SERMON ON LUKE 6:17-26 AND COMMEMORATION OF ABSALOM JONES - FR. JOSEPH ALSAY, SAINT AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA
A Sermon delivered by The Reverend Joseph C. Alsay
St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, OKC
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany and the Commemoration of Absalom Jones
February 13, 2022
In our gospel reading today we encounter a rather familiar passage of scripture to students of the bible. When one looks at the Beatitudes at surface level ones first inclination might be to regard them as simply a set of principles, a collection of rules, ethical teachings that are a happier and much improved version of the Ten Commandments. What makes the Beatitudes worthy of notice is not their abstract virtue, their essential correctness; at face value they make no sense at all. Let be real folks, there is little happiness in mourning or joy in persecution. Where the rubber meets the road is in the “personality “of the Beatitudes and hence the so- called authority, rests in the person and the life of Jesus, and in the persons and lives of those people who hear, believe and act on these beatitudes. The Rev. Dr. Clarence Jordan, was an ordained Baptist minister and Greek scholar soon after completing his theological studies founded the Koinonia Farms in Georgia which later become the roots of the organization now known as Habitat for Humanity. Dr. Jordan while setting up an inter-grated society in the midst of racial segregated Georgia wrote that the Sermon on the Mount or Sermon on the Plain without Jesus is senseless idealism, an impossible frustrating ethical assignment. It might make you bitter and cynical because the tasks are so huge. At the same time, accepting Jesus without the Sermon on the Plain is unreal emotional cynicism. We need the salvific work of Jesus and we need the ethical teachings of the Sermon on the Mount. It is not the Christian ethic which makes Christian men and women, it is Christian men and women who can live the Christian life; and we might add, they cannot do so without Christ. Many translations of the Beatitudes do not do justice to the meaning. The Greek seems to state them as exclamations, ecstatic utterances of present reality, literally; Congratulation and the bestowal of the kingdom now for those poor, hunger, weeping and persecuted. In fact, Nadia Bolz-Weber's modern-day list from Accidental Saints. Is still so spot on. "Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Those who aren't sure, who can still be surprised. Blessed are they who are spiritually impoverished and therefore not so certain about everything that they no longer take in new information. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit.You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you. Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction. Blessed are they who have buried their loved ones, for whom tears could fill an ocean. Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who don't have the luxury of taking things for granted anymore. Blessed are they who can't fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are the motherless, the alone, the ones from whom so much has been taken. Blessed are those who "still aren't over it yet." Blessed are Larry's wife and Billy's mom and Amy Mack's friends. Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you. Blessed are those who no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guy at the hospital. The sex workers and the night-shift street sweepers. Blessed are the losers and the babies and the parts of ourselves that are so small, the parts of ourselves that don't want to make eye contact with a world that loves only the winners. Blessed are the forgotten. Blessed are the closeted. Blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive, the underrepresented. Blessed are the teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you. Blessed are the wrongly accused, the ones who never catch a break, the ones for whom life is hard, for Jesus chose to surround himself with people like them. Blessed are those without documentation. Blessed are the ones without lobbyists. Blessed are foster kids and trophy kids and special ed kids and every other kid who just wants to feel safe and loved. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are they who know there has to be more than this. Because they are right. Blessed are those who make terrible business decisions for the sake of people. Blessed are the burned-out social workers and the overworked teachers and the pro bono case takers. Blessed are the kindhearted NFL players and the fundraising trophy wives. Blessed are the kids who step between the bullies and the weak. Blessed are they who hear that they are forgiven. Blessed is everyone who has ever forgiven me when I didn't deserve it. Blessed are the merciful, for they totally get it." Absalom Jones understood something of what was at the center of Jesus’ beatitudes. For it was Absalom who was born a house slave in 1746 in Delaware. He taught himself how to read out the New Testament, among other books. When he was sixteen, he was sold to a store owner in Philadelphia. There he attended night school for Blacks operated by the Quakers. At twenty, he married another slave and purchased her freedom with his earnings. Some 18 years later he bought his own freedom. Now there’s a true Valentine Day love story. He along with Richard Allen served as lay ministers for the Black membership at St. George Methodist Church. The vestry became increasing uncomfortable with the increase of Black membership under Absalom and Richard’s leadership. And decided to segregate the Black membership to the balcony without notifying them. So, the Black membership left in -mass. In 1792 a Society was founded and began to build a church in 1794. In October the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas was admitted into the Diocese of Pennsylvania.1795 Jones was ordained a deacon in 1802 he was ordained a priest. Absalom was known for his constant visiting and mild manner that made his beloved by his own members and by the community. During the first year the congregation to over 500 and he became known as the “Black Bishop of the Episcopal Church.” It tends to be our temptation to postpone the Beatitudes to some future event, the good stuff comes later. Yes, it’s “Pie in Sky in the Sweet by and by.” Tomorrow has become today, the kingdom that is to come is already here; that which we seek we have, that which we would be, we are. Yes, the kingdom is here in our midst now.
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.