We are celebrating Father's Day today. And tomorrow, here in the United States are also celebrating another holiday, Juneteenth, which we heard about this morning in our Words of Integration and Guidance. For some of you. Juneteenth may seem like it's a newer holiday, but it has been celebrated by people in this country every single year since 1865. It was on June 19, of 1865, that all of the enslaved black Americans in this country were emancipated, set free.
Now, if you know your history, you know that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation two years prior in 1863. So why did it take two years to free everyone? Well, many of those southern states, those states that had been under Confederate rule, they either didn't get the news of the Emancipation Proclamation, or probably, they just didn't share that information with the slaves.
But on June 19 1865, Union troops arrived in Texas, the very last state in the Confederacy that still claimed ownership of slaves. And the Union Army declared that all the slaves were free. This has been celebrated every single year since then.
But just two years ago, President Biden signed into law, the Juneteenth National Day of Freedom, making Juneteenth a federal holiday in the United States, which is such a wonderful thing. But as you all know, we have people in this country who don't think we should be talking about race. And they especially don't want teachers teaching race theories and talking about slavery in the classroom, because they're worried that white students might feel bad or guilty for being white.
Now, I believe it is very important that we teach and know and acknowledge all the parts of our nation's history, even those painful ones – not to make people feel bad or guilty – but so that we can learn from them, so that we can grow and heal as a nation, and continue to build a more just country.
If you read the Bible, you know there are slaves throughout the Bible. In Jesus's day, there were slaves. But notice, in today's Gospel reading for the Third Sunday, after Pentecost, Jesus says to the apostles, ‘This is your mission, go and set the captives free.’
In this story, Jesus is 30 years old. He's just beginning his ministry at the age of 30. He's out there healing people and teaching. He's calling together his team, his 12 apostles. Notice, he doesn't call rabbinical students or religious scholars. He calls regular people, farmers and fishermen.
He says, ‘I'm going to anoint you. I'm going to anoint you to go into the towns and villages and declare good news to the poor and the oppressed, to set the captives free, and to declare the kingdom is on its way.’
He wanted them to go into these towns and say to the poor and the marginalized, and the oppressed, ‘Guess what? We're building a new world, and in this world, the last are going to be first and you, the least of these, you're going to be the most important.’ Notice, Jesus said to the disciples before he sent them out, “If you go into any town or village and you are not welcome there, and your message is not received, just shake the dust off your feet and move on.’
Why would this message not be well received in some towns or villages? Why wouldn't people want to hear this good news for the poor and the marginalized, the oppressed, and the slaves?
Why? Well, obviously, we see in our modern world, not much has changed. There are places in our own country today where people don't want to hear this. And we know in our lifetimes, people who have spoken out for more rights, for a more just world, they have put their lives in danger.
We know people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King lost their lives trying to build this more just world. And I think to myself, why is it that people who enjoy so many freedoms in their lives don't want to extend those freedoms to other people? Why feel threatened, when those very same freedoms are extended to others?
So for example, there are people who can freely marry the person they love. They never have to worry about their marriage right being taken away. They can freely walk hand in hand with the person they love, without ever worrying that they're going to be beaten up or threatened for doing so. They can freely make changes to their body if they want to get breast augmentation or hair plugs. And yet, they want to control what other people can do to their bodies. And they can freely go into any library and find hundreds of books that tell their story and affirm their humanity.
And yet, they want to remove the few books that do so for others.
They get to enjoy these freedoms, why won't they extend these very same freedoms to others? I think it's because they're afraid. And I think it's because they feel, ‘If I extend these freedoms to other people, the freedoms I enjoy, then these freedoms and privileges are no longer special to me.’
You know, I used to hear that with the fight for marriage equality. We'd hear people say, well, we can't allow gays to get married, because that's going to threaten our traditional marriage, it's somehow going to lessen or diminish our traditional marriage if we let others get married. Now at our pride events, here in Douglas, at the beginning of the month, we had so many wonderful people who stopped by our church booth. One of them was a woman who was wearing a great t shirt. And the t shirt said, ‘Equal rights for others don't mean fewer rights for you. It's not pie.’
We heard, in our Words of Integration and Guidance, this morning, words from Emma Lazarus, those words on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, which welcomes all to our country. She said, ‘None of us are truly free, until all of us are free.’
And so my friends, some of you may have great freedoms. Some of you watching online may live a free life. But I guarantee you there are people who are sitting here in this church who live in this community and in the communities where you live, who do not enjoy those very same freedoms. And so you're not really free until they're free. Because as we know, we're all one.
That was Jesus's point.
He was trying to say we are all one ,and we're all responsible for one another. That's what he meant by the kingdom. When he announced, ‘The kingdom is on its way.’
When we hear “kingdom,” we think of the royal family. That's not what he was talking about. And that's why we in the progressive church, we spell the word Kin-dom, because that's really more in line with what Jesus was getting at. He was trying to build a world where all are Kin, where we all recognize that we're all related to one another. We're all one with one another. A world where there's no separation, no division. Everybody's equal, and everyone enjoys the same freedoms. That's what he meant that the kingdom is on its way.
Now for people like Jesus and Gandhi, and Dr. King, they believed this world, this beloved community was possible. It wasn't some lofty utopian dream that could never really happen. They believed in it. And so do I.
Now, I'm not someone who looks at the world through rose-colored glasses. But I have been paying attention to history, especially in my lifetime. Do you know that in just our lifetime, in just the past 60 years, more freedoms have been given to people than in the entire history of the human race? Do you know how grateful we should be that we were born into this little blip of time in human history, where more and more people have been afforded rights?
Now I speak with all of you who are very worried, you're very concerned about what's happening in our country. And I'm not telling you not to be, we do need to remain vigilant. But we also need to remain hopeful. Our friend John Pavlovitz, who was here a few months ago shared with us that there are far more people working for justice and freedom in our country than those who aren't.
So he said, ‘Don't let hopelessness trend in your head.’ I don't let hopelessness trend in my head. Because when I was a young man, people like me couldn't be married. And when I was a young man, people like me could not be standing on this altar, as the pastor of a Christian church. And so I am here, afforded these privileges, because of the people before me who struggled, who had their lives threatened, who suffered and died so that I could be given these freedoms. And so it is my duty to make sure that others are extended those same freedoms for as long as I'm living and breathing.
And that's why the front cover of your bulletin today says Sarah laughed. Because as we heard in our Old Testament reading today, Sarah is told in her old age that she's gonna have a baby, and she laughs. How can that be? It's ridiculous.
Okay. But do you understand the symbolism of that story? As long as we're alive, no matter what our age is, as long as we're living and breathing, God is calling us to continue to birth new life, to continue to birth this new world into being, the kingdom of heaven is on its way.
We've been building it and we will continue to build it.
So all my friends, In this season of Pentecost, where the Spirit is at work, and on this weekend, where we are celebrating Juneteenth, Emancipation Day, let us continue to be people of light and justice and freedom and hope, so that together, we can continue to build that kingdom of heaven here on Earth, a just world for all people.
Words of Integration and Guidance
By Rev. Raymont Anderson
One major reason people honor and celebrate Juneteenth is that it stirs the fires of aspiration and attunes our inner cry, “Keep your eyes on the prize!” It cries out from beyond the graves of our ancestors upon whose shoulders we now stand. It focuses us on the power of faith and it reveals the fortitude of a people who endured and thrived in spite of opposition, terror and oppression. It also acknowledges and honors the support of the abolitionists who were deeply committed to and invested in ensuring freedom and justice for those enslaved. Celebrating Juneteenth is our way of honoring freedom as an inalienable human right and as our essential nature. It is up to each of us to actualize the principle of freedom into a clear, committed intention and then to demonstrate and live it. In our Declaration of Principles, we proclaim, “We believe the ultimate goal of life to be a complete emancipation from all discord of every nature, and that this goal is sure to be attained by all.” This is our mandate. We must live this with the understanding that I am not my brother’s keeper — rather, I am my brother, I am my sister, I am my gender-rich sibling. Rugged individualism might seduce us into focusing solely on the individual while ignoring the work needed to emancipate all — everyone — from every discord of every nature. Emma Lazarus, whose words appear on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, reminds us, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” This Juneteenth, “a just world for all” is our clarion call to freedom.
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