• A Thanksgiving Reminder from a Hero of Black Church History

    Posted on November 25th, 2009 bob.kellemen No comments

    A Thanksgiving Reminder from a Hero of Black Church History


    Absalom Jones was born in slavery on November 6, 1746, in Sussex, Delaware. At age sixteen he moved to Philadelphia, and by age thirty-eight he was able to purchase his freedom. Along with Richard Allen, he became a lay preacher for the African American members of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church. By 1794, he was ordained a deacon in the African Episcopal Church, and in 1804 he was ordained a priest.


    Everyday Is Thanksgiving Day


    The Rev. Jones teaches us that everyday can be Thanksgiving Day.


    On January 1, 1808, in Philadelphia’s St. Thomas’s African Episcopal Church, Rev. Jones preached a message entitled “A Thanksgiving Sermon: On Account of the Abolition of the African Slave Trade.” The sermon parallels American slavery, the bondage of the Jews in Egypt, and God’s personal and powerful Exodus rescue of his people.


    Rev. Jones begins his message by reading Exodus 3:7-8,


    “And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their task-masters; for I know their sorrows; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians.”


    Commenting on this passage, Rev. Jones first highlights God’s sustaining care for His people. He then relates the historical Exodus narrative to current African American life on the basis of God’s unchanging nature.


    “The history of the world shows us, that the deliverance of the children of Israel from their bondage, is not the only instance, in which it has pleased God to appear in behalf of oppressed and distressed nations, as the deliverer of the innocent, and of those who call upon his name. He is as unchangeable in his nature and character, as He is in His wisdom and power. The great and blessed event, which we have this day met to celebrate, is a striking proof, that the God of heaven and earth is the same, yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.”


    He Has Seen: Paying Attention to the Earthly Story of Suffering


    Rev. Jones next shows that God has been watching every event of their earthly story. “He has seen the affliction of our countrymen, with an eye of pity.”


    To emphasize how important it is to pay attention to the earthly story, Rev. Jones presents an outline of African American history: capture, middle passage, auction block sale, enslavement, separation from family, work from sunup to sundown, deprivation of food, clothing, and shelter, torture of the body, and withholding of religion from the soul.


    Rev. Jones prefaces each point with the repeated phrase concerning God, “He has seen.” Thirteen times. Can you hear it? Feel it? Imagine it? Place yourself in the congregation.


    “He has seen.” “Oh, yeah!” “He has seen.” “Preach it!” “He has seen.” “Come on!” “He has seen.” “Glory!” “He has seen.” “Yes, he has!” “He has seen.” Clapping. “He has seen.” Standing. “He has seen.” Swaying. “He has seen.” Hands raised. “He has seen.” Shouting. “He has seen.” “Amen!” “He has seen.” Tears streaming. “He has seen.” Kneeling.    


    He Has Heard: Paying Attention to the Heavenly Story


    He has not only seen; He has also heard. Rev. Jones preaches:


    “Inhuman wretches! though You have been deaf to their cries and shrieks, they have been heard in Heaven. The ears of Jehovah have been constantly open to them. He has heard the prayers that have ascended from the hearts of his people; and he has, as in the case of his ancient and chosen people the Jews, come down to deliver our suffering countrymen from the hands of the oppressors.”


    The suffering Israelites and the suffering African Americans are one people of God.


    Four times Pastor Jones repeats the phrase, “He came down.” Healing hope. God sustains and he saves. He climbs in the casket and He rolls the stone away leaving an empty tomb. He sees, and He comes down.


    Thanksgiving: From Our Lips and In Our Lives


    What worship response is appropriate? Celebrate the empty tomb!


    “O! let us give thanks unto the Lord: let us call upon his name, and make known his deeds among the people. Let us sing psalms unto him and talk of all his wondrous works.”


    What ministry response is appropriate? Work to extend justice and freedom.


    “Let us unite, with our thanksgiving, prayer to Almighty God, for the completion of his begun goodness to our brethren in Africa.”


    Liberation starts with spiritual freedom from sin through Christ. It continues with personal freedom from slavery. However, it is never finished until there is universal freedom from the slavery of sin and the sin of slavery.


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