book of II Kings Chapter 13 and the reading begins with the 20th verse … (reads and discusses the verses)


59:08 – I want to talk for just a little while about a legacy that lives on – a legacy that lives on. Every year around this time a rather interesting and curious question emerges in the American public conversation. It is often put forward by members of the press… As the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I have been asked this question by members of the media, or students, or activists or ordinary citizens in dialogue seeking to understand. They ask, we ask, “If he were alive today, what do you think Dr. King would be thinking? What do you think Dr. King would be saying? What would Dr. King would be doing if he were alive today?”


What would he be saying? What would he be thinking? And, what would he be doing about the burning social issues and moral struggles that confront us right now from mass incarceration, to immigration, to climate change, to voting rights?  


1:00:39 — People ask, “What would Martin do?” Isn’t that amazing! He died in 1968 and now, more than half a century later, we still ask, and we ask for good reason: “What would Dr. King do?”


And, to me it is a rather curious question. It is curious because of it’s singularity. We hardly ask that question on such a wide array of issues of anybody else. Abraham Lincoln was a great president, but I don’t hear us asking – not with the same urgency when his birthday comes around. Or, when President’s Day comes around, I don’t hear people around every corner asking what would this president do or what would that president do….


(discussion of Jefferson and MLK monuments proximity… and ideals…


1:03:36 — We celebrate the live and the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and we ask again in these difficult days, in these trying times, “What would Martin be saying? What would he be doing?”


What an amazing gift he was; what an amazing gift he is. He stands in the best of our moral tradition because Dr. King was a prophet. And, I submit to you that nations need prophets!


Thank God for presidents. But, nations need prophets. Because prophets have a way of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Prophets have a way of speaking  about how valleys shall be exalted and mountains and hills made low. In other words, prophets speak until there is a leveling of the playing field. Prophets remind us of who we are; and, whose we are; and who we might become if we would give ourselves over to God’s dream for our humanity.


(Discussion about the Biblical history of miracles performed by Elisha including how he brought a dead boy back to life, “created a Britta filter” for poisoned well water … and references to his scriptural text .. including the phrase “The nation became weak.”)


1:06:59 – We witnessed not long ago something we thought perhaps we would never witness in our country when our Capitol was invaded, not by outsiders, but by insiders by those who somehow said that the folk they felt ought not have a vote and a voice don’t count. And there was a violent insurrection on the Capitol!


The nation became weak.


And, it is interesting when we reflect on January 6 because the day before an amazing thing happened. Doesn’t matter to me what your politics are, but when you think about what happened on January 5, that Georgia elected to represent the state – a former Confederate state – a Black man and a Jewish man. I believe that somewhere in Glory Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel are smiling because when they marched for a better nation, they marched together. Rabbi Heschel said when he marched alongside Dr. King, he felt like his legs were praying.


So regardless of your politics, regardless of who your voted for, it doesn’t matter. Something happened on January 5 when you consider the moral arc of our country, the fact that a kid who grew up in the public housing can stand where he stands now bears witness to the power and possibility of our nation….


(a few personal reflections… interviews on morning of Jan 6 and by lunchtime on January 6 … violent insurrection)


1:09:03 – Here is where we are as a nation. We are somewhere between the fears and the bigotry and the division of January 6 and the hope and the possibility of January 5. And, once again, a new generation of Americans, people of faith have to decide who we are going to be and which direction will we go:

Will we give in to our fears?

Will we give in to division?

Will we give in to bigotry?

Or, will be pushed closer towards our ideals?


The nation became weak after the prophet died…. (scriptural text references – “I know it is a strange story, rather spooky and strange”)


1:11:25 – It is the immortality of influence. I just want to suggest to you that like Elisha you ought to commit your life to a great and noble project that is larger than your lifetime. If your life’s project is no larger than your lifetime, it is too small. You should give yourself over to something larger than your life and larger than your lifetime. You should give yourself over to an ideal of the beloved community that is so big that you have to pass it ON to the next generation…


(reflections on Coming alive…)


1:13:30 – And, every year around this time, Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, everybody wants to be seen – particularly politicians. They want to be seen somewhere in some gathering at some convocation.


They want to be seen standing where Dr. King stood. Well, I give you this word:

If you would stand were Dr. King stood, make sure that you find yourself standing on things Dr. King would be standing for. We don’t need folk who simply offer platitudes to his name. You cannot remember Dr. King and dismember his legacy at the same time. If you would lift up his name, you must lift up the issues that he cared about and died for.


And if you are truly committed to those issues, something in them, something in the power of his words and the depth of his commitment ought to cause you to once again come alive.


I am sick and tired of politicians lining up, offering platitudes to his name while supporting voter suppression, voter subversion, and mean-spirited policies against the poor and the vulnerable, frustrating efforts to provide healthcare to working people. Dr. King said that of all the injustices, inequality in healthcare is the most shocking and the most inhumane. If we would stand in this moment, let us not stand just to be counted, let us stand up in the places where it counts… We ought to be standing first of all for the poor and the powerless.”


(Account of Dr. King’s last campaign – The Poor People’s Campaign… the story of two Black sanitation workers in Memphis who were crushed by the machinery of their truck on a rainy day…)


1:17:07  — All of these years later, too often, the poor and the vulnerable and the powerless are crushed by the machinery of those who are so committed to their own wealth and their own power that they see them as just casualties …

Stand up for the poor and the powerless!

Stand up for those who cannot speak for themselves!

Stand up! It is wrong to give tax cuts to the richest of the rich while taking resources from the poorest of the poor!

Stand up for the poor!! …


(Various scriptural references.)


1:18:35 –  Stand up for the poor and the powerless. But, not only that, stand up for peace. Stand up for peace in our streets and stand up for peace abroad. Don’t give in to violence.


People who have no vision specialize in division. They cannot lead us and so they want to divide us.


Stand up for Peace.

Resist racism.

Say no to sexism.

Stand up against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and homophobia and xenophobia.


Remember the words of Dr. King, “We are tied in a single garment of destiny caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”


Stand up for Peace!


And, remember what he said about peace, “Peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice. No justice. No peace.”


Stand up for Peace!


Stand up knowing that I cannot be not all that I ought to be until you are all that you ought to be. And, you cannot be all that you ought to be until I am all that I ought to be.


Stand up for a peace that embraces all of us.


Stand up for the poor and the powerless and stand up for peace.


But, not only that my beloved, stand up for the planet. We do not own this place. We are but stewards of this place. The scripture tells us the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof – the world and they that dwell therein.


We are stewards of this place. We are not being kind to Mother Earth…

(expanded discussion of environmental activism …)


1:21:24  We have got to get serious about standing up for the planet. It is not just a political call, it is a moral obligation!


Finally, my beloved, stand up for the promise. The promise that we have with one another as a people. Stand up in that promise encapsulated in three simple words, “We the people.” Stand up for the ideals of an inclusive democracy that embraces all of us.


E Pluribus Unum  – out of many one. One people standing up for one another. That’s the promise.…


I won’t rest until we get voting rights done!


…. I fight because I know that my children will not be okay until other people’s children are okay. …


(story about Cedar Creek in Virginia, draining into river, the bay and the Atlantic ocean – all controlled by God)


1:26:43 – Stand up my beloved even when it feels like the cause is dead and the possibilities are dead.

Behind you there is a mighty ocean of God’s great humanity. Men and women, boys and girls from the four corners of the earth standing up for justice and truth and righteousness. Behind all of us, is the power of a great God who promised never to leave us. Never to leave us alone!


Keep the faith!

And, keep Standing up.

Keep looking up.

Keep doing the work that God has called us to do.




Immediately following the Rev. Warnock sermon is a musical number which serves as the back-drop for slides with quotes from the 1958 sermon the late Rabbi Jacob Rothschild delivered after The Temple was bombed by white supremacists as well as quotes from civil rights leaders and photos from the civil rights and peace movements.


1:35:00 – Musical rendition of “My Living Shall Not Be In Vain” from the 2017 joint service by Mary Gurley. She participated with Dr. King as they grew up together at Ebenezer Baptist Church in children’s choirs and was featured as one of several soloists during his funeral.