June 19, 2022 ~ Second Sunday after Pentecost ~ Father’s Day ~ Juneteenth
Rev. Beckie Sweet
On one of the colder days of this past winter, before Lent had even begun, I engaged in worship planning for this month and season. Not feeling led by the Spirit to use the New Revised Common Lectionary passages for this day, I moved on to other options. Since I had already decided to use a worship series based on Mark’s Gospel for the Sundays of July and August, I looked to Lectionary readings for those Sundays for inspiration. This text from Galatians 6 nearly jumped off of the page, a page reserved for the first Sunday of July. While some of these verses are very familiar, this is not a text I have preached on before, in now 40 years of ministry. I may often be on summer vacation when this text appears in the three-year cycle!!
AND, I may have subconsciously avoided preaching on this passage because in a few verses it contains an apparent contradiction, some statements that challenge us, and even an instruction which could be interpreted to be discriminatory. Similar to some other passages of scripture attributed to the Apostle Paul, sometimes it is just too much to wrestle with on a Sunday morning. This is not just any Sunday, either. It is Father’s Day. It is Juneteenth. It is the Sunday preceding high school graduation for many local students. How do we engage in all of these issues and events and tie it up in a pretty bow? We don’t. Life is messy. Faith is fraught with doubts and differing interpretations. Relationships require much learning as we realize that we’ve all made mistakes that hurt others. Our society is far from perfect. Our care for the world and its inhabitants needs improvement which will require sacrifice from us.
The contradiction in the first few verses of Galatians, chapter 6, is a perfect description of our relationships with others: carry each other’s burdens // each one should carry their own load. In context it becomes clear that we are to simultaneously be looking out for one another in love and compassion, paying special attention to those most vulnerable, while refraining from any comparison with how “my” life is going verses how “their” life is going, as though we could truly understand anyone’s life but our own.
For instance, in the first parish I served, there was a lot of rural poverty. Those who could gave generously to help to alleviate the unmet needs of others. A few times each year, a group from the church would deliver to the “needy” a load of groceries and cleaning products. On one such delivery trip, we entered a trailer in which three generations of one family resided, and found a filthy mess. One could hardly walk across the floor without stepping on or in soiled diapers, plates of old food, dirty laundry, or bags of garbage. And yet, in that trailer there was the largest television I had ever seen – it covered a whole wall. As you can imagine, after departing, the conversation began to address, the filth, the unhealthy living conditions, and the amount of money they must have spent on that television. Yes, we all noticed that the grandparents, the owners of the trailer were nearly blind. Perhaps someone or some group, had given them television. Perhaps there were not enough resources to pay for garbage removal. Perhaps, perhaps, and the quandaries continued. Sometimes we pass judgement without complete information, the kind of information that only God really has.
And that reflection led me to consider Juneteenth. Juneteenth has become known as the commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was issued January 1, 1863. However, it was not recognized throughout the US until 1865. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers entered Galveston, Texas. It was on this date in Galveston that General Order Number 3 was read out loud to the people, saying in part:
The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a proclamation
Of the United States, all slaves are free.
This involves an absolute equality of rights
And rights of property between former masters and slaves,
And the connection heretofore existing between them
Becomes that between employer and hired laborer.
That June day in Texas became known as Juneteenth. While Juneteenth has been celebrated with varying degrees of excitement and remembrance, it took 156 years for this critically important day to be recognized and declared a national holiday. This important day celebrates African American freedom and achievement. This is a day also to remember how far we have come in our society – while also recognizing how far we have to go to achieve not only equality but respect and appreciation for all persons and cultures. Now more than ever there is a great need for those who follow Jesus the Christ to be united in our understanding that people of every race, color, creed, and ethnicity are clearly made in the image of God. God is reflected in each and every person.
That is why our church acknowledges that racism is sin! It is the opposite of the commandment Jesus identified as the greatest of all: to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Racism contradicts love, causing great harm and a profound disconnect with others and with God. We must acknowledge our failing as a church and as disciples of Christ in not taking sustained and deliberate action to eradicate the sin of racism that continues to oppress African Americans and people of color in our country and around the world.[i]
Similar to Paul’s encouragement to bear one another’s burdens while each one must carry their own load, addressing the continuation of racism following the emancipation of slaves is fraught with contradiction. We lament that some of us have benefitted greatly from our nation’s founding which included the genocide of Native Americans and the suffering of enslaved people. Generations of white Americans have enjoyed unparalleled freedom and prosperity, while generations of descendants of African American slaves have faced unspeakable brutality and oppression. While claiming to be a people of faith in a God who loves all people equally, whites have benefited from a system of racial domination which has hurt many people of color, also including Asian Americans and those of Hispanic heritage.[ii]
We give thanks that history clearly shows that some have courageously worked to eradicate slavery, segregation, and oppression, even risking ridicule, condemnation, injury and death. Even in the church, the moral courage of the few to stand with the marginalized and oppressed, continues to inspire those who have remained silent for far too long.
Last week, I encouraged us to TAKE ACTION to make a witness against gun violence in our land. Today, I challenge us all to become aware of how so many have benefitted from a system that has oppressed millions of people from the founding of our country. And then, may we covenant to work with and for people of color to overcome systems of racism that continue to deny equal access to a more bountiful life. May we each use our influence to work against racism and to welcome people of all races, cultures, and ethnicities by valuing each voice within our relationships and within this Body of Christ. May we strive to be the Beloved Community of God where all know what it means to be beloved!
[i] Adapted from Becoming the Beloved Community: Our Covenant Against Racism; A Covenant of the Susquehanna Conference Cabinet.