but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31
Please be seated
I love the prairie. I saw the tall grass prairie for the first time in 1994, in late April, after my husband had accepted a job in Topeka, KS. I had visited Chicago as a teenager and I decided then that I did not really like flat ground, so I wasn’t all that excited about the prospect of living in a place so flat.
But even on that first trip, I loved the expanse of the sky. The view was overwhelming. You could see so far into the distance. It’s not that trees cannot grow in Kansas, it’s that you have tall grasses, which easily catch on fire, especially during a thunder and lightening storm, creating new tender grass shoots, which attract large hoofed animals that massage the earth. It’s just not conducive to trees.
So the grasses grow up to 8 feet tall during the summer. And the wind NEVER stops blowing. NEVER! There is always wind. So the earth warms up and the heat rises and the wind blows, creating the most wonderful air currents.
Raptors like hawks and eagles LOVE the Kansas prairie. And because the vista is so expansive, you can watch the hawks and eagles catch the breeze and ride the currents. They save themselves plenty of energy by doing that.
And in today’s Old Testament reading, the prophet Isaiah reminds us that when we are doing God’s work, we’ll find those air currents and be lifted high like the eagle… the eagle representing St. John. We won’t get weary nor be faint when we catch that current that God provides.
Later this week, on Friday, we’ll remember Absalom Jones, the first African-American ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. Absalom Jones knew what it meant to find those currents from God that raise the eagles in flight. Listen to the biography of Jones available on the website of African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia, the church Jones founded:
The life and legacy of The Reverend Absalom Jones is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, his faith, and his commitment to the causes of freedom, justice and self-determination.
Absalom Jones was born into slavery in Sussex County, Delaware on November 6, 1746. During the 72 years of his life, he grew to become one of the foremost leaders among persons of African descent during the post-revolutionary period. In his younger years in Delaware, Absalom sought help to learn to read. When he was 16, his owner Benjamin Wynkoop brought him to Philadelphia where he served as a clerk and handyman in a retail store. He was able to work for himself in the evenings and keep his earnings. He also briefly attended a school run by the Quakers where he learned mathematics and handwriting. In 1770, he married Mary Thomas and purchased her freedom. It was until 1784 that he obtained his own freedom through manumission. He also owned several properties.
During this period, he met Richard Allen, who became a life-long friend. In 1787 they organized the Free African Society as a social, political and humanitarian organization helping widows and orphans and assisting in sick relief and burial expenses. Jones and Allen were also lay preachers at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, PA where their evangelistic efforts met with great success and their congregation multiplied ten-fold. As a result, racial tensions flared and ultimately they led an historic walk out from St. George’s.
In 1792, under the dual leadership of Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, “The African Church” was organized as a direct outgrowth of the Free African Society. Both Jones and Allen wished to affiliate with the Methodists, but the majority of the congregation favored the Episcopal Church. Richard Allen withdrew with a part of the congregation to found Bethel Church (later, Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church). The African Church became The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas with Absalom Jones as its Lay Reader and Deacon. In 1802, Jones was ordained by Bishop William White as the first African American Episcopal Priest.
During the severe yellow fever epidemic of 1793, Absalom Jones and Richard Allen mobilized the Black community to care for the afflicted. In 1797 and 1799 Absalom Jones, with other free Africans, presented tenable petitions to Congress and to the President of the United States opposing slavery. Two schools and supportive services for the Black community developed under his leadership.
Absalom Jones died on February 13, 1818 at his residence, 32 Powell Street, Philadelphia, PA. Tributes and accounts of his funeral appeared in several periodicals. The Episcopal Bishop, William White, spoke of Jones’ devotion and care of his congregation and of his many contributions to the life of the city. The February 13th Absalom Jones Feast Day was added to the Episcopal Church Calendar in 1973. His ashes are enshrined in the altar of the Reverend Absalom Jones Chapel of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, and a memorial stained glass window commemorates his life and work.
What this biography fails to mention is the trials Absalom Jones went through to get his church recognized by The Episcopal Church. He was denied admission to General Theological Seminary, for instance. There was also some opposition to the church being fully recognized by the Diocese.
Can you imagine…here were many people drawn to The Episcopal Church and its understanding of faith in Jesus Christ, rejected only because of the color of their skin.
But Absalom and the members of St. Thomas under his cure, persevered. He and they read St. Paul’s letters, including the portion we read today from the first letter to the Corinthians, “If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!” 1 Cor. 9:16
They only wanted to proclaim the Gospel, just like Jesus did and we heard in our Gospel lesson today: “And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.” Mark 1:39
Even though The Episcopal Church of their day segregated them, they caught the winds and flew like eagles even into the current day. Many Dioceses in the country celebrate Absalom Jones Day with special services and special offerings for the Historically Black College of The Episcopal Church, St. Augustine’s in Raleigh, NC.
When we become weary and tired as we usually do, let us remember the perseverance of Absalom Jones…let us remember how the eagles find the current and rise, saving their energy. Let us rest, find the current of God, and rise like the eagles.