A Date to Remember, a sermon by the Rev. Susan C. Wyper, August 25, 2019
Proper 16C 8/25/2019
When I pick up the Sunday paper, the bulk of which gets delivered in its blue wrapper to our driveway on Saturdays, I go directly to the Magazine. And more than that, to the puzzle.
If it’s a week I’m on to preach, I’ll force myself to save it for a post-church treat, but on a sermon-free weekend, I’ve got it opened and started before my Saturday coffee is hot!
I’ll do the crossword, the two Ken Kens, and if it’s included, the acrostic (which was always my Mom’s favorite puzzle). I’ll leaf the pages to find the Ethicist, and the Diagnosis column, but rarely do I read the whole Magazine. Last Sunday was an exception. I read every last word.
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If you remember, the cover photograph was of an iron grey sea and a cloudy sky and the distant horizon line. There were no ships on the water, not in sight anyway.
The words across the dark ocean read “In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. America was not yet America, but this was the moment it began.
No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the 250 years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.” – The 1619 Project
In the social studies rooms of my youth, history was taught by dates, 1492, 1776, 1787; there was the War of 1812, the 1849 California Gold Rush, across five Aprils with the Civil War 1861-1865, Archduke Ferdinand in 1914, the stock market crash of 1929, the last state to join the Union Hawaii in 1959 and the first man on the moon in 1969.
My young head held a lot of random dates, but none of them was August 1619 and the arrival of the first Africans traded into slavery on our shores.
Page after page of Sunday’s magazine showed me how that date, and that action shaped so much of who we are and what we’ve become. How human our history is, how flawed, how replete with mixed motives and self-protective measures. Nothing is pure and holy, save God.
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It was not an angry call-out kind of article (or series of articles), in the way of so much finger wagging in our culture. It was rather what activist Loretta Ross calls a calling-in, a call-out done with love. “Calling-in,” Ross writes, “engages in debates with words and actions of healing and restoration, and without the self-indulgence of drama.”
I was glad for my hours with The 1619 Project and how it reoriented and expanded my understanding of our country’s history and how that history continues to inform our present.
What does this have to do with today’s scripture you might be asking? Well, I think Jesus is announcing his own 1619 project; he’s calling-in the establishment, the leaders of the synagogue, not in order to shame them for the past but to shape them for the future.
Just as the Lord God called in Jeremiah, over-rode his youthful understanding with his own divine one, gave him words to speak and a way to follow, Jesus calls in the synagogue leaders and shows them a more excellent way. In doing this, he reorients the past toward a more generous future.
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The synagogue leaders in today’s gospel understand the law of the Sabbath according to a reading of Exodus 20 where Moses delivered the ten commandments and connected the Sabbath with the seventh day of creation, the day upon which God rested from his labors, and so we too should rest. This morning’s synagogue leader is quick to call-out Jesus on his disobedience to this ancient law, and to try to rally supporters to his cause.
But for Christians, the Sabbath, our Sabbath, which is Sunday, is not only a day of rest, it is also a day of Resurrection, a day of triumph of life over death, a day of deliverance and freedom. Every Sunday, a little Easter.
If we consider Jesus’ resurrecting action in this light, it is absolutely in keeping with the meaning of the Sabbath for Jesus here frees a woman from her bondage, liberates her from the spirit that had her bent and bowed for 18 years. This reading of the Sabbath law aligns more closely with Deuteronomy 5 where the directive to keep the Sabbath is linked to the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt.
Through this second lens we see that the synagogue leader’s indignation arises less from Jesus breaking the law of Sabbath rest, than from usurping the leader’s powers. The power to liberate, to bind and to loose, to forbid and permit, were powers customarily given the Pharisees. The leader is feeling one-upped. He is feeling himself called out.
But Jesus is not calling him out; Jesus is simply healing a woman who needs to be healed, and calling the synagogue leaders in, calling him in to a new understanding. A less self-serving understanding, a more outward-looking understanding.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus takes the power to bind and loose and gives it to Peter, when he says I give you the keys to the kingdom, whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven. Ultimately, we are inheritors of this same power. We have the power to bind and to loose, to enslave and to free, ourselves and one another. It is a power we must exercise with the same love and compassion that Jesus shows.
How do we know when we are interpreting laws, creating policies or bending rules in the way Jesus would have us do and not for our own purposes and agendas? We know by the fruits.
When hope, healing and joy follow, we are on the right road, we have found The Way. When we move from bondage to freedom, we are on The Way. Today’s gospel passage encourages us to ask where are we bound and what and whom needs freeing? From new hurts and old hurts, hurts of 18 years, or 400.
In that same Sunday New York Times there was a wonderful Metropolitan Diary entry, you know the section where folks write in their personal city stories. On a very replicable level it reminds us that it’s never too late to make amends, never to late to say you’re sorry. The story went like this:
I would like to apologize to the woman driving a Subaru (not me!) on Sunday evening, Jan. 28, 2018. I was having a bad few weeks with a partner’s illness, and I became fixated on finding a parking spot that would be good until Tuesday morning. So I nosed into a spot that I considered mine and nosed you out.
I hope you will forgive me. I did wish you good parking karma and hope you found a spot quickly. I do forgive you for the name you called me.
May the parking gods smile on you.
May the Almighty God, who holds our past and our future, smile on us, and empower us to call each other in, in to a new and more generous way of faith, hope and love, of liberty and justice for all. And may we make this date, August 25, 2019, by our love and our actions, a date to remember.