Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Epiphany 6C/February 17, 2109
Gospel: Luke 6:17-26
Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, February 17, 2019
Set us free, heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Blessed are you who are hungry now…Blessed are you who weep now…blessed are you when people hate you…” because you are in good company with God’s prophets (vv. 20-22). Rarely are any of these forms of human suffering, from which no one is immune, considered as blessed states of being.
In the sermon on the plain, Jesus spoke to both a current and future reality—the current reality of the humans standing before him, oppressed by the man-made unjust structures of the Roman empire, and the future reality of all people. The declarations put forth by Jesus to this mixed crowd consisting of his 12 apostles, disciples and people who came to hear him and be healed, would have resonated with the realities of “poverty,” “sadness,” “patience under long suffering,” and “hungering and thirsting for justice.” Luke’s use of the present tense of the verb, “to be,” paired with his use of the word, “now,” emphasizes that the hope embedded in the kingdom of God is a current reality into which Jesus invited all who trusted in the Lord and whose trust was the Lord, to live into (Jer 17:7).
In 1956, the song “Que Será, Será (Whatever Will Be, Will Be),” was sung by Doris Day in the Hitchcock movie, “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”
Que será, será
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que será, será
While the future is not ours to see, Jesus gave the gathered crowd a glimpse, a preview, of the future coming kingdom of God. But the kingdom of God was already with them in the form of Jesus who was preaching to the oppressed the message that God was already changing things up now. God’s faithful are, and will be, divinely rewarded in a drastic transformation of reality—the reversal of the bondage of human suffering into divine liberation. Jesus was not sent to embody the passive mindset of “whatever will be will be;” he was sent to preach the hope that things as they are, will not always be. Hold on and trust in the Lord.
Like trees planted by streams of water, we do not fear when the heat comes. And in the year of drought, we are not anxious. Our focus is on Jesus; the roots of our faith have life in the living water of Christ just as the roots of a tree reach for life by the streams of water. Things as they are, will not always be. Hold on and trust in the Lord.
Founded in 1776 and stained by the sin of slavery, the infant United States served as the womb in which the Episcopal Church, founded in 1789, only 13 years later, was formed. As our church continued to be formed in, and alongside this nation, our history shows that the church mirrored the earthly role of oppressor to many, and not her true nature as the body of Christ, the liberator for all. But, God continues to send people whose very lives embody the reality that things as they are, will not always be—people who held on and trusted in the Lord.
Last week on February 13, the Episcopal Church celebrated the feast day of the first Black Episcopal priest, The Rev. Absalom Jones. Born into slavery in Delaware in 1746, Absalom Jones’ high intelligence was recognized early by his wealthy Anglican master who allowed him to be educated while being trained to work in the house.
By the time he was 20 he had been brought to Philadelphia, attended St. Peter’s Episcopal Church with his master, and eventually married a slave owned by another member of St. Peter’s. Jones would not know freedom until the age of 38, purchasing his own freedom in 1784.
At St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church, which in 1786, was integrated, Jones served as lay minister for its Black membership, along with his friend, Richard Allen. Their powerful evangelism greatly increased Black membership, igniting the fear of the vestry. The sin of racism would rear its head in a Sunday worship service when the ushers attempted to segregate black parishioners into an upstairs gallery—while they were in the midst of praying. Indignantly, they moved as a body, and walked out of that church.
Jones was a man of great fortitude, persistence and faith, which enabled him to move through such challenging circumstances in his life and in the church. In 1787 Jones co-founded the Free African Society, a mutual aid benevolent organization, operating through an African Methodist Episcopal Church. There Jones served as a lay minister while some religious services were presided over by an Episcopal priest.
The Society began building the African Church of Philadelphia which was dedicated in 1794. When the congregation applied for membership in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania one of its conditions was that Absalom Jones be licensed as a lay reader, and if qualified, be ordained as a minister. Jones’ congregation, was the instrument of God’s grace that helped him to fully realize his vocational call to the priesthood. Jones was ordained a deacon in 1796 and ordained a priest seven years later in 1802.
God moved through the unjust structures within our church, in order to raise up a powerful leader from the bonds of slavery, to bring about liberation for an oppressed people guided by the hope of the Gospel. Things as they are, will not always be. Hold on and trust in the Lord.
Before 1802, a Black priest in the Episcopal Church was unimaginable. At the time of God’s choosing, God made the impossible possible, thereby revealing the Church’s true nature as the fundamental sacrament of Christ’s body to the world.
The legacy of Fr. Absalom Jones has manifested in ways that have forever transformed the outward appearance of our beloved Episcopal Church, and has necessarily transformed her soul. 213 years after the impossible ordination of a former slave was made possible, the first African-American presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, Michael Bruce Curry, was installed in 2015. In 2017, Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows became the first African-American woman to serve as diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Indianapolis. And, I am deeply grateful to God for the legacy of Fr. Absalom Jones which shows up in the form of this priest in this pulpit in this Episcopal church. Thanks be to God!
Absalom Jones, in the core of his being, knew that he was not created to be a slave to this earthly kingdom. He walked boldly in the truth that he was God’s beloved heir to God’s kingdom now and God’s kingdom come. As those who live in Christ, may we be so fortunate to be used by God as His instruments of grace to serve the poor, the starving, the weeping and the hated, and to have the wisdom to know when we are they.
The future is not ours to see; it is ours to be now. In so doing we take up the work that Jesus started by sharing the gospel with others with its life-giving, hope-bearing preview of the coming kingdom of God even as it is brought near to them now. That future is ours to believe, and it calls us to live into the reconciling action of God already taking place in this world.
Blessed are you. Blessed are you now. And, blessed are you when Christ, our great liberator, who set us all free from the bondage of sin, returns in glory.