This prayer was written by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. around 1956 and preserved in Howard Carter’s The Prayer Tradition of Black People (1977). It has been lightly adapted for inclusive language (primarily changing “man” to “human.” Other adaptations or insertions are noted by brackets.
Tomorrow our country will celebrate a man who truly lived out his baptismal call to work for God’s justice in the world. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Christian of courage and conviction who saw that God designed us to work together, and that division and segregation was sin. Our prayer this morning is one he wrote in 1956, and still speaks clearly to us today. In the silences, please offer the prayers of your own heart to God. Let us pray:
O God, our Heavenly Father,
we thank you for this golden privilege to worship you,
the only true God of the universe.
We come to you today,
grateful that you have kept us through the long night of the past
and ushered us into the challenge of the present
and the bright hope of the future.
We are mindful, O God,
that humans cannot save themselves,
for humans are not the measure of things,
and humanity is not God.
Bound by our chains of sins and finiteness,
we know we need a Savior.
[Secure in the knowledge that you are merciful and loving,
we lift the prayers of our hearts to you…
individual petitions of the congregation may be lifted here.]
We thank you, O God,
for the spiritual nature of humanity.
We are in nature,
but we live above nature.
Help us never to let anybody or any condition
pull us so low as to cause us to hate.
Give us strength to love our enemies
and to do good to those who despitefully use us and persecute us.
We thank you for your Church,
founded upon your Word,
that challenges us to do more than sing and pray,
but go out and work
as though the very answer to our prayers depended on us
and not upon you.
Then, finally, help us to realize
that we are created to shine like stars
and to live on through all eternity.
Keep us, we pray, in perfect peace;
help us to walk together,
and live together
until that day
when all God’s children,
Black, White, Red and Yellow, [or, of every race, culture, and background]
will rejoice in one common band of humanity
in the kingdom of our Lord and our God.
[And now we pray as Jesus taught us, saying, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.]