In my view, anyone who elevates the Bible above all other literature, cultures, and morays is doing it a disservice. The Bible should be interpreted in context alongside all the other bodies of knowledge handed down through generations. Was the gospel Paul preached written prior to him preaching or did he claim a new Spirit revealed gospel? In the 1st century, he was labeled a heretic by the religious community. His gospel survived because he fashioned it to answer a dilemma regarding the salvation of Gentiles and their status with Jews. It was in his mind a new revelation and he suffered to give it Birth. We have such challenges to salvation in our time that need bold voices to speak and reveal what God is saying in our time. Anyone who lives by scripture and verse has not allowed the Spirit to speak. Even Paul cautions against such dogmatic positions. I’m sure Paul did not envision his letters being canonized in a book by an oppressive regime and given as the final Word of God in any matter. In fact, Paul urged people to pray and ask the Holy Spirit for understanding and deeper insight. Even the Law of Moses was not final for Jesus in many sermons reinterpreted it and issued a new edict based on a higher knowledge of God’s Intention. We should be students of the Word engaging our total being in a conversation with God and the Word people have shared regarding God’s Word revealed to them. The Holy Spirit empowers such boldness and I pray for more disciples like Paul who will take the steps to hear a fresh word from God in this season and not a stale cultural bread steeped in the past.
Learning to Live Apart from Jesus
John 16:4-15 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)
4 But I’ve told you this so that when it happens you’ll remember what I’ve told you. I didn’t tell you this at first, because I was with you. 5 “Now I’m going to the one who sent me. Yet, none of you asks me where I’m going. 6 But because I’ve told you this, you’re filled with sadness. 7 However, I am telling you the truth: It’s good for you that I’m going away. If I don’t go away, the helper won’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 He will come to convict the world of sin, to show the world what has God’s approval, and to convince the world that God judges it. 9 He will convict the world of sin, because people don’t believe in me. 10 He will show the world what has God’s approval, because I’m going to the Father and you won’t see me anymore. 11 He will convince the world that God judges it, because the ruler of this world has been judged. 12 “I have a lot more to tell you, but that would be too much for you now. 13 When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into the full truth. He won’t speak on his own. He will speak what he hears and will tell you about things to come. 14 He will give me glory, because he will tell you what I say. 15 Everything the Father says is also what I say. That is why I said, ‘He will take what I say and tell it to you.’
Today is Pentecost Sunday. But what is Pentecost? This celebration of Pentecost is derived from the Celebration of the Festival of Weeks, originally a Harvest Festival observed by the Hebrew People of Israel during the time of Moses well into the modern era. Exodus 23:16 says “Celebrate the Festival of the Harvest with the first produce harvested from whatever you plant in your fields. “Celebrate the Festival of the Final Harvest at the end of the year when you harvest your crops from the fields.” It occurs on the fiftieth day after the Passover, a celebration of Freedom from Egyptian Bondage by the Hebrew People.
From whence does this term arise in Scripture? On the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon those followers of Jesus who had gathered together in Jerusalem. Acts 2:1-4 records, “When Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Passover, came, all the believers were together in one place. 2 Suddenly, a sound like a violently blowing wind came from the sky and filled the whole house where they were staying. 3 Tongues that looked like fire appeared to them. The tongues arranged themselves so that one came to rest on each believer. 4 All the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak.”
What happened on the first Pentecost continues to happen to Christians throughout the world today, though usually not in such a dramatic fashion. We rarely get a heavenly wind and tongues of fire anymore. Nevertheless, God pours out the Spirit upon all who put their faith in Jesus Christ and become his disciples (see Romans 8:1-11).
Christians are meant to live in the presence and power of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit helps us to confess Jesus as Lord (1 Cor 12:3), empowers us to serve God with supernatural power (1 Cor 12:4-11), binds us together as the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-13), helps us to pray (Rom 8:26), and even intercedes for us with God the Father (Rom 8:27). The Spirit guides us (Gal 5:25), helping us to live like Jesus (Gal 5:22-23).
But it didn’t start out so easily. Jesus was labeled a blasphemer by the church of his day, cast out of its synagogues, put on trial for heresy, and finally crucified as an enemy of the State. Jesus had to persevere in his struggle to convince a dying, hierarchal, oppressive religious system that he had found a new living way. A new way to view God that of Father. A new way to express God’s concern for humanity, that of Mother. A new way for humanity to interact with one another, that of brother and sister and friend. Jesus taught the love of God, the Compassion of God, and the Mercy of God toward all people most especially sinners, outcast, and rejected in society. He came to liberate, celebrate, and bring justice within society.
Pentecost, then, is about liberation, celebration, and justice. Pentecost signifies that the oppressed in the world who accept Jesus Christ as Lord have received power for living. And this outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon believers, frees believers to live lives being led by the Spirit that do not conform to the worldview of those without such a relationship with God. The aim of believers is to live as Jesus lived meaning to meet the challenges of spiritual evil and wickedness with the same clarity of thought and power as Jesus. Believers who have been baptized with the Holy Spirit move to a different level of knowledge and understanding.
Because of Pentecost, the world is constantly being introduced to Jesus Christ, the revolutionary man who preached justice, lived justly, and died on behalf of justice. And the church knows that the world we live in is not a just world. Oppression and oppressors are thriving while God’s people are living under heavy weights of persecution and injustice. The life and message of Jesus is far reaching in its influence in the world. The church witnesses that the manifesto of Jesus is being realized though not yet and declares that a day of reckoning is at hand.
The Holy Spirit empowers the church that makes the mission of Jesus Christ its own and brings hope, healing, and help to those in need. A Pentecost Church is a church on the forefront of advocacy for the poor, widowed, orphaned, and immigrant. A Pentecost Church speaks life to those engaged in alternative lifestyles, addicted to money, sex, and power; the Pentecost Church speaks a word to those on the brink of suicide reminding them that evil cannot win. Reminding them that God has a remedy for evil. To all those like David who think the powerful elite have it made. The church says be patient, keep serving the Lord because Justice is coming.
For I hear James the Church Moderator declare in James 5, “Pay attention to this if you’re rich. Cry and moan about the misery that is coming to you. 2 Your riches have decayed, and your clothes have been eaten by moths. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be used as evidence against you. Like fire, it will destroy your body. You have stored up riches in these last days. 4 The wages you refused to pay the people who harvested your fields shout to God against you. The Lord of Armies has heard the cries of those who gather the crops. 5 You have lived in luxury and pleasure here on earth. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered people who have God’s approval, even though they didn’t resist you.”
Thus, equal pay legislation, reform of our criminal justice system, advocacy for universal healthcare, welfare reform, and social security issues are all things that Pentecost Churches fight for. They fight for the least of those among us and they stand to speak truth to power. But not only do they advocate, the Pentecost Church creates. The Pentecost Church creates programs to educate, employ, and liberate those for whom society is intent on denying freedom. The Pentecost Church is not a begging church, it is a Church inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit to make a difference in its community and in the world.
So, while we’re apart from Jesus, we are instructed by the Holy Spirit to do the works that Jesus did. Jesus did not allow the Law of Moses to restrict his activity in the world, rather he reinterpreted the Law of Moses to better fit his understanding of who God is. Jesus did not sit idly by and quote scripture to keep from influencing the world for God. Often from the mouth of Jesus, we hear the words, “But I say unto you…”
When these words were spoken, people knew a change in attitude and behavior was expected to spring forth. When the church hears the world minimize people based on their socio-economic standing, lifestyle, neighborhood, and race the church uses these words of Jesus to say, “You have heard what the world says, but up in here we say unto you . . .
The Spirit looks at the “letter” but is not confined to the “letter.” The Apostle Paul writes, “And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
It is in the context of such a life-giving word followed by action against evil that the Pentecost Church impacts lives.
Finally, “A twelve-year-old boy was saved at a revival. Later, his friends questioned him about it. One said, “Did you see a vision?” Another said, “Did you hear God speak?” The boy answered all of these questions with a simple no. “Well, how did you know you were saved?” they asked. The boy replied, “It’s like when you catch a fish, you can’t see the fish or hear the fish; you just feel him tugging on your line: I just felt God tugging on my heart.”
The Holy Spirit tugs at hearts exposed to demonstrations of God’s power in the world. I trust that he is tugging on yours today. There is much work to be done, “the world is groaning for the manifestation of the sons of God. Beloved, a Pentecost Church can live apart from Jesus because it sees itself doing the work of Jesus, speaking the words of Jesus, and having the same results of Jesus. Beloved, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to help us live apart from Jesus. Amen.
 1 Corinthians 2 differentiates among the world’s wisdom and the wisdom of those led by the Spirit.
 2 Corinthians 3:4-6
Slave owners selectively chose certain black men and women to teach how to read; the slaves thought themselves special. The slaves went about teaching other slaves to read and most of the time the Bible was used to do such education. Can someone tell me why the slave owners would choose the most difficult book to comprehend to use as a teaching aid to black slaves?
Anyone can learn to read; its the critical thinking piece, however, that is necessary to become learned. Slave owners taught black slaves how to read, interpret, and fight to ensure nobody questioned, analyzed, or contradicted those words and created schools to reinforce the basic teaching they gave them. It is still the same today. Blacks fear to lift their eyes above the words and think for themselves. The Bible with its fear of hell, fire, and damnation, has enslaved people for generations and those who gave it to us and other (so-called) minorities gave it to us because it served their purpose.
The descendants of slave owners still violate the teachings of the Bible and do so with impunity because Black people refuse to think critically about what they are reading and remain paralyzed to create a new ethic for the issues of our time. Could the Bible be the real “Willie Lynch Letter”?
Stop regurgitating to me what the Bible said, I need more of what the Holy Spirit has revealed as a result of your own study and critical analysis unless you believe that the interpretations of your Anglo-Saxon Scholars are the only valid ones available. This is my prayer, Lord, free me from the confines of words on a page and liberate me to a world of knowledge only revealed by your Holy Spirit through intentional study, meditation, and prayer.
Nat Turner was taught how to read; he had a natural zeal for it. But why did his reading result in an uprising while other slaves’ reading resulted in conformity to the slave owners rules? For me what transpired was Pentecost! And Pentecost always results in nonconformity. Pentecost is a justice movement not bound by literal words on a page. Pentecost comes with power to change the world! Help me Holy Ghost!
Subject: Post-Resurrection Power for Pre-Resurrection Failure
Text: John 13:21-32
21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23 One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. 31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.
Well, it’s been about 3 years and much has happened. Jesus intentionally chose 12 men to follow him as disciples and women raised funds to ensure his ministry would be successful. But for this moment let us consider what happens when your inner circle breaks down when it betrays and denies you right before your very eyes. For this is not a backdoor affair, this is a public denial by those whom Jesus handpicked to take his ministry to another level. That is the case within our text. The entire 12 abandon our Lord when he should have been able to count on them most. It’s amazing what pressure on your convictions can produce.
So Jesus is seated at the table with his disciples, breaking bread with them and the Holy Spirit gives him a glimpse of what he will have to endure in the coming days. Among this revelation, Jesus sees Judas, his treasurer betray him, his closest ally, Peter denies him, and then the other 11 desert him. Talking about a vision from God, Jesus certainly had one.
These are not strangers, these are close associates, his disciples. Men who supposedly have left all to follow Jesus, all ambitions, all worldly pursuits, all worldly desires for power and prestige. Men who have traveled with Jesus across the Palestinian valleys and the Judaean hills. They have crossed the Sea of Galilee with him, even endured criticism of him, and have had intense debates regarding theology with him. They know him, and yet they don’t know him as well as they should. The fact is it is in the hour of greatest adversity, that they get a chance to discover that they are not who they think they are. They are not the courageous 12, they are more like the hateful 8. They’re a hot mess; they are pre-resurrection disciples in need of post-resurrection power to be effective witnesses. Hallelujah!
This turn of events, this traumatic incident in his life, caused Jesus to reflect on the words of King David, the Psalmist King. King David, when faced with the dire circumstance of betrayal, lamented in Psalm 41:9, “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.” I wonder if he was being prophetic or if Absalom’s betrayal hurt him just as much as Judas’ betrayal tormented Jesus. But let us move on, it’s lunchtime and we cannot linger here.
It is traumatic because Judas does not betray Jesus until Judas is blessed by Jesus. It is only after he receives the bread that Judas yields himself to Satan. Can you imagine that? You bless your inner circle and then your inner circle betrays you. Lord, have mercy!
That’s a message all by itself; let us move on. The Holy Spirit gives Jesus a vision only of betrayal, denial, and abandonment or so it seems; because despite his tortured soul at this revelation from the Holy Spirit, Jesus sees what will happen post-resurrection.
And that’s why we celebrate Holy Week. We assemble because we understand the blessing of post-resurrection. Yes, when pressure is applied, we may fail, but that’s pre-resurrection. Yes, we may betray friends, deny allies, and even abandon loved ones in their hour of greatest need, but that is pre-resurrection. Pre-resurrection happens in the face of unforeseen circumstances wherein we thought we could stand only to discover the pressures of life beat back our resolve and revealed our cowardice.
How many times have we resolutely proclaimed a stand for righteousness, justice, and equality only to back down in the face of our opponents? How often have we made vows to God only to see ourselves fail to fulfill our vows? This is the stuff of pre-resurrection. Stuff we are called to overcome with post-resurrection power.
But isn’t it good to know that there is fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s vein and sinner’s plunge beneath that flood lose all their guilt and shame. I’m so glad that God has given us a solution to our pre-resurrection blues. For I hear the Apostle Paul declare, “When I would do good, evil is always present within me.” And then Paul asks the Questions: “Who shall deliver us from these pre-resurrection struggles?” “I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord!” These words led the hymn writer to exclaim, “What can wipe away my sins, nothing but the blood of Jesus! What can make me whole again, nothing but the blood of Jesus!’
I stop by here on this Wednesday of Holy Week to share with you that there is post-resurrection power for pre-resurrection failure. His Name is Jesus.
And if your inner circle breaks down, if your life has been turned upside down just remember that it was in a similar incident that Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.” It is in that hour when your entire world is turned upside down, that God will get some glory out of your life. It’s a matter of perspective
Sometimes, you have to be left alone, ostracized, rejected and abandoned in order to see the glory of God in your life. Remember beloved, God is not dependent on your friends or your associates to use you. God does not need you to get over 1,000 social media followers in order to make you a sponsor of the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus saw his betrayal, denial, and abandonment as an opportunity for God to be glorified and so should you.
Let us pray. Heavenly Father, may we be able to surrender our will to yours, our friends and family to you even in pre-resurrection circumstances. For we believe that your post-resurrection power is more than enough to bring glory to your name. Let us view our situations as Christ viewed his: as an opportunity for you to show up and show out. Bless your word today, in Jesus Name, Amen.
I’ve dropped everything to write you about this life of salvation that we have in common. I have to write insisting—begging!—that you fight with everything you have in you for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish. What has happened is that some people have infiltrated our ranks (our Scriptures warned us this would happen), who beneath their pious skin are shameless scoundrels. Their design is to replace the sheer grace of our God with sheer license—which means doing away with Jesus Christ, our one and only Master.” (Jude 3-4, The Message Bible)
I look to the church to lead the world to Christ. What I see baffles me! I remember well how when I received a call to Christ and Christ’s gospel, I went to my beloved Willard W. Allen Lodge No. 108 and bid farewell to my brothers. They were happy for me that I had discovered my life’s calling and understood my decision to fully commit myself to the of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Is the Church transforming culture or is culture transforming the church? Are the two so intertwined until they are no longer singularly recognizable? Grambling State University has the Bayou Classic, a game that alumni and well-wishers look forward to each year. I daresay they have supporters committed to going to this one game even if they miss all the others. They prepare for it in advance to include budgeting, putting in time off at work, scheduling reunions, etc. It is of the utmost importance to them.
Do you as a supporter, no as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ have that one service, that one day you have committed to the Lord and refuse to substitute for anything else? For me, it is the Holy Communion Service. Despite what I have going on, it is my commitment to be at my church partaking of the Lord’s Supper with my members. I do whatever I can to keep this commitment above all others.
Jude warns us of confusing our commitment to Christ with that of our worldly pursuits and aspirations. I love the Lord and the Lord’s Church; never would I forsake her for obligations to any other group I’m affiliated with. Do you have such loyalty to your church?
The world stands in need of disciples of Jesus Christ leading the fight for their souls. They do not need associates, friends, comrades that flock to the same worldly pursuits as themselves. They who have not God, need those who do to become recognizable and distinct from any other group. The world needs our light to shine its brightest at this very moment in history. I urge you to consider whether your witness leads others to Christ or to something someone, some place, else.
In His Service,
People often decide to move forward with their plans after they reach a certain degree of certainty that their plans will be successful. However, when it comes to moving forward in the things of God, that is not always possible. God frequently leads us to the next step after we’ve completed the first. God seems to insist we walk by faith and not by sight. And often, God does not fill in all the blanks; God leaves certain details out of his instructions and still commands us to move. See Numbers 13 where God challenged his people to move forward into the promised land with only His Word as guarantee that they would inherit the promise. But they hesitated; they balked; they were paralyzed with fear not because of what they knew but because of what they didn’t know. They didn’t know how God would act and so they refused to move forward. God did not provide all the details.
“. . .. So when we are confronted by indecision, we need to move forward despite our doubts or confusion. We need to move forward, even if we’re only taking small steps. Those steps, regardless of which direction they go in, are likely to give us new information and experience. Our actions send ripples into the world. The situation may change or reveal itself in a new way once we have moved to a new vantage point. Think of your life as a movie you are watching. You are midway through the movie and you don’t know what is going to happen. But you’re not supposed to know what is going to happen. The movie is not over yet. This is the challenge posed by the demon of indecision: Can you move forward in the face of uncertainty? Can you co-exist with confusion and not-knowing and take the next step?”
God is calling us to move forward; to execute the plans he has given us for ministry in our several contexts. I challenge you to obey God and do just that. This year let us resolve to act; to act in concert with the known will of God and then to expect God to show up and show out. Each of you have dreams and aspirations of God making your life better. You have prayed about it, you have discussed it in great detail; yet, you have not acted in line with your conversation. You have procrastinated, hesitated because all of the blanks have not been filled in. You may ask can we do it? Who will help us? Where will the money come from? Among others. You declare you’re waiting on God and I declare God is waiting on you. Make this the Year of Execution in your church, in your life, and in your community.
Trust God’s Word found in Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord. They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope.” Amazing, God has planned for your success; the question is “Why haven’t you acted based on God’s plans?” Perhaps you’re afraid or perhaps you just can’t handle of the stress of not knowing. However, when you do not move in concert with God’s plans, the stress of indecision, the stress of inaction, becomes even greater. The truth is we often try to wait until we feel like moving; rather than simply moving in faith.
Trudy Boyle confesses “My number one stress creator is not completing a task I have set for myself or following through promptly. The stress is compounded when I take on more than I can deliver in the allotted time. And my final penchant, which makes up what I call my “stress triangle” is to ignore the whole lot until the last sixty seconds! How do I let this controllable stress occur? The honest answer is that I sometimes let my feelings boss me around. One of the puzzling lessons I have learned is that, more often than not, I do not feel like doing most of the things that need doing.
Margie Warrell gives us seven (7) strategies for moving past the fear that causes us to procrastinate which leads to our inaction. I challenge each church to use these strategies as you plan your agenda for the upcoming conference year. Here are the strategies in a nutshell:
- Write down your goal and give yourself a deadline.
- Break your goal into small pieces.
- Visualize the future you want.
- Harness fear.
- Build accountability.
- Reward progress.
- Act bravely daily. Starting today
Finally, understand that God rewards action based on his Word. His Word will not return to God void. If it doesn’t work, the lessons you learn by doing it will be immeasurable for your future action. Don’t allow the fear of failure to keep you from your destiny in God. Make this “The Year of Execution!”
 Krech, G. & Anderson L. (2003). Defeating the Demons of Inaction: Indecision Retrieved from http://www.todoinstitute.org/library/public/defeating_the_demons_of_inaction_indecision.php
 Boyle, T. (2003) The Stress of not Getting Things Done. Retrieved from http://www.todoinstitute.com/library/public/the_stress_of_not_getting_things_done.php
 Warrell, M. (2013). Why You Procrastinate, and How to Stop It. Now. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/margiewarrell/2013/03/25/why-you-procrastinate-and-how-to-stop-it-now/#3b4e73481837
Text: Isaiah 12:1-6
(v. 1) You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me. (v. 2) Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. (v. 3) With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (v. 4) And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. (v. 5) Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. (v. 6) Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
This brief chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah is a song of praise. Reminiscent of a Davidic psalm, this composition heralds the prospect of a reunited people, a “new Jerusalem,” and new world order. It points to the future Church and Kingdom redeemed and ruled by the righteous Messiah who will judge and save.
It speaks of a personal deliverance expressed in collective salvation. The content of the song is, therefore, spiritual and political. The song begins with acknowledgement of the exile experience as evidence of judgment. A post-exilic remnant seeks redemption in spite of spiritual and physical separation. They also seek a political-economic restoration that attends a restored kingdom. Consequently, the preeminent grace of God’s salvation wins out and is worthy of thanksgiving praise.
As with many psalms set for worship, this song of praise evokes physical expressions that demonstrate the meaning of the sentiment “to give thanks.” The Hebrew word for praise employed here is yadah, which signifies the stretching out of one’s hands in thanks while singing. It is a confession of utter dependence upon God for the inferred gift, namely God’s deliverance. A people who were once scattered and symbolically disconnected from their God are now reunited, and thus reconnected to the One who has created them. There is an eschatological hope that has been fulfilled “in that day.”
Their profound longings for “home” are now met in a glorious family reunion made possible by a God who promised not to forsake them. More importantly, they can bow before their true King without inhibition or recrimination. They can now wave their hands in joyous gratitude, for three essential reasons: God remembers, God redeems and God restores.
First of all, God remembers. Verse one states: “You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me.” The original meaning of remembrance is “to re-member” or recollect. In other words, what was once literally and figuratively detached and incoherent is now connected and coherent.
One of the most egregious offenses that any Hebrew could commit was to forget who God was and what God has done. Likewise, the worst tragedy that any Hebrew could experience was for God to forget them. God’s wrath and judgment on a people resulted in a lack of memory of them, i.e. their abandonment and alienation from God and one another. Likewise, our African ancestors’ ultimate act of honor was to “keep alive” the saints in living memory. One is “forgotten” when their name and legacy are no longer mentioned. The fact that the remnant, once displaced and disconnected, has been re-collected is reason to give thanks.
It should also be noted that an act of remembrance can be a profoundly political act. There is a kind of “anamnestic solidarity,”1 to use Archie Smith’s term, in a communal worship that recounts their common past and collective salvation.
Black worship is a type of liturgical anamnesis, the opposite of amnesia. Anamnesis means “to recollect the forgotten past and to participate in a common memory and a common hope.”2 Authentic corporate worship takes seriously the scripture, “Where two or three are gathered in my Name, I am in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)
Christ becomes fully present as both redeemer and liberator. James H. White discusses anamnesis as an objective of the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, “No single English word conveys its full meaning; remembrance, recalling, representation, experiencing are all weak approximations.
Anamnesis expresses the sense that in repeating these actions one experiences once again the reality of Jesus himself present.”3 This certainly characterizes the spirit of the sentiment that an African American congregation has not “had church” until the presence of Jesus is felt in the house. Consequently, Thanksgiving is about “re-membering” who we are and whose we are. It is a defining feature of black worship that serves a psycho-social purpose in liberation and salvation. This enables black folk to shout, “Thank you!” in spite of receiving unmerited suffering, historically and presently. We remember to give thanks because God remembers us.
Second, God redeems. Verses 2-3 state: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Every Hebrew embodied a sacred identity derived from their relationship to God. Separation from God resulted in a fractured identity. Before one could be restored, one had to be redeemed, and only God could redeem an alienated people.
Ed Wimberly describes redemption through John Wesley’s “therapeutic soteriology,”4 a key component of the evangelical enterprise that Africans in America first understood about the Gospel, as it was re-presented to an oppressed people. Sin, personal and social, separated individuals and communities from God. In the ancient worldview, to be disconnected from God is to not be a person.
A people who have been redeemed have a reason to give thanks: God has redeemed their privilege as a child of God and as a member of the redeemed community. I can sing, “I am redeemed, bought with a price. Jesus has changed my whole life. If anybody asks you, just who I am, tell them, I am redeemed.” (Jesse Dixon and the Chicago Community Choir)
Finally, God restores. Verses 4-6 state: “Among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” This second “stanza” of the hymn signals a crescendo of appreciation for being redeemed and restored to privileged status as “royal Zion.”
The people of God are reminded to consider their present favor in light of their former plight. They have been restored, in the way that the book of I Peter asserts: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” (I Peter 2:9-10). This is what the saints had in mind when they sang, “When I think of the goodness of Jesus and all he has done for me. My soul sings ‘hallelujah.’ I thank God for saving me!”
And so Mt. Olive, God is our redeemer and the one who restores us. God wants us to remember his acts of mercy and kindness by giving him thanks. God wants us to appreciate just how far he has brought us.
He has brought us from slavery to emancipation, from emancipation to liberation, from liberation to freedom. God has brought us from the outhouse to the white house. That’s the kind of God we serve; I know I’m right about it.
And this redemption, this restoration is not a singular event. Every time I turn around, God keeps on blessing me. I don’t know about you, but God picked me up this week. God lit a fire under me and caused me to get up from my chair of depression and put on me a garment of hope. God caused me to see beyond my suffering into his divine plan for my life. And I can truly say, thank you.
Thank you Lord for all you’ve done and continue to do for me. Thank you Father for continuing to forgive me, bless me, and defend me. Thank you Father for making a way out of no way. Thank you Father for blessing me when I didn’t deserve a blessing; thank you Father for picking me up out of the miry clay and planting my feet on a rock to stay. Hallelujah! Hallelujah to your name. Praise be unto our God and His Christ. I thank you Lord for this great salvation!