Remembering the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.


Service’s theme is ‘Confronting the Giant Triplets: Racism, Materialism and Militarism’

By Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Betty Tom preached at the Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration at the Presbyterian Center. PNS photo by Rick Jones.

LOUISVILLE – Today’s worship service at the chapel at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) offices was not your typical service. Following the call to worship, participants joined in a rousing prayer for justice that included excerpts from the Confession of Belhar in a rhythm from Ghana, West Africa. The prayer was led by Alonzo Johnson, director of Self Development of People, and his African drum.

PC(USA) employees, Louisville community leaders and members of the Peace Presbyterian Church choir gathered to commemorate and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the life and legacy of slain civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

The theme of the service was “Confronting the Giant Triplets: Racism, Materialism and Militarism.” The theme was developed around King’s 1967 speech at Riverside Church in New York City. In his remarks, King warned us against the “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism” that demand our allegiance but, as false gods, imperil our lives.

The preacher for the worship service was the Rev. Dr. Betty Tom, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Mount Vernon, New York. Tom’s theme was the “Elbow of Justice,” and she used Luke 18:1–8 as the Scripture for her sermon. “This parable is found only in the Gospel of Luke — whose Gospel is often called the Gospel of the poor and the Gospel of women,” Tom said.

“Just as the elbow is a hinge, the widow in the parable, who exercised stubborn, relentless and persevering prayer, uses what I called elbow justice. Like the physical elbow — for the widow and all like her, justice has hinges as well,” she said.

Tom went on to identify the three hinges of justice as persistence, courage and the belief that God will not delay long.

“As the widow did, we must persist in going before unjust judges or anyone else who holds the power to affect our lives,” Tom said. “We must persist in writing letters to our congresspersons and senators. We must show up day after day, week after week, election year after election year and say as this tenacious woman said, ‘Grant me justice!’ This is not the time to get weary in well-doing because God has promised that we will reap if we not do faint.”

Tom said that the widow in the parable “possessed uncanny courage to go before a judge who has no respect for God (the Ultimate Judge) and no respect for his fellow humans. What she lacked in economic security she made up for in courage.”

To illustrate her point, Tom referenced King’s 1963 book Strength to Love, in which he explains the essence of his philosophy of nonviolence. King writes: “You must continue to work passionately and vigorously for your God-given and constitutional rights. It would be both cowardly and immoral for you to patiently accept injustice.”

Tom said, “Courage is like a muscle — the more you use it the stronger it gets. Having a more just society will take courageous efforts of the intergenerational, interfaith, ecumenical and multicultural community.”

“How long will the Lord delay, we ask, as we continue to long for, pray for and fight for justice? How many more Katrinas and Puerto Ricos and how many more mass killings of innocent people? How many more nights must Dreamers sleep and awaken to the fear of deportation? Justice may seem long in coming, but justice will not be denied,” she said.

In closing, Tom said, “The elbows, which are designed to keep people away (give me some elbow room) are now being used to bring people together. All over the USA and the world the fight for justice is bringing people together as well. Justice work is hard work, vigorous scrubbing and cleaning out of unrighteousness, dishonesty, inequality. It takes elbow grease, so put your elbow into it!”

Video of the service


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