Saturday, February 13, 2016

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Lead Us Not Into Temptation
Give peace in our day, we beseech thee, O thou God of peace! And 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. We implore all these blessings and mercies, only in the name of thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
And now, O Lord, we desire, with angels and arch-angels, and all the company of heaven, ever more to praise thee, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty: the whole earth is full of thy glory. Amen.
From: A Thanksgiving Sermon, preached January 1, 1808, in St. Thomas's,
or the African Episcopal, Church, Philadelphia:
On Account of the Abolition of the African slave trade, on that day, by the
Congress of the United States.
By Absalom Jones, rector of the said church

This First Sunday in Lent falls in the midst of Black History Month. In The Episcopal Church we count Absalom Jones as one of the Saints of the Church. Although the Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves slowed the slave trade, it would be many difficult decades and a Civil War to bring the trade to an end. Born a house slave in 1746 in Delaware, Jones taught himself to read out of the New Testament. No doubt the story of Jesus’ persistent faith in God and God only, resisting the temptations to power (Luke 4: 1-13), and relying on the Word of God, inspired the young Absalom.  When he was sixteen he was sold to a store owner in Philadelphia. He attended a night school for Blacks, operated by Quakers. When he was twenty he married another slave and purchased her freedom before his own with his earnings. Jones bought his own freedom in 1784. He was thirty-eight.

At St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church, he served as lay minister for its Black membership. The active evangelism of Jones and that of his friend, Richard Allen, greatly increased Black membership at St. George’s. The alarmed vestry decided to segregate Blacks into an upstairs gallery, without notifying them. During a Sunday service when ushers attempted to remove them, the Blacks indignantly walked out in a body.

In 1787, Black Christians organized the Free African Society, the first organized Afro-American society, and Absalom Jones and Richard Allen were elected overseers. Members of the Society paid monthly dues for the benefit of those in need. The Society established communication with similar Black groups in other cities. In 1792 the Society began to build a church, which was dedicated on July 17, 1794.
The African Church applied for membership in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania on the following conditions: 1, that they be received as an organized body;  2, that they have control over their local affairs; 3, that Absalom Jones be licensed as layreader, and, if qualified, be ordained as minister. In October 1794 it was admitted as St. Thomas African Episcopal Church. Bishop White ordained Jones as deacon in 1795 and as priest on September 21, 1802.

Jones was an earnest preacher. He denounced slavery, and warned the oppressors to “clean their hands of slaves.” To him, God was the Father, who always acted on “behalf of the oppressed and distressed.”
But it was his constant visiting and mild manner that made him beloved by his own flock and by the community. St. Thomas’ Church grew to over 500 members during its first year. Known as “the Black
Bishop of the Episcopal Church,” Jones, like his Lord and Savior, was an example of persistent faith in God and in the Church as God’s instrument as he continued the struggle for freedom and equal rights for his people. Absalom Jones resisted all temptations to power, entering a lifetime of service in his Lord’s name. The world needs us all to continue the work Jones began so that one day all people in this land will know the kind of freedom Jones so exemplifies to this day.  – Adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts

scientist and engineer from Scotland who was for a time a missionary in Ghana in the 1950’s.
The following folk song, Jesu, Jesu is in our hymnal (602). It was penned by a Scotsman, Tom Colvin, a scientist and engineer from Scotland who later in his life was a missionary in Ghana in the 1950’s. He became familiar with a traditional love song from the village of Chereponi, Ghana. It seemed a fitting tune for a song about Christian love. He writes, “Sitting there in the moonlight, I felt it simply had to be about black and white, rich and poor. I was ashamed of the wasteful affluence of my people but proud of the Gospel that transforms us into servants of one another. It is only when we who are rich learn to have the humility of the slave towards the poor of the world that we shall be able to learn from them; they have so much to teach us and share with us.”

Absalom Jones and Tom Colvin: two men in different centuries give us plenty to think about this First Sunday in Lent as our nation struggles to find a way to talk about race relations.

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve
the neighbors we have from you.

Kneels at the feet of his friends,
silently washes their feet,
master who acts as a slave to them. Refrain

Neighbors are rich and poor,
varied in color and race,
neighbors are near and far away. Refrain

These are the ones we should serve,
these are the ones we should love;
all these are neighbors to us and you. Refrain

Loving puts us on our knees,
serving as though we are slaves;
this is the way we should live with you. Refrain

Kneel at the feet of our friends,
silently washing their feet;
this is the way we should live with you. Refrain

Set us free, heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. 


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