Recently my friend Scott Johnson and I collaborated on a prayer inspired by “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” I hope it provides an opportunity for reflection and introspection.
READER 1: “…I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as…the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown… Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Leader: God of the Nations…
ALL: We are all part of each other. Our connectedness is unbreakable. Any separation is only imagined. Now, we pray that you help us to behave consciously as parts of the Whole.*
READER 2: “I must confess I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth.”
Leader: Risen Lord…
ALL: Help us live in the tension of today. Let it grow us and shape us.
READER 3: “History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture…groups are more immoral than individuals.”
Leader: Spirit of Reconciliation…
We acknowledge that the Western church has operated from a place of privilege. We have turned a blind eye to the things that are unjust. Forgive us. Let us be a people who operate from a sense of morality rooted in Christ. Ground us in your word.
READER 4: “I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say “wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity…then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”
Leader: God of Justice…
ALL: No longer will we tell the least of these to wait. Help us be people who use their hands and feet to advance not stall the coming of your kingdom.
READER 5: “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come.”
Leader: Son of God and Great Liberator..
ALL: We long for the day that the systems and -isms that divide us no longer exist. We wait for the return of Jesus to break chains and set the captives free.
READER 6: “Was not Jesus an extremist in love? — “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice? — “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ? — “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”
Leader: Spirit of Christ
ALL: Help us to remember those who have come before us. Help us shift our desires so that we are people who champion justice and love. Remove the barriers in our hearts that make this difficult.
Leader: Father in heaven, we thank you for your son Jesus…
ALL: He provided the blueprint for us to know what it looks like to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.
Leader: We pray that we would be people of action not people with timid spirits.
We pray that we won’t be content with the way things are now but that we will work to bring your kingdom to earth.
Leader: Lord of justice and mercy, hear our prayer in Jesus name.
* Fran Pratt, Litany for Parts of the Whole, franpratt.com, 2019.