a senior sermon on the feast day of blessed absalom jones
Reconciliation is not just about the act of being made whole, either individually or communally, but necessarily includes the process of: conversion (that is, the acceptance that we need reconciliation), confession (in which we are actively seeking reconciliation), and celebration (that joyous awareness that we are made one, again), that we can experience when we enter into this act with one another and with God. Reconciliation becomes an expression of love between you, me, and God.
Jesus said: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This simple phrase, a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own actions soon to come, needs to stick with us. We are servants of a God that is willing to lay down the life of his Son for us. Better yet, we are considered friends of our God, because we are given the knowledge that when we go out into ministry we are not fighting a battle with an unknown outcome, rather we are fighting from a place of victory. The experiences we have when we practice reconciliation serves as a very real reminder of this victory. Through conversion, confession, and celebration, we lift up this victory as the grounding point for our faith. We become the embodiment of Christ’s work in this world, and the power of our experience of reconciliation drives us to spread the gospel message.
However, I know I for one need to be reminded of the necessity of reconciliation. It is simply too easy for me to get caught up in the crap that seems to permeate our everyday lives. I find that it’s much easier to double-down on resentment, judgment, and apathy, to send out that snarky tweet or pithy facebook comment. I find that apathy enables me to tune out, rather than experience my emotions when injustice presents itself, because we are so constantly inundated with pictures, videos, blog posts, and more, day-in and day-out, without a chance to catch our breath as we move from opinion to opinion.
And, often this constant deluge comes from other Christian voices, creating further apathy and leaving me with the question, what is their purpose? Are they adding anything new to the conversation, or do they need to create something with a perceived impact just to build their own media brand?
But, I cannot use this built-up apathy as an excuse. I cannot tune out when my call to a Christian life demands that I not only pay attention, but actively stand up and bring light to the injustices of this world, to seek reconciliation between myself, with and for others, and with God. Absalom Jones serves for me as a reminder today, a reminder about what it looks like when someone tunes in and not only opens the eyes that are blind, but knows that through the expression of God’s power and love, the world will necessarily be a better place.
Absalom’s tenacity and fervor for the Word of God and belief that the Word should be equally accessible to all people drove him in his ministry. On January 1, 1808, a date that marked the end of the African Slave Trade according to (delayed) Congressional action, Absalom stood before his congregation and delivered his “Thanksgiving Sermon.” There is a clear hope and optimism to Absalom’s words. Absalom sees the ending of the African slave trade as a clear example of God hearing the cries of his people and coming down among them to sway those in power to release these bonds. Absalom prays at the end of his sermon for the God of Peace to “grant, that this highly favoured country may continue to afford a safe and peaceful retreat from the calamities of war and slavery, for ages yet to come.”
Recent events would seem to point that this country is a long ways away from the optimism that Absalom held 200 hundred years ago. But, Absalom had this optimism because he believed in the power of reconciliation through God. We as Christians need to champion this optimism once again. In order to have a faithful conversation about the very real violence and persecution experienced by black men, we must enter into the process of reconciliation. When we own again our identity as Christian, we can raise with a loud voice the simple fact that no one man can speak on behalf of all Christians or on behalf of all others in any belief system, and in doing so, we begin that process of reconciliation to heal the wounds of those who have been pushed away.
We hope to open a door for conversation that is not based on false dichotomies of “us vs. them” but conversation instead built upon the sense that to experience reconciliation we must acknowledge those times when we ourselves, we as the Christian Church, we as God’s creation, have not faithfully answered the call of reconciling love and true freedom. When we embrace the optimism of Absalom Jones, we embrace a call to conversion, confession, and celebration. When we embrace the optimism of Absalom Jones, we are embracing the reality that reconciliation is the tool we have been given through which we can experience the fullness of God’s love. And, it is up to us to insure that this tool is used.