Freedom Road where The Cross Matters

Rev. Jim Ryan, PhD  — jimryan6885@gmail.com

Co-pastor of Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles Community

Independence, Juneteenth to July 4, 2020

The idea and the imagery of Freedom Road has much appeal to me.  It speaks of the truth of the journey of freedom that is hard fought and hard won.  In our nation’s history Freedom Road is the path, among other venues, of the Underground Railroad.  It was not a line on a map so much as a point-to-point chart wherein each destination is one step closer to freedom for the runaway slaves.

When Independence is celebrated in our country as a destination point, even a final destination on Freedom Road, one ought not see it as a one day party.  One day parties are for picnics, grilling out, fireworks displays – and then its over.  One and Done.

No.  Independence deserves a Festival, a two week all-out affair that achieves some depth and breadth about just what it is that the Festival is about.  I’d say the two weeks between Juneteenth (June 19) and July 4 are just about right.

Now, lest you think a Freedom Road Festival is a bit outlandish and just too difficult to pull off – I live in the Milwaukee area where, in the noncovid years, they have this thing they call Summerfest.  It is a two week festival of music of many types, genres, and varieties.  Apparently, it makes perfect sense to have two weeks of Summerfest.  So, I rest my case.

As I said, a celebration in depth of Independence would reveal the reality of how this is a hard fought thing, this freedom.  By no means is freedom a completed reality in this country.  Have you become acquainted with the Black Lives Matter and the I Can’t Breathe movements?  A hard fought freedom over time is what we heard in the first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (61:1-11).  This message, likely delivered by someone who was committed to keep the Prophet’s spirit and message alive, to the Israelites who had been freed by King Cyrus of Persia and were on their journey back to Jerusalem.  Their exile lasted 50 years and it would be another 25 years before they could worship fully in the rebuilt temple – 75 years of praying, hoping, and anticipating freedom of life and worship.

It took 89 years for the Declaration of July 4, 1776 to gain some completion of its promise that all people are free in the declaration in Galveston, Texas on June 19,1865, otherwise known as Juneteenth.  The message delivered on that day to the final group of slaves in the United States of America, “All are free.”

Just an aside here, but doesn’t it seem to you – it sure does to me – rather than a declaration on that day, and on so many other days of such declarations, what was really called for was a Confession, an Apology really, for the arrogance, cruelty, and inhumanity  of the white race to enslave the people of another race.

Freedom is a hard fought for thing.  Obviously the fight continues to this day.  The struggle against the power and violence that blocks freedom for all is all too familiar.  Haven’t we been here before?  Don’t today’s “powers that be” share so much of the ways of the past?  Sure, attack dogs may have given way to pepper spray and tear gas, but the challenge to overcome remains the same, along with the decisions on how to address, confront, and resist those powers.

I am reminded of those who formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in April 1960.  Ella Baker, Diane Nash, John Lewis, Julian Bond and many others chose nonviolence to confront the powers.  Their choice is being presented to today’s protesters as well.  For Christians it’s the choice of seeing the Cross as a sign of love.  The Cross matters today for Black Lives Matter and I Can’t Breathe as it did for the members of SNCC.

We are, or should be, all aware that by far today’s majority of protests are peaceful and nonviolent.  They may not get the TV coverage.  Cable Network News may choose to show physical confrontation, arson, and varieties of projectiles.  It is peaceful protest that reflects the thoughtful and respectful ways to provide a future that will continue the hard fought reality of Freedom Road.  That, and voting!

The Cross matters, as I say, as a sign of love.  Sadly, too many have a terrible history with the Cross.  The combination of bad theology with rigidly moralistic commands has produced a view of the Cross as an instrument to keep people in line, fearing the wrath of a vengeful God.  In addition to this unfortunate combination is the atonement piece about the God so full of wrath and a desire for payback for all that human sinfulness.

NO THANK YOU!

The Christ who leads and inspires is the loving and life-giving One.  He is about Kenosis (self-giving) and not Atonement.  Leave behind you such a notion as vengeance and revenge and you just might receive the gift of love and forgiveness.  Christ takes away sins because Christ forgives and does not keep score.

Finally, the Cross is not about meeting power with power.  That lesson is in today’s Gospel passage from Matthew (27:35-43).  Think of it.  If Christ would have come down from the Cross;  if he would have met the jeers and the tauntings of others with some show of power that would have been the sign of the Cross for ever after.

The Cross happened and still happens because love is all too often met with violence and life-taking.  God’s Word meets resistance of the violent sort.  When we exercise resistance of the love sort, that’s when we start to become aware and to understand that the Cross matters.

On Freedom Road the Cross matters.  It takes time and courage to love as Jesus loves, to resist the powers with an embrace.  Seems like there ought to be a Festival for that.

Confession

Freedom Road has one very clear destination point that calls for Confession by members of the white race.  Today’s confession is inspired by the writings of James Baldwin, African American author, and Malebo Sephodi, South African writer and poet.

James Baldwin

“What has happened to the children, and what has happened to the country and what does this mean for the world?  What does this mean for me?  Medgar, Malcolm, Martin dead.  These men were my friends…  But there is another roll call of the unknown, invisible people who did not die but whose lives were smashed on the freedom road.”

All:  We confess.  Forgive us for the smashing.

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

All:  We confess.  Open us to each other’s pain.

“I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”

All:  We confess.  Guide us to act in truth.

“It is very nearly impossible to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of an independent mind.”

All:  We confess.  Educate us in freedom.

“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

All:  We confess.  Expose us to real life.

Malebo Sephodi

“When we are conditioned to think that gender is binary, we become quite prejudiced to anyone that does not conform to what our ideas of gender are.”

All:  We confess.  May we see you on the spectrum.

“Moonchild be free.   Free from the tides of being boxed.

Free from the norms of those who status quo.

Find your path and follow it to the moon.”

All:  We confess.  Free us to extend our reach to one another.

“I am art.   I am authentic.   I am love.   I am me.”

All:  We confess.  Each one to love.

“Existing in this era comes with many contradictions,

contradictions because we have so much to unlearn.”

All: We confess.  The truth will set us free.

Prayer

We confess to being neglectful, mindless, and willfully ignorant in our thoughts, words and deeds relating to people who are not of the race of our own birth.  May we suffer love – in its time – to bring freedom to each person and all peoples through Christ whose love leads us on Freedom Road.  Amen.

 

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