Let us pray:
God who dreams in flesh and blood, teach us to respond to the cries of your people with justice, compassion and unfailing hope. Amen.
God told Moses to say: I have heard the cry of the Israelites and I have seen how the Egyptians oppress them, press them, squeeze them. Exodus 3:9
We all have multiple identities at the same time, aspects of which may be more dominant from time to time but which are not separable from other aspects. For example, when I hear that women make 77 cents for every dollar men make, I correct that to white women make 77 cents for every dollar men make. Black women make 69 cents for every dollar black men make. And, Latinas make 58 cents for every dollar Latino men make according to the 2012 census. I am a black woman. There are things I hold in common with women of all races and things I do not, things I hold in common with black men and things I do not. That is true for all of us.
We have multiple identities, sometimes in harmony, sometimes in conflict. Sometimes we elevate one identity above others. As Christians we are called to live out of our Christian identity which is not separate from but co-exists with our other identities. Dr. King’s Christianity looked different than the Christianity of the white clergy who wrote an open letter telling the black folk in their community not to demonstrate with King, who they called an outsider and to wait for the local political leadership in Alabama to work on segregation themselves. How long might that have taken? How much longer did the good white folk think that black folk should wait for the full dignity of human and civil rights? The clergymen – and they were all men – called the demonstrations “unwise” and “untimely.” It was too soon to talk about voting rights for black folk, even if they were serving in the military like my father. They accused Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement of inciting “hatred and violence.”
The undersigned included:
The Rt. Rev. Charles Colcock Jones Carpenter, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, The Rt. Rev. Joseph A. Durick, Auxiliary Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Mobile, Rabbi Hilton L. Grafman, Temple Emanu-El, Birmingham, Bishop Paul Hardin of the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the Methodist Church, Bishop Nolan B. Harmon of the North Alabama Conference of the Methodist Church, The Rt. Rev. George M. Murray, Bishop Coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, Edward V. Ramage, Moderator of the Synod of Alabama in the Presbyterian Church in the United States, and Pastor Earl Stallings of the First Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama.
They penned this letter 12 April, 1968, more than a decade after the speech from which we heard a portion of as our Epistle reading. They were leaders of church and synagogue, interpreters of scripture, they prayed – many of them – the same prayers we pray, many sang same the same songs we sing and they were fundamentally on the wrong side of God’s love. To be fair, none of them were saying black folk shouldn’t have the same rights, at least not in that letter. They were saying it wasn’t the right time, and Dr. King wasn’t the right man and he wasn’t using the right methods. Folk are saying the same things today about the Black Lives Matter movement and its leaders.
This wasn’t the first time the church has been wrong. The very first slave ship to reach the American continent was named Jesus, a British ship, given to its captain by the head of the Church of England, Queen Elizabeth. She gave him two ships so he could make her more money in the slave trade. It would be a long time before the church, Anglican and otherwise determined to live up to and into what is now in our baptismal covenant, to respect the dignity of every human person. Sometimes we still fail at that. As church and as individuals. Sometimes we get it right.
We in the Episcopal Church have decided that all of the sacraments are for all of the people. We do not restrict the sacrament of ordination to male people and we do not restrict the sacrament of holy matrimony to heterosexual people. And again some of those who read the same scriptures we do and pray the same prayers we do and sing the same songs as we do and perhaps live in the same houses as we do say our actions are “unwise” and “untimely.” In fact, the Anglican Communion has given us a time out.
And Dr. King is still saying: We have not learned the simple art of loving our neighbors, and respecting the dignity and worth of all human personality…
Dr. King preached a strong word to the Conference on Christian Faith and Human Relations in Nashville back in 1957. A word that is still uncomfortably and maddeningly relevant. I would like to think that Dr. King would marvel at the progress we have made, not just the success of extraordinary individual figures in politics, sports and entertainment but the fundamental integration of our society at many levels and the real and meaningful relationships people have with folk who are different from them at work and church and school and in our neighborhoods, sometimes in our own families. So much in our world is different. And yet so much remains unchanged. There is still deep and abiding racial animus; the old race hatred lingers on and other biases have come out of their closets, biases against Muslims and Arabs – who aren’t all Muslim though it shouldn’t matter, biases against Spanish speaking folk, particularly Mexicans which is interesting in Texas where Mexicans pre-date Texans in many places and now, biases against those who have been driven from their homes with nothing but their children in their arms fleeing from war, even though some of those wars have our nation’s fingerprints on them.
Our lesson from Exodus gives us another reason to cast our lot on the side of the oppressed. God is watching. And more than that, God is there. God told Moses to say: I have heard the cry of the Israelites and I have seen how the Egyptians oppress them, press them, squeeze them. Do not be deceived by the fact that God has not and will not wipe all violence and oppression from the earth. God sends us and accompanies us. Will we go? We might be afraid like Moses that we aren’t up to the task. God knows and offers us companions along the way. Moses did not go alone. He had his sister, the prophet Miriam. He had his brother Aaron. He had his wife Zipporah – and then after a messy divorce, another wife. He had his father-in-law. Moses was a great and humanly flawed leader. And God used him and sent him some help.
Dr. King was a great man. And he was a flawed man. And God used him. But he wasn’t out there alone. Dr. King was surrounded by Dorothy Height, Diane Nash, Amelia Boynton, Fannie Lou Hamer and more the way Moses was surrounded by Yocheved, Shifra, Puah, Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter. Dr. King also had the sage counsel of his friend Bayard Rustin, an openly gay black man.
We in this Episcopal Church and in our larger global church are talking seriously about race and reconciliation. That requires us to have some uncomfortable conversations; we have begun that work. It will mean having more, especially when we get to the point that folk are saying enough already, it’s too much. We also have to look deeply and honestly at our own past, in our nation, in our church and in our families. We have to tell the whole truth, the hard truth, for we know that confession is a reconciling sacrament. Confession is liberating and healing and makes room for repentance. Too many folk are trying to be reconciled without confession or repentance, even in the church and we know better.
We have these multiple identities as women and men, gay, straight, bi and trans, black and white, Caribbean and Latino, American and Episcopalian, members of Trinity and the five o’clock gang. And in all of these things we are God’s children and we are Christian. Sometimes some of us look more like the Egyptians doing the oppressing and sometimes some of us look more like the Israelites being oppressed. And God is watching all of us, listening for the cry of the broken-hearted, raising up deliverers from among us to do the work of justice.
God is watching. God is listening. God is with us. Amen.
[Holding the Ethiopian Israelis in prayer as they fight racism in their country. Their uprising came after I finished the sermon.]
The Psalmist cried out:
God did not despise or detest the affliction of the afflicted.
God did not hide God’s face from me.
God heard when I cried out to God.
That doesn’t always feel like the truth. Sometimes it feels like everyone including God despises the wretched of the earth, the broken, the downtrodden, the hurting and the hated, the afflicted and their afflictions. Especially when that’s your story. We should extend our comfort and faith to those who are suffering, but we should also understand that may not be enough. There are some hurts that only heaven can heal and for which the balm is time.
People are crying out to God all over this world. This week we hear their cries in Nepal clearly. But they are still crying out in Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria and more. People are crying out to God all over this country. This week we hear their cries in Baltimore most clearly. But they are still crying out in Ferguson, Sanford, New York and more.
Before Psalm 22 became the Psalm of the Cross, the psalm Jesus prayed while dying, it was already scripture. It is a psalm associated with David, written for him – either at his request or dictated by or composed and written by someone else and dedicated to him. It is the lament of a person who is not even viewed as human, despised, mocked, abused to the point of feeling abandoned by God:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me,
from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest…
I am a worm and not even human
scorned by others, and despised by the people
All who see me mock at me
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads…
They even make fun of the psalmist’s faith:
“Roll on over to the HOLY ONE OF OLD; let God save!
Let God deliver the one in whom God delights!”
But the psalmist knows who her God is and that God has been with her from birth and will be with her to and through death:
Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother gave birth to me you have been my God.
It is so easy to fast forward through time and read these verses about Jesus and only Jesus. But that misses the point. Psalm 22 the lament of someone who was in serious trouble a thousand years before Jesus. That person’s prayer became part of Israel’s Book of Common Prayer because it reflected a common experience. Every once in a while, if you live long enough, you will come up against something that will make you cry out to God like the psalmist and even Jesus. Some of us are crying out to God because our post-Easter world still looks too much like a Good Friday world.
Jesus became one of us to experience what we experience. Human beings treating each other like dogs in the street, as though we weren’t all human, children of God, hand-crafted in the very image of God. Some people are still viewed as less than human and treated that way. Mahalia Jackson sang in Sweet Little Jesus Boy:
They treat me mean Lord.
They treat you mean too.
In killing Jesus, the state treated him just like everyone else. People were crucified before Jesus died and they continued to be crucified after Jesus died. James Cone makes the point that in the American context, the cross is the lynching tree.
We can’t escape the violence in the scriptures or in the streets. The violence imposed on the body of Jesus was neither the beginning nor the end of his story. And it was not only his story. His people were subject to lethal violence whether guilty or innocent on individual and national levels. The story of the Jewish people is one of slavery, deliverance, occupation and subjugation as oppressed and as oppressor and, in times of desperation, resistance, rebellion and retaliation. Aspects of the Israelite story are shared with the poor, marginalized and oppressed in every time and place, including ours.
It may not be your experience, but many poor black and brown people experience the police as an occupying force, at best daily harassment at worse lethal violence. Twenty-three years ago anger and pain boiled over in Los Angeles. Last summer it boiled over in Ferguson, MO. This week it boiled over in Baltimore, MD.
When violence erupted in 1966 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
I will agree that there is a group in the Negro community advocating violence now. I happen to feel that this group represents a numerical minority. Surveys have revealed this. The vast majority of Negroes still feel that the best way to deal with the dilemma that we face in this country is through non-violent resistance, and I don’t think this vocal group will be able to make a real dent in the Negro community in terms of swaying 22 million Negroes to this particular point of view. And I contend that the cry of “black power” is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.
Dr. King’s words are as always prophetic and challenging and ultimately cost him his life.
Will we hear him? Will we hear the voices of today’s street-prophets? Or will we allow the spectacle of violence to become an excuse to turn away? No matter what we do, God hears.
God hears the cries of all who are treated as less than fully human.
Our world, including our nation and the church have a long history of treating some folk as less than we ought as God’s children: people of color, women and same gender-loving people. Transgender, gay, bisexual and lesbian people are often targeted with lethal violence that neither began nor ended with the lynching of Matthew Shepherd. Transwomen in particular are being killed at alarming rates including here in TX. And sadly, not all churches are safe places for all people.
Our lesson in Acts 8 has something to say about that:
The messenger of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was a Nubian eunuch, a senior official of the Kandake, queen of the Nubians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship.
At the intersection of race and ethnicity, the Greek gentile (now Christian) apostle Philip crosses paths with the black Jewish bureaucrat serving an African queendom. In order to work for most monarchs in much of the ancient world, men had to be surgically neutered, often as young boys. Most eunuchs formed intimate partnerships with other eunuchs or intact males, not the royal women they were trusted to guard. That would have been treason, earning a death sentence even without the possibility of children.
The treatment of eunuchs in the ancient world and in the scriptures is similar to the treatment of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people. Eunuchs may be seen as those who do not fit into our neatly constructed gender paradigms as neatly as we might wish – this is what it means to be male, to be a man, to live and love as a man. At one point the scriptures even say eunuchs are not welcome in the house of God. But the same Isaiah scroll that this one is reading cancels out that passage, welcoming eunuchs specifically. But he hasn’t gotten to that verse yet.
The Ethiopian eunuch has no name in the text but could have been called Abdimalkah, servant of the queen, a common title that functioned as a name. Without a name we might keep calling him “the eunuch” and reduce him to a missing part of his body. Our transgender friends, family and neighbors have taught us how inappropriate is fixation on the parts of someone else’s body. We could call him “he.” But should we? We are learning how important it is to call people by the pronouns they choose for themselves.
This person by any name and any pronoun has been to worship in Jerusalem which suggests he is a Jew even though he would not be able to fully participate as a eunuch. The original audience would have known the story of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon and the tradition that she left him pregnant and their descendants not only preserved his faith but remained in contact so no one would have been surprised that this man had been born Jewish. As a eunuch he would not have qualified for conversion.
The queen’s servant – Kandake is a title, she is the Kandake – the Kandake’s servant is reading the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. In the ancient world people read out loud just as they prayed out loud. (Hannah invented silent prayer but it didn’t really catch on for a while.) He reads from a portion of Isaiah that like Psalm 22 has come to be identified with Jesus even though it has its own separate history and origin. It is the poem-prayer of another person who was unjustly put to death, five hundred yeas before Jesus.
While he reads, Philip has followed God’s call to go down a country road with no explanation, overhears. I don’t know what Philip expected to see, but probably not that limousine. He didn’t know why he was going other than God sent him. He went to be present where God sent him and gives us a model for evangelism. He had no agenda, no pre-planned speech. He went to listen first and speak second. And Philip finds a welcome occasion to share his faith. Contrary to popular opinion, harassment is not a tool for spreading the Gospel.
The queen’s man was reading what is now Isaiah 53; there were no chapter and verse numbers then. The holy words spoke of the suffering of the innocent with the guilty and on behalf of the guilty from the time when the Babylonians destroyed their nation. When Philip tells him what these words mean, he doesn’t go back to the time in which they were written or their meaning for their original audience – he hasn’t been to seminary.
He reads the scriptures in light of the events of his days which means reading them in light of Jesus. He tells the story of Jesus and tells it well because it is personal to him. And his companion and conversation partner asks to be baptized right then and there. And in that moment the Holy Spirit builds the church through these two very different people, different ethnicity, background, social status and even different ways of living and loving.
It strikes me that these lessons are all about hearing and being heard.
God hears the cry of the psalmist as surely as God hears the cries from the streets and those of mothers like our Blessed Virgin Mother who have lost their sons to police violence. Philip listened to God. He listened to the eunuch. The eunuch listened to Philip. And God used them to transform the world, starting with each other because they listen to and hear each other. The Church has listened to these stories read and preached for millennia, but have we truly heard them?
Holy One of Old, open our eyes that we may see.
Holy One of Old, open our ears that we may hear.
Holy One of Old, open our lips that we may speak.
May God the restorer of broken hearts, minds and bodies
Accompany you through the gaps and brokenness in your life
Nurture, sustain and transform you to change the world around you. Amen.
Today is the commemoration of King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma, Hawaii’s Holy Sovereigns who brought the Episcopal Church to Hawaii. I had the great pleasure of spending parts of my 2010 sabbatical in Hawaii where I learned about the ali’i, royals.
The following images are from the 2010 Feast of the Holy Sovereigns at the All Saints Episcopal Church, Kapaa, Kauai.
The Commemoration of Fr. Absalom Jones
By the rivers of Babylon, Israel sat down and there they wept when they remembered Zion. By the rivers Mississippi, Potomac and Chattahoochee, our ancestors sat down and there they wept when they remembered Mother Africa. On the willows, Israel hung up their harps, one translation says, “on the poplars.” From American poplar trees our ancestors were hung:
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop
In Babylon, Israel’s captors asked them for words of songs and their tormentors for joy saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” In America and the Caribbean, our ancestors’ captors asked them for songs and minstrelsy, saying, “Sing us one of those Negro Spirituals.” How could they sing the song of the God of Mt. Sinai, in Egypt, in Africa, on foreign ground? How could we sing on command, shuck and jive, shuffle and scratch where we were not itching? If they forget Jerusalem, may their right hands wither and their tongues cling to the roofs of their mouths. If we forget Mother Africa, may our right hands wither and our tongues cling to the roofs of our mouths. If they do not remember, from whence they came… If we do not remember, from whence we came… There’s no place like home.
And home is also where the heart is, here, in Jerusalem, in Africa, Europe and the Caribbean, throughout our diasporas. Persons of African descent do not seek to return to our ancestral homeland as a collective any more than do all the world’s Jews seek to immigrate to Israel. These rivers have become our rivers. This land has become our land. And because of the lives and deaths of our ancestors, the land that once held us captive has become home for many of us here today. Here, biblical stories have been re-enacted and reinterpreted and reincarnated, from Harriet Moses Tubman to Canadian Canaan and back again with radical, threatening love, the kind of love that transforms people, places and even politics.
The Israelites eventually made a home in Babylon in spite of the violence with which they were transported. They transformed Babylon and left their own stamp on its culture. From then on, the name of Babylon would be linked with the Jewish theological tradition in the form of the Babylonian Talmud. Africans in America also made a home here in spite of the violence with which our ancestors were first deposited on these shores, surviving and thriving, changing American culture even as we were changed by our ancestors’ violent encounter with it.
Here in this Episcopal Church our ancestors made a home, carving it out of the ignorance, racism and sometimes, hatred that infested and infected it. We must never forget that our Church as did many others – once told enslaved Africans that the promises of freedom in the Gospels and in the Baptismal Covenant did not apply to them in a literal, physical sense. They would get the only freedom they needed to worry about in the next world. Yet our ancestors like blessed Absalom Jones found a home or the makings of a home in this church in spite of the racism and white supremacy that stained it, and transformed it into our home, with radical, threatening love. Those who were threatened by their claims of God’s love for them burned this church down. More than once, I believe. But look at us now, bishops, priests, deacons, acolytes, vergers, lay-readers, vibrant multi-cultural congregations; we are the Church along with a myriad of sisters and brothers from all nations and races. Now it is our task to continue to make this church home for all of God’s children, preaching the gospel of Isaiah and Jesus:
… good news to the oppressed,
…bind up the brokenhearted,
…preach to the captives, liberty,
and to the prisoners, release, freedom…
We need that gospel today, for though we’ve come a long way, oppression endures. People and institutions use their privilege and power to trample the rights and dignity of other people. Nearly twenty-five hundred years after the time when it is thought that the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites because they were different, ethnically, culturally and religiously, cultural, ethnic, religious and racial hatred endures in our world, in our nation and, if the truth be told, in our Church. There is still systematic oppression of women and girls in our world. Bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth and adults, and in far too many cases, assaults and murders or coerced suicides. The poor, the working poor and the desperate poor are ground down by the wealthy and sometimes by the middle class, even though most of the middle class is just a paycheck or serious illness away from becoming desperately poor themselves. The oppressed are yet with us and if we tell the truth, sometimes we are complicit in their oppression. We participate in and benefit from a system where workers in China and Indonesia make our electronic gadgets and tennis shoes at slave wages. Our economy depends migrant labor toiling for pennies an hour with no benefits so we can have fresh fruit and vegetables and coffee and tea. Even slavery persists, in factories, and in private homes. And then there are the untold numbers of women, girls and boys sold into sexual slavery each year. Radical threatening love requires unpopular truth-telling. That is also the Gospel.
The world needs this Gospel, this good news. We need to be reminded of the good news, that the Spirit of God has already anointed us, already sent us to proclaim this gospel with our words and with our lives. And it is good news. The good news is God’s love made flesh in Jesus the Messiah. God’s response to the brokenness of this world is divine love, not a warm, fuzzy feeling, but living, breathing, redeeming, transforming love active in the world, a radical, threatening love. As Fr. Absalom reminds us in his sermon, God came down into human history to deliver Israel from her oppressors. That’s good news.
This good news was also clothed in the Virgin’s womb. Jesus is the good news, his very existence, his life, his love, his witness, his example, his teaching is good news to those broken down by the mighty of this world. Even his suffering and death were transformed into good news by his glorious resurrection. The good news is also that God continues to redeem and to save, intervening in our lives and in our world, bringing real, literal freedom to those in bondage. God came down into our very nation, across the Atlantic, even to Great Britain, Spain and Portugal to wipe out the Atlantic slave trade. But this time, God didn’t come down into a virgin’s womb. God didn’t raise up a Moses, woman or man. God worked through women and men in houses of worship and government. The abolition of slavery, renunciation of Jim Crow and securing of civil rights for all Americans were the fruit of the Spirit of God moving through the hearts of women and men without number. Sometimes I think we forget that.
Sometimes, I think we get so fixated on individual heroes that we forget that we all have a role to play in proclaiming the good news, binding up the broken hearted and preaching liberty, freedom and release to captives and prisoners. And for all the freedom we have, we are still captive to so much in our world, in our lives and sometimes in our minds. Yet whatever the forces marshaled by the tyrants of this world, they will not stand because it is the Spirit of the Living Loving God who anoints, enables, empowers us.
The Spirit of God. The Spirit who fluttered over the waters of chaos giving birth to creation. The spirit embodied in fire and cloud leading her people from slavery to freedom. The Spirit who thunders like mighty waters, crashes like breaking rocks and speaks in a small, still voice – the sound of sheer silence. The Spirit who accompanied her people into Babylonian exile and shepherded them back to their homeland, keeping her promise. The Spirit who spoke new and unimaginable life in the womb of the Virgin of Nazareth. The same Spirit who taught and guided and accompanied Jesus of Nazareth, empowering him and raising him from the dead – that same Spirit calls us, sends us, anoints us, prepares us, enables us, empowers us.
And that is why we can proclaim good news to the oppressed. How could we not? Bind up the broken pieces of the broken hearts around us and even our own broken hearts. It’s possible because of the power of the Spirit. Preach liberty, release and freedom and know that it is coming because the Spirit has never failed to deliver. Proclaim that this is the year of God’s favor. As was last year and the year before that, and the ancient year in which this text was first composed. And we who have just buried our dear Billy Valentine, and those mourning Whitney Houston, the Spirit comforts us and accompanies us as we comfort each other. And while we are waiting the long years it may take for God to break open our prisons and change the heart of nations, God is always with us, hearing our prayers, accompanying us on our journey, sharing in our suffering. This too is good news. We are never alone. And that’s a good thing, because the path of love is not always an easy path.
And yet what neither Jesus nor Absalom Jones did was check the prevailing cultural and political winds before opposing the religious authorities in the name of love in their day. They did not choose the easy path, the popular path. They chose the path of love, radical, threatening love. Threatening the establishments of their day, threatening their spiritual power and economic interests. With love. The love our Gospel calls for, life-surrendering, life-saving love. The love Fr. Absalom had for his wife when he bought her freedom from slavery, when he could have used that money for himself – he had no way of knowing if he would ever get his hands on that much money again. But he chose to lay his life down in the bonds of slavery so that she and their children would be free. That’s love.
This is the good news that Father Absalom Jones preached. This is the Gospel. This Gospel is that God’s love for the woman-born was manifested in God, Godself, becoming woman-born, for the redemption and liberation of all the woman-born from every oppression and from death itself. Jesus the Messiah, the Son of Woman and the Son of God, came to seek out and save the lost and to give his life as a ransom for many.
In the name of the One who waded in the waters of Miryam’s womb, walked the way of suffering, and woke from the grasp of death in the deep darkness of the morning. Amen.
Isaiah 61:1 The spirit of the Sovereign God is upon me,
because the Holy God has anointed me;
God has sent me to proclaim good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to preach to the captives, liberty,
and to the prisoners, release, freedom;
2 to proclaim the year of the Gracious God’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion,
to give them a wreath instead of refuse,
the oil of jubilation instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a fainting spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Faithful God, to wreathe God in glory.
4 They shall build up the ancient ruins,
the former desolations, they shall raise;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the desolations of many generations.
1 By the rivers of Babylon,
there we sat and there we wept when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there we hung up our harps.
3 For there they who took us captive
asked us for words of songs,
and our tormentors for joy, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
4 How could we sing the song of the God of Sinai
on foreign ground?
5 If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand wither.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.
Thanksgiving Sermon, 1 January 1808 An Epistle from Fr. Absalom Jones,
The history of the world shows us, that the deliverance of the children of Israel from their bondage, is not the only instance, in which it has pleased God to appear in behalf of oppressed and distressed nations, as the deliverer of the innocent, and of those who call upon his name. He is as unchangeable in his nature and character, as he is in his wisdom and power. The great and blessed event, which we have this day met to celebrate, is a striking proof, that the God of heaven and earth is the same, yesterday, and to-day, and for ever…He has heard the prayers that have ascended from the hearts of his people; and he has, as in the case of his ancient and chosen people the Jews, come down to deliver our suffering country–men from the hands of their oppressors. He came down into the United States, when they declared, in the constitution which they framed in 1788, that the trade in our African fellow-men, should cease in the year 1808: He came down into the British Parliament, when they passed a law to put an end to the same iniquitous trade in May, 1807…
Let not our expressions of gratitude to God for his late goodness and mercy to our countrymen, be confined to this day, nor to this house: let us carry grateful hearts with us to our places of abode, and to our daily occupations; and let praise and thanksgivings ascend daily to the throne of grace, in our families, and in our closets, for what God has done for our African brethren. Let us not forget to praise him for his mercies to such of our colour as are inhabitants of this country; particularly, for disposing the hearts of the rulers of many of the states to pass laws for the abolition of slavery; for the number and zeal of the friends he has raised up to plead our cause; and for the privileges, we enjoy, of worshiping God, agreeably to our consciences, in churches of our own. This comely building, erected chiefly by the generosity of our friends, is a monument of God's goodness to us, and calls for our gratitude with all the other blessings that have been mentioned.
John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you keep on loving one another just as I have loved you. 13 A greater love than this has no one, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants any, because the servant does not know what the lord is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.