SCRIPTURE: Luke 4:18-21
The first sermon Jesus ever preached was in his own hometown- the place where no one takes you seriously because they ‘knew you when.’ And these were the words of His first sermon, taken from the Prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because God has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of Jubilee, when all God’s children will be free. And as Jesus closed His Bible, He said, “Today, these words are coming true.
THE FREEDOM OF THE KING’S SUBJECT
Hymn: MY COUNTRY TIS OF THEE
Patrick Henry, standing before the Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775, proclaimed, “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”…
Our Declaration of Independence written a year later would bespeak our desire to be able to live freely, full citizens of our own nation. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” For throughout our history, our laws will be moving towards more and more liberty for all people- Even subjects of the king
THE FREEDOM OF THE BLACK SLAVE
Hymn: LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING
11 years after the Declaration of Independence was written, in 1787 when our Constitution was ratified, we defined a full citizen as a free white male who owned property. But the urge toward freedom and full equality did not stop there. From that time until this, there has been no amendment ratified which did not expand our definition of “who is a full citizen of the United States.” In a letter dated March 15, 1786, the Revolutionary patriot John Jay wrote, “It is much to be wished that slavery may be abolished. The honor of the States, as well as justice and humanity, loudly call upon them to emancipate these unhappy people. To contend for our own liberty, and to deny that blessing to others, involves an inconsistency not to be excused.”…
Mr. Frederick Douglass was born a slave, and rose to be an abolitionist, editor, orator, author, statesman and reformer. “At one time, Mr. Douglass was travelling in the state of Pennsylvania, and was forced, on account of his color, to ride in the baggage car, in spite of the fact that he had paid the same price for his passage that the other passengers had paid. Some of the white passengers went into the baggage car to console Mr. Douglass. One of them said to him: “I am sorry, Mr. Douglass, that you have been degraded in this manner.” Mr. Douglass straightened himself up on the box upon which he was sitting, and replied: “They cannot degrade Frederick Douglass. The soul that is within me no man can degrade. I am not the one that is being degraded on account of this treatment, but those who are inflicting it upon me…”
As late as 1857, our Supreme Court ruled that blacks could not be citizens of the United States (Dred Scott v.Sandford) But 9 years, and 625,000 lives later, in 1865 the American people ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. It would take another 101 years until the Civil Rights Act outlawed Jim Crow laws, segregation and voter registration requirements. But in 1865, the legal basis for freedom was established IN THE 13the Amendment to the Constitution: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States.” For throughout our history, our laws have moved towards more and more liberty for all people- including African Americans
THE FREEDOM OF THE IMMIGRANT
“Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because God has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of Jubilee, when all God’s children will be free. And as Jesus closed His Bible, He said, “Today, these words are coming true” -including immigrants
Hymn: O BEAUTIFUL FOR SPACIOUS SKIES
In 1868, 3 years later after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, the 14th Amendment would define a citizen as any male over the age of 21 who was either born here or naturalized was a full citizen. You didn’t have to be born here; you didn’t have to have a pedigree. All you had to do was pledge your loyalty to your new homeland. Our former Conference Minister, David Moyer, told this story of his immigrant grandfather:
“My grandfather, August Christian Schneider, was an immigrant to this country in 1890. He came before Ellis Island opened. He was about 12 years old. Early on he found work in the coal mines in southern Illinois, not unlike the mines of the Ruhr Valley of his home in Westphalia. Eventually he became the secretary of the United Mine Workers local. My grandfather was very patriotic. He loved this country. Part of that love was something of a necessity for Germans living where he did during the days of the First World War. There was a mistrust of German immigrants and even some acts of vandalism and violence. It was important to show that you were a good American. My grandfather died when I was very young, so I never had the time or opportunity to explore what my grandfather’s immigration meant. Several years ago I was going through a trunk with many things from my grandparents and from my family of origin on my mother’s side. In this trunk I found my grandfather’s citizenship papers. In his early adulthood he had become a US citizen. When I read the paper, the language and the meaning of it hit me right between the eyes. His loyalty and love of this land was clear. The certificate read: On this day, August C. Schneider, a subject of the Emperor of Germany became a citizen of the United States of America.
It is hard for me to imagine the power and the amazing transformation of that little phrase on that piece of paper, now over 100 years old. No wonder my grandfather was grateful to his adopted country. He hadn’t just moved from one country to another. He hadn’t just given up one national citizenship for another. This wasn’t geography or loyalty alone, but metaphysics. He had changed states of being. He had gone from being a “subject” of another human being, the emperor, to being a “citizen,” free to claim the responsibilities and privileges of a fundamental human freedom and dignity. No wonder it was the proudest day of his life. The immigration debates today want to change our 14th Amendment to make sure that none of ‘them’ get to become one of ‘us,’ but when the debates grow harsh, our hearts can turn again to the Statue of Liberty which guards our shores with open arms, and Emma Lazarus’ poem which was carved into its base. “Give me your tired, your poor; your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lap beside the golden door.” Because throughout our history, our laws have moved towards more and more liberty for all people- including immigrants
THE FREEDOM OF WOMEN
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because God has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of Jubilee, when all God’s children will be free. And as Jesus closed His Bible, He said, “Today, these words are coming true” -including women.
Hymn GOD OF GRACE AND GOD OF GLORY
Our oldest member, Virginia Galloway, was born in 1918 into a state and a nation where she could not vote, could not own property, and had only limited legal rights outside of marriage. Women had been striving for equal citizenship since the Revolutionary War. Sojourner Truth was a black woman who strove mightily. Listen to her words, spoken in 1851 at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio
“Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about? That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman? Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it?
(whispers) “Intellect.” That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full? Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them. Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say- FOR RIGHT NOW!”
When Virginia Galloway was born, she had no rights. But Virginia, on August 26, 1920, just one week before she turned 2 years old, she and all the women of America won their right to vote with the passing of the 19th Amendment; and over the next century, we would carve out equal property rights, equal pay, and equal protection under the law. The 19th Amendment: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Because throughout our history, our laws have moved towards more and more liberty for all people– including women.
THE FREEDOM OF GAY, LESBIAN AND TRANSGENDER PEOPLE
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because God has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of Jubilee, when all God’s children will be free. And as Jesus closed His Bible, He said, “Today, these words are coming true” -even in our day.
Hymn: ONCE TO EVERY HEART & NATION
The Spirit of God comes upon each age and gives it its wall to tear down, its captive to release: And the king’s subject becomes a citizen; and the slave becomes free; and the women become equal, for in God’s justice, the walls must come down, and the captives must be released. And in our day, God calls us to release our gay, lesbian and transgender sisters and brothers, to tear down the barriers to equality, and bring forth an age of justice, and dignity.
In 1977, Harvey Milk was elected as the first openly gay elected official in the United States. To win the election, Milk had to gain the support of all segments of his district. On election night, Harvey Milk reminded his supporters: “This is not my victory — it’s yours. If a gay man can win, it proves that there is hope for all minorities who are willing to fight.” Milk was aware of the tremendous discrimination and prejudice that confronted gays and lesbians. Under his urging, the city council passed a Gay Rights Ordinance in 1978 that protected gays from being fired from their jobs. Milk championed the cause of those with little power against downtown corporations and real estate developers, campaigning especially hard for the rights of senior citizens.
Harvey Milk knew that his position as a San Francisco Supervisor advocating gay rights placed him in danger. Hate mail began to pour into his office. With chilling foresight Milk made a tape recording on November 18, 1977, with instructions to have it read only if he died by assassination. In it he says, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” On November 27, 1978, he was assassinated by a former police officer who had clashed with him over gay rights “It takes no compromising to give people their rights,” Milk said in 1973. “It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no survey to remove repressions.” And now the rights gained by the gay community in the past 3 years are under siege, as states and communities try to undermine the right of gays and lesbians to marry and adopt.
But throughout our history, our laws have moved towards more and more liberty for all people-including gay, lesbian and transgender people.
Our final hymn was born during the American civil war, when Julia Ward Howe visited a Union Army camp on the Potomac River near Washington, D. C. She heard the soldiers singing the powerful abolitionist song, “John Brown’s Body” with its strong marching beat. An ardent abolitionist herself, Julia Ward Howe wrote these words the next day: “Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord!”
The hymn first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in 1862. 74 years later, at the dedication of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial in 1936 in Washington D.C., Roland Hayes, the Black tenor, sang this hymn so magnificently that he was called to the front of the stage twice for a standing ovation.
Thus a hymn written by a woman, and given recognition by a black man, entered into our national conscience, proclaiming the justice, and the power, and the determination of the God who wrote Freedom’s Songs.
Closing Hymn MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY