Liberation and the Resiliency in Freedom
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June 19, 2022
Faithfulness is the mark of true freedom. Keeping the faith despite injustice is the mark of liberation. I want us to talk about Juneteenth, I want us to talk about Black Theology, I want us to talk about liberation, it seems we can’t have one without the other. I say we can’t have one without the other because of the unfortunate nature of all of this being predicated on the fact that Black People in this country have been continuously responding to trauma and will continue to do so for an indefinite amount of time.
Juneteenth of course is the commemoration of the freedom from slavery acknowledged by the entire country that began with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 declared by Abraham Lincoln. Following the Civil War, Texas was the last holdout state to comply. On June 19, 1865, Texas finally joined with the rest of the country to engage in emancipation. We all know that this did not solve the problem. There was still indentured servitude, sharecropping, Jim Crow laws, and of course the loopholes brought to us by the 13th Amendment, all of which continued the evils of slavery on a legitimate basis. Despite everything, Juneteenth was definitely a step in the right direction but not enough. Slavery, its legacy, and White Supremacy continue through racism which is still alive and well in this country. It doesn’t matter that our athletes are on a national stage, nor that we had a Black president. I still find it odd that we refuse to teach children in our schools more of how this country was born, the story that includes slavery and how people were brought over as property and seen as inferior. I find it odd that one of those responses for that refusal is the claim that it will teach children to hate this country. The fact that we can’t trust children with truth is more damaging than withholding information from them. It also shows how little we respect and how great we underestimate them. Juneteenth though, has only garnered more national attention as of late. Along with our country’s continued struggle with race relations inspired by the death of George Floyd, President Joe Bidden signed into law this commemoration as an official holiday last year. Juneteenth shows us freedom through faithfulness, despite the injustice that it was born out of.
Our reading from Isaiah models for us what it takes to have freedom through faithfulness, despite injustice. The words spoken through the prophet continue to show a new and greater exodus from oppression. With the book of Isaiah being so large scholars have gathered it should be separated into two parts with the part we are involved with today representing the theme of redemption through suffering. Black Theology, specifically inspired by James Cone, echoes this theme. As a type of liberation theology, Black Theology challenges White Supremacy taught and developed through Christianity to reflect the struggle of Black people in this country in the face of slavery and racism and in their coming redemption. James Cone gives us perspective by showing us that God is the God of all people and if God has taken all of who we are into God’s self, then God knows the struggle and oppression of Black people and that too is a part of God. This is evident in our reading from Isaiah especially when it proclaims, “I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am.’ To a nation that did not call on my name.” God here speaks to the unwillingness for a people to find peace. Nevertheless, the reading shines on redemption, the light on the other end of the tunnel, and that it is not possible without resiliency. It’s all about staying the course and doing so with a head held high even when times are hard or when you are not seen or heard. It’s also the courage to say, “here I am” to a nation that does not call on your name. This portion of the reading only parallels the cries we make today. If people won’t call our name, with a loud voice we tell them, “Say her name,” with a loud voice we tell them, “I can’t breathe,” with a loud voice we tell them, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” with a loud voice we tell them, “Black Lives Matter.”
Our Gospel for today can also be looked through the lens of Black Theology and even mirrors what we know about Juneteenth. The story of the Gerasene Demoniac is a strange tale found also in the Gospel of Mark where it is longer and more detailed. It is a type of superhero story that shows Jesus enforcing power over demons. In this version, a man possessed is restrained but loses control by the same evil that holds him. Jesus is identified by this demon and knows that it can’t win so looks for a way to escape by asking to be transferred into pigs nearby and later throw themselves off a cliff. Understanding this story requires contextual clues. The demons have been perceived as representations of the Roman army. The name Legion was a popular identification of the Roman army and is the name the demon calls themselves. The demon is also identified as evil that turns good things vile or evil. They were no match for Jesus and were placed into unclean animals, pigs. As a show of their cowardice and unintelligence, they jump off a cliff. After all this takes place, and Jesus heals this man and rids the place of evil. The people though, are still afraid of him. It is not a stretch for us to see this evil, this Roman army, this metaphor also as a representation of White Supremacy. It comes over people and places with the power to corrupt them. It is the cause of restraint and madness that effect Black people in need of liberation. Even when the chains are broken, it still is a source of PTSD, anger, and injustice. However, in the face of the divine, White Supremacy cannot win. Even during the end, there were many who were afraid of Jesus and wanted to go back to the status quo. There were people who were content with ignoring the problem rather than deal with the results even when peace was an option. The calls for liberation from supremacy, its affects, and the complacent nature of others still did not solve the problem, but it was a step in the right direction, just like Juneteenth.
Resilience is the essence of faithfulness. Through captivity, evil, and complacency, with heads high, and while moving forward, Black people in this country will continue to say, “Here I am” to a nation that does not call us by name. Faithfulness is the mark of true freedom. Not freedom written into law, but true freedom made possible through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Keeping the faith despite injustice is the mark of liberation. If you want to know what resiliency looks like, pay attention to the words of our Black National Anthem so Lift Every Voice and sing. Amen.