Absalom Jones – February 12, 2023
Today we are celebrating the Feast of Absalom Jones in this Black History month, or as I am noticing and liking, for many people it is Black History Every Day.
Blessed Absalom was born into slavery, taught himself to read by using the Bible as one of his resources, was permitted to attend a quaker school and he became America’s first black Priest. Ordained by Bishop White in our very own Diocese.
Absalom is one of many spiritual ancestors who have gone before us that we can learn so much from. He was blessedly persistent. When he was enslaved, he saved enough money to buy his freedom and his wife’s freedom. He repeatedly asked his owner, Richard Wynkoop, to buy his freedom and was refused. But Absalom persisted and finally, in 1784, he was granted manumission.
In 1792 Jones, and his friend Richard Allen, who had become disappointed with the racial discrimination in the Methodist church, established the “First African Church” in Philadelphia with the assistance of local Quakers and Episcopalians. That church is now known as the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas.
Absalom Jones and others explained the church’s founding in this way: “[W]e arise out of the dust and shake ourselves, and throw off that servile fear, that the habit of oppression and bondage trained us up in.” In October 1794, The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas was recognized in the Diocese, but it took until 1863 for the parish to be officially admitted. In the meantime, Richard Allen wanted to be a Methodist and left to form [Mother] Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. There is so much more fascinating history in the discussion guide available in the back of the church, prepared by members of our Diocese. Please take one home.
As we commemorate this amazing man, we hear from John’s gospel of Jesus’ commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.” And that “you are my friends if you do what I command you”.
Jesus is saying this just before his death on the cross. He literally laid down his life for his friends, for us. On this Valentine’s Day, let this be the love that we understand, not the Hallmark holiday love, but God’s gift of love for all of us. The power of God’s great love in Jesus, confirmed in Easter’s promise of the resurrection, always has its frame of reference and its power in Jesus’ giving of his life on the cross.
Jesus now speaks of the power of that giving of life to transform the disciples’ relationship and calling into a new status. These disciples are no longer to be counted as “servants” but as “friends.” Jesus’ words now make it further clear that the power to respond to his command to love one another comes from Jesus’ own prior love and calling: “I have called you…; I have chosen you…; I have appointed you…
Blessed Absalom is our spiritual ancestor that held on to the vision, held on to his calling, having the faith to understand that he may not see the ultimate results of his efforts in his lifetime, but that it was his calling to spend his lifetime helping to bring about God’s kingdom for the benefit of the generations to come. To quote Bishop Carlye Hughes – it is the work of our lifetime. Of all of our lifetimes. It is the work of generations.
I was recently fascinated by the announcement of a new children’s book written by Linsey Davis. Linsey is an award-winning news correspondent, a wife, a mother and best-selling author. Her recent children’s book is titled: “The Smallest Spot of a Dot: The Little Ways We’re Different, The Big Ways We’re the Same”. It’s based on proven scientific data. For instance, did you know that it is scientifically proven that the DNA of any two people on Earth is 99.9 percent identical. We are all 99.9% identical. It is only 0.1 percent variation that represents our differences. Hence, the title, the “Smallest Spot of a Dot”. The message of the book is about celebrating our differences and our sameness. The title for young readers starts with a dot. Each dot represents a gene. Readers are told that we are all made of billions and billions of tiny gene dots. One of these billions is your special dot. It makes each person unique. “The rest of the billions of dots we discussed/ Are exactly the same inside each of us.”
The message of this text, that genetically we are about 99.6 percent the same, is critical for, not just children to know, but for all of us to know, in a world that seemingly seeks to divide, categorize, and make people the “other”. We truly are more the same than we are different.
Absalom Jones definitely had a special “dot” in him. He possessed a divine “dot” in my eyes. Blessed Absalom had perseverance. He kept working toward freedom and justice and that great commandment to love one another. Was it easy, no. But think about our future generations. We have a responsibility. A responsibility to teach our children how to pick up their vision so that this world, the one that we live in; the one inhabited by complexity and challenge and care and worry — that the work that is done this time, and the work that is undone during this time, leads to more and more of God’s beloved community. When we do that, we honor our spiritual ancestors, like Absalom.
We need movements rooted in love right now, movements powered not by difference and exclusion and punishment, but by common ground, compassion, humility, healthy boundaries, patience and healing.
Love allows us to flow together toward a shared future. Toward God’s beloved community. This vision takes different forms over time, but the essence remains the same. Our desire for freedom, equity, opportunity, dignity.
Trinity is a remarkable, diverse community of faith. Diverse in many ways – racially, economically, politically. There is something of the Spirit present with us in our community. That spirit of love breathes acceptance of differences, allowing us all to grow in grace. Is it always easy? Oh my goodness, No. But with patience we persevere.
God is calling for us to be friends. “You are friends if you do what I command you.” We are charged with reconnecting our friendship to God because God has committed friendship to us. God is calling for us to be friends, to love. Will we persevere and commit to meeting God now and in the future? You possess a unique, powerful “dot”. A divine “dot”. So, pick up your vision and thanks be to God.