2 Corinthians 5:20 – 6:10
Scriptures for Sunday, February 18, 2018
1 Peter 3: 18 – 22
Mark 1: 9 -- 15
We Christians are always to be “good news” people. As followers of Jesus Christ, we imitate him in telling good news to people we encounter. More than that, we represent Christ by our actions and our very lives: we must be good news to them in their actual day-to-day lives. All this is because Jesus Christ’s life and sacrifice and resurrection is the best news ever. We who know this, show this.
Now we are entering into a season called Lent, when Christians focus on repenting of our sin and preparing our hearts for the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. Some traditions of Lent include giving up luxuries and giving more for people who are poor and afflicted. Part of this tradition is an imitation of Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness, when he was tempted by the devil. And part of this tradition is an imitation of Jesus’ mission, to seek and to save the least and the lost.
According to Luke’s gospel, when Jesus began his ministry he read from the book of Isaiah in his local synagogue, from Isaiah chapters 58 and 61. So we open our season of Lent with this call from God, as found in Isaiah 58:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh and blood ?
- Isaiah 58: 6 – 7
Jesus fasted: that is, he refrained from eating food for a time, for spiritual purposes. So, we fast, too. God calls us to further imitate Jesus by “fasting” from doing wrong to others— including bossing them around and benefiting from their vulnerability or weakness. We are to “fast” from imagining that we are somehow better than people who lack housing or other necessities of life. We are to “fast” from selfishness and excluding others from our places and our things.
This sounds to our all-too-human ears like bad news: “What?! You’re telling me that what is mine is not mine?! You’re telling me that those people (use your imagination) are as good as I am?!”
But this is really good news for the children of God. Because God’s chosen “fast” comes with the promise of an eternal banquet of blessing to follow:
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your Vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry for help,
and He will say, Here I am.
- Isaiah 58: 8 – 9
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On a related note: This past Saturday, Nancy B and I accepted the open invitation of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham NAACP to a ceremony in Elk Run Cemetery for remembering and honoring “the beloved slaves.” We all stood in the rain near the Jennings family plot, surrounded by small slabs of stone in the grass labeled “UNKNOWN.” We heard the names of some of the Jennings family’s slaves, from a list that was made in the early 1800s. Besides the Jennings family stones, many other carved stones stood near us, giving names to the graves of old-time residents of Conrad’s Store, which came to be called Elkton.
The graves of the enslaved people had no names. It was only in the past couple of years, I later learned, that Kevin Whitfield and Charlotte Shifflett and a team using “ground-sensing radar” revealed the locations of at least 140 unmarked burials on the Elk Run site. Many of those unmarked graves contain the remains of people who, in their day, were treated as sub-human. Whitfield and Shifflett and others with the town government felt moved to bring as much dignity as possible to the enslaved people’s graves.
The old White masters considered their names were not worth remembering.
But in the words of Angela Davis, “What could they be but stardust, these people who refused to die, who refused to accept that their lives did not matter, that their children’s lives did not matter?”
God rest them in freedom.