Sermon by Pastor Jody – June 19, 2024

Sermon by Pastor Jody – June 19, 2024

Sermons

Juneteenth

A couple of years ago, I read “God is a Black Woman” by Dr. Christina Cleveland. In it, she shared her experience navigating her way through white patriarchy to find God. While she was a professor at Duke, one of her colleagues published a fiction history book about a young black woman’s escape from slavery. The author received congratulations from other colleagues but not from Dr. Cleveland. She was incensed. 

This book about the struggle of a young black woman was written by a white man. And while he conducted interviews and did extensive research, it was not his story to tell.

Today is Junteenth. This is not my story.

I am not the one to tell the story of slavery or civil rights or prejudices based on skin color. I am not the one to tell the story of separate but equal, blacks entering through the back, or white-only water fountains. I am not the one to tell the story of what it is like to be a person of color in America.

That is not my story. But I do have a story.

I am not completely removed from issues of race. I have a story of growing up in the deep south in the 1970’s. I have a story of a limited education based on the fears and biases of others.

I do have a story.

I grew up with four-wheel drives, confederate flags, and Charlie Daniels singing the “South’s Gonna Do It Again.” To my father’s credit, we were not allowed to use the “N” word.  In our house, that was a HUGE no-no. We knew not to say it but I didn’t really know why. Much to my embarrassment, I didn’t know what racism really was until I was pretty much grown.

I didn’t know that the prejudices, oppressions, and marginalizations continued well beyond the passing of the Civil Rights Act. We just didn’t talk about it. 

Does anyone want to share a time when they experienced discrimination because of the color of their skin?


Congregational Responses:

  • One young woman shared that because her children are mixed race, she is completely estranged from her grandparents.
  • Someone recounted their memory of segregated schools and pools.
  • Another shared that at 10 years old she wasn’t allowed to play at her friend’s house because her friend’s grandfather made her leave. 

Our text today is from Psalm 78.  It was attributed to Asaph, a Levite, likely appointed by King David to lead music in temple worship.  It was believed to have been written after Israel was divided into the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom.                                                                                                  

The Northern Kingdom had been taken into exile and the Southern Kingdom was facing the same threat. The Jewish people understood that the fall of the Northern kingdom occurred because they had forgotten God. They worshiped other gods and forgot what their God had done for them.  

Psalm 78 is the second longest Psalm in the Bible. It is a recitation, a remembering of Israel’s history, of their disobedience, their suffering and their delivery. It is a hymn to be sung so that it will sink in and become part of the collective memory.    

Songs are powerful that way.  People with dementia may not be able to remember their name but can sing “Jesus Loves Me”.      

This Psalm was meant to be sung so that no one would forget. As we read the opening  verses, I want us to consider, how is this hymn relevant to us today?

Psalm 78:1-4

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;  incline your ears to the words of my mouth.I will open my mouth in a parable;  I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation he glorious deeds of the Lord and his might   and the wonders that God has done.

On June 19, 1865, 3 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and 3 months after General Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox, the enslaved people of Texas learned of their freedom.  

General Order #3 stated: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. “

Juneteenth has been celebrated in parts of Texas by those most affected by this order since 1866.  It was recognized as a federal holiday in 2021.  While General Order #3 was certainly a document to be celebrated, the language used was passive/ aggressive at its base.

The final statement says: “The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

Historians have offered that this attitude toward African Americans foreshadowed the continued fight for racial justice. A fight that we have heard evidence of this very day. A fight that continues still today, whether we would like to acknowledge it or not. Because largely we would like to continue to just not talk about it.

America’s 246-year history of chattel slavery is shameful, it is deplorable and it is undeniable. Oftentimes talking truthfully about our past invokes feelings of guilt. For some, the guilt that bubbles up from taking a long hard look at the systemic racism of our past and our present is motivating, and change happens.  First, within oneself. For others, the guilt that erupts- gives way to denial, anger, or paralysis. And so we just don’t talk about it.

That’s why Critical Race Theory has been banned by at least 9 states, with pending legislation for several more. Critical Race Theory is the theory that pushes back on the idea of Colorblindness and insists that racism is prevalent in our social systems and also offers that racism can exist without racists.  

To acknowledge that America is laden with systemic racism does not mean that all Americans are racist. To engage in a conversation on the issues of race and diversity does not have to be threatening. Our past is our past and we can not change that. William Faulkner observed, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

But we would prefer just not to talk about it. Asaph instructs those in the worship to teach the children. Teach the next generation about the past. Teach them to remember.

The Hebrew word used throughout the first testament for remember is Zahkar but some scholars believe it means more than recollecting. ZAHKAR is remembering that leads to action.  

How are these words from Psalm 78 relevant to us today?

We are certainly living in a time of division. We are undoubtedly living with the repercussions of years and years of denying the past. We have to talk about it, ya’ll. If we whitewash America’s past, then we water down the impact it has on us today. We must look directly into our painful past and say, yes, that happened, where do we go from here?

Remember. 

Recite. 

Teach our children the truth, not so that we can feel a collective paralyzing guilt but so that we can be activated to change the present and the future.

Teach the truth of who we are and what we have done so that we can embrace our own values as a church and as a country.

Absolute equality for all

Love your neighbors.

Walter Brueggemann tells us “In the recital of memory, there is hope for the future.” Teach your children well, not just so that the past will not be repeated, but so that the present may be altered to resemble the Kingdom of God.