2 Corinthians 6:1-13
As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3 We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7 truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
11 We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. 12 There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. 13 In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.
5 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Sermon. June 20, 2021
Rev. John Steitz
Juneteeth is celebrated on June 19th. Juneteeth marks the day in 1865 when slaves in Texas told that they were free. This was two months after the Civil War ended with Robert E. Lee’s surrender. It was two and a half years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
The 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States was passed by Congress in January 1865. However, those enslaved in Delaware would not be freed until December 6, 1865 when the 13th Amendment was ratified.
Early Juneteeth celebrations included reading the Emancipation Proclamation, religious ceremonies, singing, games, and picnics. Today, people hold family reunions, attend religious services or choir performances, hold parades, and enjoy barbeques and other Soul food and Jubilee food.
Juneteeth celebrates freedom. However, there was immediate resistance to Black freedom. Some enslavers intentionally waited until after the harvest to announce that the enslaved were free.
The Klu Klux Klan was formed in December 1865, just 18 days after the 13th Amendment was ratified. It used terror and violence against those who tried to exercise their new found freedom.
The first Klan was active only in the south and was suppressed by the Federal government by the early 1870’s. A second Klan emerged in 1915 after the film, “Birth of a Nation” was released. The film introduced the white hooded uniform and cross burning.
The second Klan rose in both northern and southern states, held to “100 % Americanism,” and was rooted in white Protestant churches. It promoted white supremacy and opposed Catholics. By 1925 the second Klan grew strong enough to elect the governor of Indiana and half of the Indiana state legislature. About 30% of white Protestants in Indiana belonged to the Klan. The Depression put an end to the second Klan.
A third Klan emerged in the 1950’s to oppose the Civil Rights Movement. They took the Confederate or Rebel flag as their symbol. Although official numbers in the current Klan are quite small, many others have adapted and use the Rebel flag symbol.
The struggle for freedom has met and overcome many barriers – slavery, racial terror, Jim Crow segregation, discrimination, disenfranchisement and voter suppression. “Racism takes the shape of whatever will hold it.” With each advance of freedom, justice, and equality for all, there has been a quick and fierce response.
Juneteenth celebrations were revived by the Poor People’s campaign organized by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. just before his assassination in 1968. The Poor People’s campaign continued and on June 19, 1968 they celebrated Juneteenth as “Solidarity Day.”
Juneteenth became a way to address issue of poverty and freedom. People at the Poor People’s campaign in Washington D.C. in June 1968 would bring Juneteenth back to their communities in following years. Juneteenth celebrations became especially important in June 2020 right after George Floyd’s murder in May 2020.
The US Congress has just acted to make Juneteenth a national holiday this year. As important as it is to have Juneteenth be marked as a federal holiday, the struggle for freedom continues.
What value is it to lift up Juneteenth as a holiday celebrating freedom while refusing to pass a Voting Rights Act and a federal law that would prohibit voting suppression laws by several states?
This brings us to the story of Jesus asleep while the boat he is in is being swamped, then awakening and calming the sea. We can relate this story to Juneteenth celebrations in two ways.
First, think about the concern of the disciples while Jesus sleeps as the boat is swamped. They wake him up asking Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
There may be a time in our lives when many of us might wonder the same exact thing. Maybe we or a loved one faces a chronic or even terminal illness. We might wonder if Jesus has fallen asleep in his care for us. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing” we cry. Maybe not with these exact words, but with this same concern.
The enslaved faced a lifetime of bondage without hope of freedom or liberation. Their lives were brutal, hard, and short.
The loved ones of those enslaved could be taken from them at any moment to be sold elsewhere. Never to seen or heard from again. No letters, phone calls, or zoom meetings. No family reunions.
Did they not cry out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? We know that there was resistance, and when possible attempts to escape. And we have the legacy of the Spirituals. Songs to hold people together during endless suffering. Generations sang of the hope of liberation and their faith strengthened them to face bondage.
A boat was an early Christian symbol for the church. Use of a boat continues as a symbol for a church. I’ve served several churches where the sanctuary ceiling was shaped like the inside of a boat.
Black churches have sustained people for generations during the ongoing struggle for freedom before and since the Civil War. The Black church has been a “boat” keeping people safe through the rough seas of slavery, racial terror, segregation, discrimination, and disenfranchisement.
The Black Freedom Movement has been rooted in Black churches. This rootedness has been cultural and religious, economic and social, political and institutional.
It is no surprise that Black churches have been targets of racial terror for many years. The churches of freed Blacks were burned in the years before the Civil War, and gathering as a church needed to be done in secret among the enslaved on many plantations. In the south during the Klan’s first era immediately after the Civil War, Black churches were often burned.
During the Klan’s second wave in the 1920’s lynching and burning of Black churches was also common. Black churches continue to be targeted and burned today.
However, rather than worry that Jesus was asleep and unconcerned that their boat was burning, Black people were strengthened by their faith to deepened their resolve to follow Jesus as his disciples by the adversity that they faced. Churches would be burned down and the Spirit would arise stronger than everwithin the people.
You can burn a church down but you can’t kill the Spirit. The example of the Black church in facing adversity is a lesson of hope, faith, and willpower for us all.
Jesus may have been resting his exhausted body on that boat with the disciples during that storm, by the Spirit was with them.
A second way that this story of Jesus and the boat in the storm is a good one to share on Juneteenth is that Jesus does, and calmly rises up to calm the storm.
One of the lessons taught in theological seminary is to be calm, non-anxious presence. This is much easier to read about than actually practice. But a calm, non-anxious presence during a storm helps us think our way forward.
When we are able to stay calm and keep our anxiety in check we are able engage in analysis, vision, and strategy. We can analyze what the problem is that we are facing. We can center ourselves on a vision of where we need to go. And we can strategize on how best to get there. We can’t do this if we are overwhelmed by anxiety.
Being able to stay calm and maintain a non-anxious presence allows us to calm the storm through analysis, vision, and strategy. This allows us to face adversity with faith and rise up to the moment.
When we face the rough seas of life we anchor ourselves in our faith to stay calm through the storm. Amen.