Blessed Absalom Jones Feast – February 14, 2021
Isaiah 42:5-9 and John 15:12-15

         Not sure how many of you watched the annual Diocesan service for Blessed Absalom Jones yesterday, but it was beautiful, it was well done. And the sermon by The Rt. Rev. Carlye Hughes – she is the Bishop of the Diocese of Newark, was inspiring.

The theme this year is “out of many, one”.  You may recall that the Great Seal of the United States has an Eagle on it and he carries a scroll inscribed with the motto: “E Pluribus Unum.”  E Pluribus Unum is Latin for “out of many, one”.  Our country’s motto – “out of many, one”.  Our theme for the Feast of Absalom Jones.

Blessed Absalom was born into slavery, taught himself to read by using the Bible as one of his resources, and he became America’s first black Priest. 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.

As Bishop Hughes shared yesterday, Blessed Absalom had a vision.  The church essentially turned it’s back on Absalom and his family and friends…saying you don’t belong here. You need to sit up there – meaning in the balcony – separate. But he had a vision of what church could look like, so a church for black people was created.

Absalom is one of many spiritual ancestors who have gone before us that we can learn from. At our Thursday healing service, we have been using the resource called “A Cloud of Witnesses” which commemorates one or more of our spiritual ancestors each day.  I’m fascinated by the vision, the prophetic vision, of so many of our siblings who have gone before us. We are clearly not alone.

So, yes, it’s a great time to look at Absalom Jones and realize that we are not the first to face trouble. Bishop Hughes accurately described our time as a moment full of challenge and opportunity. Complex and confounding. Sometimes we feel like we can make a difference and other times wondering if what we say or do has any impact at all. Blessed Absalom and the great cloud of witnesses shows us what it’s like to have faith in our vision. A vision based on our own baptismal covenant which respects the dignity of all human beings. Which is Martin Luther’s vision of God’s beloved community – a community of equity, opportunity and justice for all people.

In John’s gospel for today Jesus says that ‘you are my friends.’ And “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” 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, as 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 Hughes – it is the work of our lifetime. Of all of our lifetimes. It is the work of generations

Bishop’s hope is that we pick up our vision.  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.

With our Thistle Hills mission here in Coatesville, designed to support survivors of trafficking, prostitution and addiction, I’d like to share a story from Mimi, who is part of Love’s Arm, another sister organization of Thistle Farms:

Mimi says:

“Standing at the lectern, I saw the light of anticipation in their eyes as I began to share my story with them. With each painful traumatic moment I shared, the tears began to trickle down their cheeks.

Shame would well up in me, then I would push it back down. I continued with prayer and the hope of grace that set me free.

I remembered being behind those bars myself so many times, incoherent, delusional, and damaged from the days of intoxication and substance abuse that failed to ease my pain. I remembered the chaos, confusion, not knowing how to feel, as well as the rejection of family and distrust of peers.

Then something happened: it was just a solitary moment when I stood frozen in time.

A still, small voice pierced through my heart: “Can you see? Can you see how I want to heal everything you went through to make you my instrument of hope to these women?”

THAT was the day I reached out my hand and began to reach back. There’s not been a minute of regret, but there have been times I could not hold myself up under the weight of the call.

But my Beautiful Sustainer, the Spirit, held and lifted me up, encouraging me to press on. So now I’ve met an army of others who have heard the call. One day and one life at a time, we are watching the amazing. Healing happens as we grasp hands with the Divine”.

– MIMI  Love’s Arm, Chattanooga, TN Thistle Farms Sister Community

Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

My friends, pick up your vision.   Amen.