METUCHEN – The words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) will just be words until people can truly become concerned of the needs of others, Bishop Nikolaos Brown said in his “Words Matter” sermon.
“Dr. King in his infamous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech used very interesting words,” he said, reciting part of MLK’s speech, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed that we hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.”
“What I realized about these words is that they are words on paper, but not words that are lived,” said Brown, of Ignite Church in Fords.
Brown said MLK’s words “are words that make sense, they make for great preaching, good teaching, good public speaking, but they don’t make good practical sense.” He said until people can sit together without being offended and understand each other, the words of Dr. King are just words.
The bishop stood before the people gathered for the 21st annual community celebration themed “Words Matter” to honor King on Jan. 19 at the New Hope Baptist Church in Metuchen.
The celebration included musical selections of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”; the New Hope Baptist Church Choir sang “We Come to Praise His Name” and “Because of Who You Are.”
Rev. Donna Owusu-Ansah, minister of Christian life at New Hope Baptist Church, paid a tribute to the late Honorable Elijah E. Cummings (D-Maryland).
Young worshippers of New Hope Baptist Church – Joseph Fernandez, Elisa Afia Owusu-Ansah and Victoria Adjoa Owusu-Ansah – recited words of MLK and Connor Ortiz recited Dr. Benjamin E. Mays’ poem “I have just a minute” which Cummings recited on the House of Representatives floor when he began office in 1996.
Members of area clergy joined in on the celebration including Rev. Chuck Coblentz, of New Dover United Methodist Church, Edison; Rev. Anna Thomas, of Centenary United Methodist Church in Metuchen; Father Edmund Zelley of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Metuchen; Deacon Frances Moore of New Hope Baptist Church; and Rev. Dr. Ronald L. Owens, senior pastor of New Hope Baptist Church.
Some area dignitaries joined in on the service including Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-Middlesex, Monmouth).
“It’s important to have services like this today,” Pallone said. “People need to get involved, speak out against intolerance whenever [they] hear intolerance and stay vigilant against those who try and break us because words matter.”
Thomas, president of the Metuchen Edison Area Interfaith Clergy Association, said the words of MLK continue to inspire and empower.
“Words have the capacity to hurt, but also have the capacity to heal,” she said.
Thomas shared a short story that left a mark on her heart. She said when her son was four years old, he told her some children in his nursery school made fun of his Indian name and spit on him.
When she heard her son’s story, Thomas shared she became angry all the while her son remained calm and quiet. She asked her son what he did. He shared with his mom he had learned the story of MLK and what non violence means.
“He said ‘Mommy I stomped my foot and walked away,'” she recalled. “Tears came rolling down this mom’s eyes.”
Thomas said she realized that day how much of an impact MLK’s words and wisdom had and how his spirit empowers and continues to guide them.
Brown said as children they are taught a rhyme – “Sticks and stones may hurt my bones, words will never hurt.”
“I come to realize that is a lie, I come to realize it’s a great sentiment of the furthest thing from the truth,” he said. “Words really do hurt, actions really do hurt, gestures hurt. More than that, more than hurting, words matter, actions matter, gestures truly do matter.”
Brown said the realization of MLK’s vision at the end of his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech he made on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963, in Washington D.C. of being “free at last,” won’t come easily.
“We won’t be free until we check our words,” he said.
During the celebration, two area students – Kira Cudjoe, a senior at Edison High School, and Joshua Bhujbal, a senior at Metuchen High School – received the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Outstanding Student Award. The annual award is presented to students who have demonstrated outstanding spiritual and academic characteristics and qualities. Each student received $500.
Cudjoe is a member of the New Hope Baptist Church and Bhujbal is a member of the Centenary United Methodist Church.
Contact Kathy Chang at firstname.lastname@example.org.