Absalom Jones Feast – Feb 13, 2022
Today we are celebrating the Feast of Absalom Jones. 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 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 admitted to the diocese.
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”.
The Rev. Dr. Mark Andrew Jefferson, the Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Virginia Theological Seminary gave the sermon for yesterday’s Diocesan service. It was a wonderful service! If you missed it, check in out on the DioPa YouTube channel. Rev. Jefferson gave us a charge.
Think first about how Jesus came to us in humility, born of a teenage mother with a questionable birth. Think about how Jesus was sharing his message of the gospel while he walked the earth. Think about how he was dependent on a ragtag group of disciples to carry into the future the Christian faith. Think about how God, through Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, is still dependent on a ragtag group of people. On Us. We are called to carry God’s love into the future.
Rev. Mark Jefferson reminds us of the role of the church. We are to stand up and be accountable as friends of God. Jesus tells us “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” 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…
The disciples are no longer to be counted as “servants” but as “friends.” But being a friend of Jesus means that there will be sacrifices in our lives. Because if loving each other was so easy, we would have done it already. So why love? We love because we have to, we love because we have a responsibility in this world to manifest God’s love.
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.
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? 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?