12 February 2023 – Sixth Sunday After The Epiphany
by The Rev. Edwin Johnson, Guest
Sermon preached by The Rev. Edwin Johnson
Below is a TRANSCRIPT of the homily. It may vary considerably from the prepared version. Please do not cite without permission.
Good morning, All Saints.
It’s so lovely to be with you all this day. You know, I’ve been in this diocese my entire life, which is a very long time. And I’ve never gotten a chance to worship in this church and I gotta say, I walked in, and I was like, goodness gracious. I mean, this is quiet the sanctuary. And then the sanctuary got even better when all of you beautiful people walked in. And I had to say again, goodness gracious here, all these lovely, beautiful reflections of God’s glory. And so it is it is an honor and pleasure to be with you today on the Reverend Edwin Johnson. I am the director of organizing for a pickable City Mission. TRANSLATION I get to run around and have a lot of fun meeting other justed My Justice minded Christian folks and it is a very, very good life. I do not come alone today. And so as you welcomed me today, you also welcome my family. My my partner Susan is over there with the lovely blonde ringlets and and then my sons are here with me Fransisco who’s a torchbearer today. And then Santiago who’s carrying on doing his thing. In addition to you know, the family that lives with me, I also have the family that ministers with me at Episcopal City Mission and so our executive director Arrington Chambliss is here, rocking the collar next to her is Suzanne, who is who’s become one of my my role peeps. I like to roll deep. And then also here is Chris, who is here as well. So so thank you for welcoming, thank you for welcoming my folks as well. You know, yeah, amen. Yeah.
So speaking of folks, you know, I gotta say that, that I know, I mean, I know I’ve just met some of you but, but I know you all love your priest. I know you love your priest, by the way you look at him by by the way, you you just kind of move with him. And I gotta tell you this that I know you love him. I know he’s been here for a while. But I got you beat because I went to seminary with this man.
And so before he even existed in many of your minds, he and I were classmates were schoolmates at church of at school, the Pacific. And, you know, that was a long time ago, I can affirm that we both look better now than we did then.
And, and it’s and it’s funny, you know, so many memories, you know, at church of any school, the Pacific, you know, we had morning prayer at 7am. Think about 7am for grad students. That’s a time that doesn’t exist, for many. And yet, there we were faithfully at 7am. Not required, but because we had to get to praying because we had to start raising a joyful noise to Jesus. And so that was cool. And so I share that memory with him. You know, one thing I appreciated when I was at seminary, I had the chance to hear many, many lovely, incredible sermons, sermons by my professors, sermons by visiting preachers. And I will say this and no cap, is that the best sermon I heard while I was at church, many school, the Pacific was preached by this man right here. And it was amazing. And yes, give him a round of applause.
I also recall, you know, with fondness, you know, at the time, when I was in seminary, I was, you know, a very young man in his 20s I didn’t have at the time I met him, I didn’t have a wife or girlfriend, anything, you know, I was at the beginning of many precipices in life. And, and so for me, I remember, you know, seeing him and, and his connection with Monica and seeing him and, and then it was very little miles. You know, it was, it was both moving and it was formational as I imagined a life of my own where I would, too would be partnered and I would have children and so you love him. I love him too. And, and through connection, I love y’all as well. So Amen to that. Yeah, let’s take that love.
And so, on this day, we gather here it’s the sixth Sunday of you know what we in the pistol
The church called the Episcopal the epiphany season. But in addition to that, this is actually the Sunday when many churches throughout the world and especially throughout the Episcopal Church, celebrate Absalom Jones. Now, Absalom Jones is a first black Episcopal priest in the United States. And if that sounds like a big deal, yes, it’s a huge deal. If you’ve ever been the first at anything, you’ll know that it’s wonderful. It’s an honor. And it’s also very, very hard. Now, for Absalom Jones, this was made even harder by the facts in the conditions of his life, Absalom Jones, was born a slave, Absalom Jones, as many prior to him, worked really hard on the side to purchase a freedom of his partner, and then to purchase his own freedom. And so me he got a start to this life that none of us could really even imagine.
But it was from that place that Absalom Jones found Jesus. And so Absalom, Jones started off. And he was, you know, a slave preacher. And if you know about slave preachers, you know, they gave them Bibles. And the whole exodus was just ripped out, because they didn’t want folks getting ideas. But I can tell you, and I wasn’t there, but I can tell you, Absalom Jones found a way to preach God’s liberation, even though they pulled Exodus Out of his Bible. And so he started off as a safe preacher, he becomes free.
He begins, you know, being more and more involved in church, he was part of a community there. And then all of a sudden, he and his people were rested from their knees and prayer told that as black folks that they could not worship in that church. And so they were thrown out. And he ended up starting his own community. And as part of that community, he became a lay reader, and then a deacon, and then eventually a priest. So that on its own is amazing. And then we add to it, the fact that, you know, his ministry was a ministry of, of consequences. Well, you know, during, there was a yellow fever, sort of pandemic sound familiar, but uh, and in the midst of that time, you know, the other folks that could or that had any desire to, they got out of there, they left. And in the midst of that yellow fever pandemic, Absalom and his folks stayed, and some of them got sick, and some of them died. But they stayed, because they knew that’s where Jesus would be amongst those who are suffering and they served, and they worked in, it’s amazing. So this is all to say, maybe you know a lot a lot about some Jones, maybe you do not.
But take some time today and, and Google him learn a little bit about Absalom Jones, and be inspired by someone who follow Jesus in that way.
And so as I stand here today, also as a black Episcopal preacher, I look to Absalom Jones as, as an ancestor of sorts. And I believe all of us count can count Absalom Jones as a spiritual ancestor, as well as one who, who showed us what it meant to, to live into that Call of following Jesus. And so, you know, one of the many honors I have then, is to do what Absalom Jones did. And what Absalom Jones did is he reflected on our scriptures. So as I was reflecting on our scriptures for this day, I started to consider myself what it must have been like for Absalom to reflect on those particular scriptures. And so first, we started off with our passage from Deuteronomy, Deuteronomy, just to put it in context. Now, here’s where Moses, he’s on his way out. And this is his final sermon, and my man is telling his folks Listen, choose life, or choose death. He’s telling his folks listen, if you follow God, if you are faithful, if you are righteous, and God will bless you, you will prosper, you will have freedom and liberty and all men are of good things. And then Moses warns them alright, well, if you are not faithful to God, if you do not do the right things, and then you are choosing death, you are choosing punishment, you are choosing exile, you are choosing and slave, and it’s within the context of that sermon that we have our scriptures for today.
It says that think about Absalom, I can only imagine just how hard it must have been for him to read and reflect on this scripture.
So why was it hard? Well, I believe it was hard for this reason. I mean, here we have Moses, laying out this sort of divinely mandated meritocracy. Here we have Moses telling God’s people that that their lives will be good if they do the right things, who have Moses telling God’s people that, that that their path to prosperity and life and liberty is a path that is made by their own actions and faithfulness to God. So he heard those promises and yet
he reflected on the fact that his people, his black people, were faithful, the history
because black people did the right things remain faithful to God did all of those things. And yet we’re ending up with the curses that Moses laid out for those who didn’t do those things. So Absalom had to sit with that. And he had to sit with the fact that, you know, his former master and, and so many others. We’re doing all the wrong things. And yet we’re getting that prosperity that Moses promised to those who did the right things. And so, you know, for Absalom, I imagine him reflecting on this scripture.
And just sitting with the fact that, that those words of Moses, those powerful, wonderful words of Moses fell flat, to fell flat in a world where his people could follow the laws of Moses, his people could could be good, could be righteous could be faithful, only to experience the death and the destruction and the exile in this enslavement goes met for those who weren’t doing those things.
So I imagine that was hard and painful for him. And then our Gospel, I imagine wasn’t much easier. If anything, it was mad. It was maddening, you know, part of this Gospel passage. I mean, there’s a lot in this Gospel passage. But there’s a piece of it, that that I’ve always remembered since I was a kid, you know, where Jesus talks about how, you know, if you have something against, you know, your sibling, you know, and your Don’t, don’t make your offering on the altar instead, you know, get right with them, and then and then go to the altar. It’s funny, because when Richard and I were in seminary together, there was an administrator
who was there her name was Marcia Yoder Lind, and her family she, if you know the name Yoder, she had Mennonite connections. And she would, she told this story, and I never forgot it about, you know, how this gospel was reading. And to get to this part, you know, the extended part of it, where it talks about how, you know, if you have something against your brother, it says there, you know, don’t make your offering an offer to leave it, go get right with them, and then come back. And so she talked about how, in the midst of her Mennonite community that this gospel was being reflected on, and these two brothers stood up, and they looked at each other, and they walked out the church. And they went, and they figured out whatever they needed to figure out before going, you know, to the altar before going towards God. And so there’s no doubt in my mind that Absalom advise his people to do the same thing that Absalom wanted to make sure his folks were in right relationship with each other. But it’s also no doubt in my mind that, that this is also maddening to Absalom as well, because NASA had to sit with the fact that there were many, you know, his former masters and other folks
who were going to the altar again and again and again, not only not being in right relationship with their sibling, but enslaving their sibling, but oppressing their sibling, or, at best, no being blissfully unaware of all the ways that they were benefiting from the oppression of their sibling.
You know, I think that this was a passage that, you know, Absalom loved the church. The church didn’t always love him, but he loved the church. And this was, you know, one of those passages that that forced Absalom to face the hypocrisy of the Church of which he was a part that can only imagine that that was maddening for him as well.
So why does this matter other than the fact that this time of year when when we think and talk about apps, and well, I think it matters, because, you know, the same issues actually still exist, thankfully, not quite to the same degree but but I really believe that they do. You know, this idea of meritocracy, this idea that if you’re faithful, if you’re good, if you’re righteous, good things happen to you just flat out isn’t true. And especially not true for members of my community. You know, growing up as an Afro Latino boy, in Dorchester and Roxbury, I was told, I was told by my parents and others that, you know, if I was faithful, if I was righteous, if I did the right things, good things would happen to me. And thankfully, they have.
But I also saw so many of the other young brothers who I came up with, for him good things did not happen to them, even though they made the right choices, even though they were faithful, even though you know, they, they did all the things that Moses said one was to do.
You see, the fact of matter is, is that in our world today, and especially for persons of color here, you know, those words of Moses do fall flat. This idea that, that what happens to you that your prosperity, that your life, that your liberty is tied to you doing the right things, is one that doesn’t track with the experience that so many of us have.
And so that that’s that’s an issue that remains today and then around the hypocrisy of the church. I mean,
it’s it’s a hard thing, but it’s I mean, it’s not just for for us, you know, black and brown, folks. I mean, it’s
You know, it’s for women, for those who are minorities around gender, gender expression, sexual orientation ability. I mean, the fact of matter is, is that, you know, for so many of us who are marginalized in any way, now we have to sit with the fact that, that there are peeps, and that our institution goes to the altar again, and again and again, without being in right relationship with us, without supporting us without being fully welcoming and affirming of us without, you know, embracing our thriving as well.
Now, the fact of matter is, is that we, we live in a church, where somehow, you know, this teaching of being right with your sibling
isn’t one that that leads, you know, the bulk of the church to truly seek the well being of that sibling to really see and recognize and honor the Christ in that sibling.
And so just as Absalom had to sit with Moses, his words falling flat, just as absolutely had to wrestle with the fact that this is a gospel teaching that that points out the ways that the church is falling short. So to do we,
I says, that’s a lot of bad news. But, but there’s good news is always good news of God. And the good news is this.
That there are so many of us.
There are so many of us, more of us than I can count, or imagine.
who care about this stuff. There are so many of us so many of us more than I can counter imagine, who also have that outrage and that passion of Absalom Jones.
And the beautiful thing is that that crew that has that outrage, and that passion is a crew that I found, as I’ve gone to different churches throughout Massachusetts and beyond, come in all shapes, sizes, colors, nationalities, languages, what have you.
There are so many of us. And and one thing I know from having met some of you from having spoken to Richard is that
a fair amount of you are in this church as well.
There are a fair amount of you here that, that see the way our world isn’t tracking to see the way our churches are living up to it, and have a deep desire to do something about it.
Inside Episcopal City Mission, you know, our work is to support God’s people as they do this important work as they live into this passion.
At a principle City Mission, and our focus right now is on shrinking the racial wealth gap is on shrinking that gap that that leads to that sort of dissonance and outcomes for so many here.
And so in the spirit of that what we are looking for are folks who who love God, who love the community are folks who, who see the way things are not matching up and want to do something about it.
I know in this church, you know, many of you have, have done the work considering the presence of racism, you know, in the church, in your lives in the world. I know that there are those with with hearts for for ministry and justice. And so what I’m excited about as I feel like we have a chance to take a next step together, knowing this spring to come at Episcopal City Mission. And we’re gathering a wide and diverse body of Episcopalians and Christians to to be formed and to begin acting in ways that will, you know, counter the gaps in an account or the injustice is so many of us face to be formed and be acting in ways that will help our church get to the point we can go into that off altar actually being in right relationship with our siblings. And so if what I’ve said inspires you all today, if what I’ve said moves you at all today, if it gets to that fire in your belly, then then I want you to talk to me, I want you to talk to you one of the members of our of our team of our Episcopal City Mission family here, you know, let’s get connected. And let’s figure out how to do this together.
Let’s get going on this spring and and as I told Richard, you know, we get a crew going here, I’ll come back and we’ll cook it up again.
Because this is work that I can’t do on my own. This is work that a facility mission can’t do on its own. We need the saints to do this. And I would go as far to say we need all saints to do this as well.
So people of God I do hope you’ll take me up on that offer to learn a little bit more about at some Jones today. I hope I’ve planted a seed of curiosity around that. I hope that you’ll join me in being grateful of the fact that the My people are definitely doing better now than they were in Absalom Jones time.
And most of all, I have hope and pray that you will join me so that we can make sure that that
progress continues to join me in action so we can make sure that that we take steps forward so that we are in truly right relationship, and that we promote thriving and goodness for all of our siblings. Because I believe when we engage that work, we not only will not only do that for the blessing of our siblings, but we do so to honor Absalom, and all of our ancestors.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai