Below are the words I preached to my clergy colleagues on the commemoration of Juneteenth, 2019. The scripture is Ephesians 4:17-24. The message and sentiment still ring true to me today, If not more so.
Today, we will remember the holiday Juneteenth. For those of you who don’t know the story, Juneteenth, remembers and celebrates the announcement of emancipation to the slaves held in the State of Texas on June 19th, 1865. As you history buffs in the room remember, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, with an effective date of January 1, 1863. But that news wasn’t news that most slaveholders were excited to share with their slaves. Over two years later, in April of 1865, General Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House. Thus ending the civil war. But it wasn’t until June, June 19th, that Federal troops reached Galveston, Texas, under the command of Major General Gordon Granger. There, he announced to the people of Galveston, General Order No. 3, declaring the slaves of Galveston and all of Texas freed. Two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was written, the slaves of Texas first heard the news of their freedom.
Beloved, just because Good News is out there, doesn’t mean that people have heard it, doesn’t mean that people are telling them the whole story, and doesn’t mean they understand what it means for their lives.
In our scripture today, we find Paul writing to the Church in Ephesus, which is near the modern day town of Kusadasi, in the Republic of Turkey. This community, like most to whom Paul wrote, was dealing with some troubles, they were dealing with some internal struggles, and so Paul sent them this letter that we find to challenge and encourage them.
Now if Ephesians 4 seems familiar to some of you, that’s because the preceding verse of this chapter were the scripture for our annual conference last year, in 2018 and the year before as well.
In this section, we find Paul challenging the church in Ephesus get their act together, if you will. Despite what they know, despite what they have been taught, they seem to be struggling. Despite knowing the good news, the freedom they have received in Christ, they are wandering about, following the ways of the world around them, and missing, forgetting the gift they have received, and the call that has been placed upon them to live new and different lives.
As was common in this time period, Paul contrasts the two ways, the way of vice and virtue. Paul recalls for them the way of vice, of their old gentile selves, where they followed the crowd, where they were focused on what was easy, where they were focused on comfort and what pleased themselves, as the CEB translation reads: They are people who lack all sense of right and wrong, and who have turned themselves over to doing whatever feels good and to practicing every sort of corruption along with greed.
Then Paul reminds them, like you shake someone who’s lost in a daze, that’s not what you learned from Christ, that is no life for you!
Paul wasn’t teaching them something new here, something they had never heard before. No he was calling them back to the core of their teaching, reminding them of who they are and what this new life, this new way is all about.
He reminds them to take off their old garments, their old clothes, and to be clothed in the righteousness and holiness of God, which they put on in their baptism, in becoming followers of Christ. Righteousness and holiness, in the minds and in their conduct. In the thoughts and in their deeds. Righteousness, being made right in their relationship with God, and their neighbor, reconciled to God and one another. And Holiness, changing their conduct and acting in ways that reflect their reconciled relationship with God, talking and acting like people whose lives have been transformed by love and grace and forgiveness.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians emphasizes, here and elsewhere that the followers of Christ are completely made “according to the likeness of God”, re-created.
In righteousness and holiness in their thoughts and words and actions.
What good are righteousness and holiness if they do nothing but save ourselves? What good are they if they only transform our inner beings and lead us to some perceived higher state of enlightenment? What good are they if they don’t call us into God’s work of Transformation for the world.
That’s still the mission, last I checked. Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. With all due respect to our colleagues who in this moment want to “keep the main thing the main thing” in this world of hatred, of lies, of cherry picking scripture to suit one's own needs, and refusing to wrestle with the context, neither the one in which the scripture was written, nor the world in which we find ourselves, in this world of divisive talk, in this world where even talking with the other side is seen as a betrayal of one’s values. In this world in which we find ourselves, if tearing down systems of oppression isn’t the main thing, if calling out hate and lies, regardless of the house from which they originate isn’t the main thing, if calling us to be more welcoming more loving isn’t the main thing, if resisting evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves isn’t the main then, then somebody tell me what is.
I believe, beloved, We are called into this place and time to indeed make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and that means challenging unjust systems, that means calling out wrong, in love, and seeking to be about not only reconciled relationships but also just and fair and love centered communities and systems and world, a world that is transformed according to the likeness of God.
The slaves who were set free on Junetenth, on June 19th, 1865, weren’t set free by wishful thinking, by optimistic hoping and praying, by waiting for the Spirit to move. The condition of Blacks in America, and people of color in America hasn’t changed to the place that it is now by wishful thinking, by optimistic hoping and praying, by waiting for the Spirit to move. And the work of inclusion, the work of resisting the evil, the injustice, and the oppression of our present day, in this moment in time, will not be changed by wishful thinking, by optimistic hoping and praying, by waiting for the Spirit to move.
They are changed by action, by courageous actions, by taking risks, my leaning forward. By moving from our places of privilege to speak truth in love to the powers and principalities of our day. Beloved I believe we all have been created and called for such a time as this. The question is, will we follow the old ways of the crowd, the easy ways of “that’s the way things are, and we just have to accept that i God’s will”? Or will we cast off our old clothes and put on the clothes in which we were clothed in baptism, in true righteousness and holiness for the transformation of the world?
I don’t know about you but my old clothes don’t fit anymore, I don’t look right in them, and I’m not about to go backwards. No, I, we have come to far. Put your Christ clothes on and lets get back to work. Our world needs transformation, and I intend to be about that work. How about you?