Sermon preached on Sunday, June 20, 2021 at Christ Episcopal Church, Alameda
by Rev. Will Scott, Associate Rector
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
Today’s service is adapted from a liturgy compiled by the Vivian Traylor Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians and is part of a larger effort in our Diocese and throughout the Episcopal Church to add Juneteenth to our official calendar of feast days. The lessons from Amos, Galatians and Luke all speak to what Verna Dozier called God’s dream, “that all creation will live together in peace and harmony and fulfillment. All parts of creation. And the dream of God is that the good creation that God created -- what the refrain says, 'and God saw that it was good' -- be restored.”
In our gospel today, we have what some scholars describe as Jesus’ mission statement, we don’t know for sure whether Jesus chose the section of Isaiah or if it was the portion of the text appointed for that day. Luke describes the scene almost like stage directions, and places an emphasis on physical actions. Jesus arrives in Nazareth, he went to the synagogue, he stood up, he unrolled the scroll…and after the quote from the prophet, Luke says Jesus “rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the person who’d given it to him, and sat down.” Then Jesus gives a very brief but powerful sermon, “today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Perhaps like many of you over the course of this week, I have learned more about Juneteenth which marks the day more than two years after the emancipation proclamation that enslaved people in Texas learned that they were free and the celebrations that began and have been passed down ever since. Perhaps like you I have been moved by the voices and persistence of activists and organizers who for years and years have worked to make this day a national holiday. The walking, speaking and organizing done by 94 year-old Opal Lee is a reminder to that for the dream of God to be realized requires physical actions. We must like Jesus in today’s gospel, be on the move, get up, unroll sacred texts, and speak up.
But perhaps above all, we must find a way, like those learning of their freedom 156 years ago in TX after more than 240 years of slavery in the American colonies, and as Jesus preached, find a way to hear, to really listen and take in the good news of God for those in poverty, bondage, or suffering any form of oppression.
Like the saying, it is always darkest before the dawn, in order to recognize, comprehend, hear and fulfill God’s dream for all creation, we must be honest about the realities of our nation’s historic and present systemic injustice, racism, and violence. Earlier this week I heard an interview with Clint Smith, author of the recently published, “How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of SlaveryAcross America.” He described visiting the largest maximum-security prison in the United States located in Louisiana and called Angola. This giant prison isbuilt on the site of a former plantation given that name because so many of the enslaved there originated from that region of Africa. Over 70 percent of current inmates at Angola Prison are black, and like many of those suffering behind bars and within our nation’s criminal justice system are forced to labor for relatively no pay. But systemic racism and injustice isn’t just happening far away in Louisiana, a few weeks ago a member of Christ Church brought my attention to a recent article by Rasheed Shabazz in the San Francisco Chronicle with the headline “For more than a century, Alameda has been the Bay Area's island of racism and police violence.”
For today’s gospel to mean anything, for the powerful joy of Juneteenth to be heard, requires repentance, a turning around, a revolution.
So we have work to do, we have moves to make, stands to take and voices to hear Christ Church, Alameda. We have work to do on ourselves, and work to do within and around us. In closing I’m going to share another quote from the late great Episcopal theologian Verna Dozier who wrote,
"We have lost the capacity to dream great dreams. We reduce God to the personal, private, ’spiritual’ sphere of our lives, and ministry to personal, private, ’spiritual’ acts - a good deed here, a good deed there, a cup of cold water here, a loaf of freshly baked bread there, a prison visit here, a hospital call there, a night in a shelter here, a time with a troubled friend there. We see no need to challenge the systems that make these ‘ministries’ necessary.
The call to ministry is the call to be a citizen of the kingdom of God in a new way, the daring, free, accepting, compassionate way Jesus modeled. It means being bound by no yesterday, fearing no tomorrow, drawing no lines between friend and foe, the acceptable ones and the outcasts. Ministry is commitment to the dream of God."