In the face of worldly pride and unjust authority, the Book of Daniel shows what to do, the Rev. Roland Forbes said Sunday evening.
"Don't back down," he told the audience gathered at Trinity Lutheran Church for the NAACP Lancaster Branch's 44th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Service.
Forbes, the evening's featured speaker, took as his theme the defiance of Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego, who refused to bow to an image of the Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar. The king had them cast into a fiery furnace, Chapter 3 of the Book of Daniel recounts, but "the fire had no effect," and they emerged unharmed.
They risked their lives for their own identity, their faith and what they knew to be right, Forbes said. That spirit of principled disobedience in service to a higher cause links them, the Civil Rights movement and those sitting in the pews before him, he said.
"That's why you came out in the chill and cold," he said. "… You've decided that instead of just conforming, that you are going to show up and declare — while everybody else is trying to separate us and divide us and control us — that, 'Tonight, I am not going to back down.'"
Sunday's service was titled after the Black National Anthem: "Lift Every Voice." The NAACP continues to pursue the cause of social justice for which King gave his life, Lancaster Branch President Blanding Watson said, advocating for "an inclusive community where all persons and can exercise civil and human rights without discrimination."
A half-dozen local faith leaders preceded Forbes, offering greetings and brief remarks. Rabbi Jack Paskoff, of the Shaarai Shomayim synagogue, said noted that King had drawn inspiration from the Hebrew prophets and quoted them frequently.
We don't wait for justice to happen on its own, he said: "We bring it about. … That's our task."
The Rev. Ray Harrison, of In the Light Ministries, said a young man asked him if King's dream is still alive.
"The dream is alive and well through us as we continue to love people and care for humanity," he said.
The crowd Sunday was somewhat lighter than in past years, but for good reason, Watson said: A "pivotal person" in the community, Barbera Cameron, 84, had passed away a few days earlier, and many people were attending her service at Bright Side Baptist Church. In her honor, he paused the proceedings at Trinity Lutheran Church for a moment of silence.
Forbes, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, noted the many ways Nebuchadnezzar tried to control Shadrach, Mesach and Abednago, even to the detail of changing their names: Their Hebrew names had been Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
"Be careful when people want to control you by changing who you are," Forbes said. We live in a world of labels, he said, and of people dividing the community into rival factions for their own ends.
"Don't try to fit in with everybody," he counseled. "God made each of us unique."
If you follow your conscience, he concluded, you will discover what Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego did: "Just when you think you are in it by yourself God is right there."