Old Photos of God
We don’t have photographs of God. It is that simple. We don’t have old Polaroids or 35 millimeter prints, no daguerreotypes or pinhole camera images of the divine. We just have us.
God is known by his children. Jesus was the first-begotten, or “mono-genos” in Greek. But through Christ we have been given power to become children of God, who were born, not by the will of a man but of God. When John 1:12-13 says this, it says we have been given that power by “trusting in his name.”
We do not do much in the name of other people. Once, when I went to visit a parish as dean in Western Michigan, I greeted the people in the name of the bishop. At coffee hour a man explained that he did not normally like the bishop, but he liked what I said in his name, that what I said had changed his mind about the bishop.
When we take on someone’s name, we trust their version of life and the truth. We act as they would act when we act in their name. We speak what they would say.
Normally we so deeply value our freedom that we forget that to have new life in God we have to receive it by receiving the name of Christ in baptism and then living into that name, trusting it.
On Sunday, we are gathering with our United Black Episcopalians from Arizona to remember the life and ministry of the Rev. Absalom Jones. His story is a story of being freed from slavery and serving and eventually being ordained in the Episcopal church. But there are lines from his story that open up deep fissures in our American story of race.
Those deep fissures are always there in our national memory. But we can forget when we are not the ones who bear their scars in our bodies, or at least not that we are aware of. Chattel slavery was a depraved and dehumanizing form of what was already the worst of human relationships, slavery. That we were a culture that was predominantly Christian and also a slave culture and economy is something we should never forget. Nor should we allow the shackles that were there define how we walk now in a new day.
We are no longer slaves, but we sometimes continue the habits of slavery. When I first heard that line from a black pastor who had invited me to preach in his church, I was left speechless by the deep and abiding truth of that line. We have been reborn as a new people, no longer black, white, slave, free. We are all Christian. But some of us bear the marks and habits of slavery.
Maybe we still suffer economically, or maybe we still carry prejudices that blind us to the people in front of us. All of us have to learn to live this new life in Christ and his name. And in this life, there can be no accepting of slavery nor of the dehumanizing that made it possible.
We vow at baptism to respect the dignity of every human being. In remembering Absalom Jones, we remember a time when the church turned aside from the prejudice of its day and ordained an African-American and freeman to serve long before we could even imagine the end of slavery. It was a prophetic moment and a sign of hope for us all.
As we all carry the marks of sin in some way if we are honest. But we have come together to remember that we also now bear the mark of Christ. We bear his name. And we bear it when we lift up each other, set each other free, and act in the name and in the way of our Lord and Savior.
So this day is a day to rejoice that God is always at work, even in us. And God may call us to reach forward in our moment to act courageously, even more than in Jones’s day, to boldly proclaim the dignity, worth, and God-given value of every human being.
It will be a day to be present. The Rev. Canon Anita Braden is going to preach, and some of our dearest friends and mentors will be with us to remember and honor the best in who we are made to be. And for Christ Church of the Ascension it holds a special dignity because of how we continue to honor our beloved Rev. Dr. Deacon Bradie Hopper. So join us.
And stay for the newcomers breakfast afterward, as we see where God is calling us together next.