Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and death "released an energy that is still coursing through the nations of the world," Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold told the congregation that filled L.A.'s Cathedral Center January 16 to mark the national holiday devoted to the slain civil rights leader.
That energy "helps us to see Christ in one another," Griswold emphasized during the gathering, hosted annually by L.A. Bishop Suffragan Chester Talton, and this year part of the Presiding Bishop's three-day visit to Los Angeles.
Griswold challenged his listeners to find more creative and alternative ways to effect change, and thanked Bishop Julio Murray of Panama, presenter for the annual observance. (A separate ENS story on Murray's presentation will follow.)
"What's so important about your being with us is, it reminds us we are part of something far larger than the Episcopal Church in the United States, that through our baptism we are joined in webs of relationship," Griswold told Murray in remarks during the gathering.
Griswold also preached at the principal Sunday service January 15 -- which would have been King's 77th birthday -- at L.A.'s historic St. John's Church, located in the West Adams district near the USC campus.
The Presiding Bishop recalled King's "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech while preaching about Dr. King's vocation as a prophet and social activist.
Griswold underscored the significance of the speech King delivered -- one day before he was assassinated -- in support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis. "King said, 'the question is not, if I stop to help a man in need what will happen to me? The question is, if I don't stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to them?'
"We might not ever be called to anything as drastic," said Griswold, but he challenged about 250 worshippers to consider their own vocations while remembering King's life and witness.
"Vocation requires multiple dyings and risings in order to enlarge the self. God uses all things, including strange circumstances ... tugs and pulls, hints and guesses, to unsettle, stretch and call us beyond situations, comfort zones, the circumscribed reality of our lives to respond to the world."
Griswold recalled panicking, at six years of age, after being cast in a leading role in a school play. "I said I can't step forward, I can't be separated from the crowd; it's more than I can do," he recalled.
He was replaced and later realized: "Never again will I say no to something out of fear." That hesitation, or fear, is an invitation to step forward, not to turn back, he told the gathering.
"It isn't easy. It's a struggle to confront fears, the reluctances in you," he said. "But, if instead of being diminished you increase in personhood -- if it makes more of you -- it is your vocation."
Following a vocation can take people well beyond what they perceive to be their strength or competence, Griswold explained. They are given the power to respond to the call, to risk and to do what God most deeply wants them to do, he added.
King's leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott required "deep, deep faith to have the capacity to withstand the hatred, the death threats, the voices of expediency, like the Bishop of Alabama who wrote to him saying to be patient, don't unsettle people so," Griswold said.
The Presiding Bishop was welcomed to St. John's by priest-in-charge Mark Kowalewski and by Los Angeles Diocesan Bishop J. Jon Bruno, together with Talton and assistant bishops Robert Anderson and Sergio Carranza.
The bishops also hosted Griswold January 14 for an ordination service attended by 1,400 people including some 30 honored interfaith and ecumenical guests on the eve of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. (A separate ENS story will follow on the events of January 14 -- as will photographs to be posted to the ENS website.)