February 10, 2013: God Sightings: Set FREE!

Posted on : Feb 7th, 2013 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

In the United States, we talk a lot about freedom, and we say it is one of our most cherished values, but the reality we live often contradicts the values we talk about.  For example, women in America did not have the right to vote until 1920.  That struggle for freedom began in1848.  It took 72 years for women just to get the right to vote.  Here’s a bit of the history:

“The Women’s suffrage movement was formally set into motion in 1848 with the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York.

The catalyst for this gathering was the World Anti-Slavery Convention held in 1840 in London and attended by an American delegation which included a number of women. In attendance were Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who were forced to sit in the galleries as observers because they were women. This poor treatment did not rest well with these women of progressive thoughts, and it was decided that they would hold their own convention to “discuss the social, civil and religious rights of women.”

Using the Declaration of Independence as a guideline, Stanton presented her Declaration of Principles in her hometown chapel and brought to light women’s subordinate status and made recommendations for change.

Resolution 9 requesting the right to vote was perhaps the most important in that it expressed the demand for sexual equality. Subsequent to the Seneca Falls Convention, the demand for the vote became the centerpiece of the women’s rights movement.

Susan B. Anthony was arrested for attempting to vote for Ulysses S. Grant in the 1872 presidential election. Six years later, in 1878, a Woman’s Suffrage Amendment was introduced to U.S. Congress. With the formation of numerous groups, such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) ,the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and, the Women’s Trade Union League, the women’s movement gained a full head of steam during the 1890’s and early 1900’s. The U.S. involvement in World War I in 1918 slowed down the suffrage campaign as women pitched in for the war effort. However, in 1919, after years of petitioning, picketing, and protest parades, the Nineteenth Amendment was passed by both houses of Congress and in 1920 it became ratified under the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. (http://askville.amazon.com/women-vote-United-States/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=15170942)

The journey for African-Americans has been equally long, and much to my surprise it began before slavery in the United States.  The other day I read a piece about slave trading in northern Africa. “Northern Africa?” I asked myself, Africans selling Africans as slaves?  That didn’t sound right.  So I called our favorite source on all things South African, Kobie Vermaak.  Kobie laughed and said, “You don’t think Africans would let a bunch of white folk pull up to shore and load a boat with slaves, all on their own do you?”  Of course there was an established slave trade in Northern Africa.  The slave traders were Arabs from North Africa who were of a lighter skin color.  They enslaved darker skin color Africans and sold them as slaves.  There were established slave trade routes from northern Africa to Europe and the United States.”

January first of this year we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the “Emancipation Proclamation.”  As those who have seen the movie “Lincoln” know, the Emancipation Proclamation was an order issued to all segments of the Executive branch (including the Army and Navy) of the United States by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, during the American Civil War. It was based on the president’s constitutional authority as commander in chief of the armed forces; it was not a law passed by Congress. It proclaimed all those enslaved in Confederate territory to be forever free, and ordered the Army (and all segments of the Executive branch) to treat as free all those enslaved in ten states that were still in rebellion, thus applying to 3.1 million of the 4 million slaves in the U.S. The Proclamation could not be enforced in areas still in rebellion, but as the army took control of Confederate regions, the slaves in those regions were emancipated rather than being returned to their masters.

And then of course we have the struggle for Freedom and equal rights for LGBT folk in the US.  Goodness knows how many years that will take, but compared with Women and slavery we’re progressing much more quickly!

So imagine Jesus – a relatively unknown Middle Eastern (Palestinian) guy – coming to the national stage and announcing to the world:

“The Spirit of God is upon me,

Because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor,

And has sent me to proclaim release to those who are held captive

And recovering of sight to those who are blind,

To set at liberty those who are oppressed,

To proclaim the acceptable year of our God.”

That last line “To proclaim the acceptable year of our God” was a buzz phrase which meant “Everyone was set FREE!”  That was indeed joyously GREAT NEWS for those who weren’t free; but was not well received by those who were born or appointed to positions of power and privilege over everyone else.

Today in the US we tend to bring about freedom “one group at a time.”  Jesus did it in one grand sweep.  To be set free is one of the most powerful spiritual experiences one can have.  Most of us know The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Free at Last!  Free at Last” speech but do you know its origin?  It is a phrase from the old spiritual – “Free At Last,” by J. Rosamond and his brother James Weldon Johnson in their “2nd Book of Negro Spirituals, 1926.”

“One of these mornings bright and fair

I’m gonna put on my wings and try the air….

Thank God almighty I’m free at last.”

May the Loving Spirit of Jesus set us free from anything that imprisons us, oppresses us or holds us captive!  Amen.



~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Luke 4: 14-21

Jesus reveals the purpose of his life.

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and a report concerning him went out through all the surrounding country.  And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

And Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the Sabbath day.  And he stood up to read; and being given the book of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus opened the book and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of God is upon me,

Because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor,

And has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

And recovering of sight to those who are blind,

To set at liberty those who are oppressed,

To proclaim the acceptable year of our God.”

And Jesus closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Jesus, who began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

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