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The Good News is Not Just for the “In Crowd”: Luke and Absalom Jones February 18, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — revwaf @ 6:22 pm

Well, we’re back into the fray!  Today is the 4th of the 32 saintly brackets, all four corners of the score sheet will now have been addressed.  Oh, and for those of you wondering (as I did) which saints will be voted on when, the supreme council of  Lent Madness has made it easy for us.  Go here to see who’s coming up on which day.  Pretty cool, hunh?  These Lent Madness folks have it all figured out!  I also want to repeat that I owe a lot to the LM people for the biographical stuff I ‘ve been offering each day (except yesterday when the saints I wrote about were our stalwart volunteers of the St. Stephen’s Art Show).

So today, two champions of inclusivity separated by 17 1/2 centuries:  Luke (a.ka. “The Physician”) and Absalom Jones.  They understood and that the Good News of Jesus Christ was meant to be shared far and wide, breaking down barriers and opening doors.

Absalom Jones was the first African-American Episcopal priest.  He was born into slavery in Delaware in 1746 and then sold to a Philadelphia store owner.  He had taught himself how to read and then learned how to write at a night school for blacks run by members of the Society of Friends (yay Quakers!  I’ve often said if I weren’t an Episcopalian I’d be a Quaker, except I’d miss the singing, the liturgy, and of course the Eucharist).  Jones’ “owner” (I use quotation marks because I find the idea of one human being owning another obscene) allowed him to work after hours and keep what he earned, enabling Jones eventually to buy his wife’s freedom and then his own.  His children were born free.

Jones and his lifelong friend Richard Allen were enthusiastic members of an interracial Methodist congregation in Philadelphia.  In 1786, however, the white members voted that black members must be segregated to the upper gallery.

During that period, while a member of St. George’s Methodist Church, Jones met his lifelong friend, Richard Allen. Their enthusiasm brought in many black members to the interracial congregation. However, in 1786, white members met and voted that black members must be segregated to the upper gallery. The following Sunday Jones and Allen sat down in church, and, according to James Kiefer, “ushers tapped them on the shoulder during the opening prayers, and demanded that they move to the balcony without waiting for the end of the prayer. They walked out, followed by the other black members.” Richard Allen eventually the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.

In 1792 Jones and Allen established the first black church in Philadelphia, St. Thomas’ African Episcopal Church, and petitioned Bishop William White to allow them to become a parish in the Episcopal Church, having had it with the Methodists. The congregation was admitted to the diocese but banned from participation in Diocesan Convention until 1864, long after its founders’ deaths.  Jones was ordained a deacon in 1795 and a priest in 1802. He was known to be a wonderful orator and an attentive and much-beloved pastor. He died in 1818;   St. Thomas continues to be a powerhouse church in the Diocese of Pennsylvania to this day.

Luke is actually responsible for more than 25% of the New Testament (nyah, nyah, nyah, so there, Paul!) having written both the 3rd Gospel and the Book of Acts.  Originally they were meant as one narrative in which the first part leads us to Jerusalem and in the second part leads us far beyond — to the ends of the “known” world.  Luke’s concern was very much for the foreigner, the outcast, women (and the vertically challenged!  Only in Luke do we get the story of Zaccheus who had to climb a tree to see Jesus because he was so short.  We of the 5’2” and under crowd appreciate that!).  One of Luke’s best loved parables, the Good Samaritan, is a powerful example of his reaching beyond the “In Crowd.”  Today we may focus on the “Good” part of Good Samaritan, emphasizing the need to good deeds.  However for Luke the emphasis was on the “Samaritan” part.  Presenting a Samaritan (Samaritans were the hated “other” in Jesus’ time) was a radical, bordering on the scandalous.  But it made Luke’s point loudly and clearly that Jesus came for all, not just the select few.

Tradition has it that Luke was a physician, possibly a ship’s doctor since he was so knowledgeable of different cultures and comfortable with travel.  This would certainly explain his desire to push the Gospel out into the wider world.  For how can one remain locked into a box-like world view after having experienced the shared humanity of others “different” from ourselves?  It is due in large part to Luke that we believe God’s love through Jesus Christ transcends race, class, and gender, being a gift to all people. At the beginning of Luke’s gospel when Jesus is presented at the temple, Simeon proclaims him “a Light to enlighten the nations,” and at the beginning of Acts, just before Jesus ascends into heaven, he tells the disciples, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

No one knows how Luke died. What are thought to be his remains are buried in Padua, Italy.

Well folks, as compelling as I find Absalom Jone’s story and as much as I respect what he did I have to go with Luke this round.  The radically inclusive Jesus we encounter in Luke’s Gospel is the Jesus I follow and proclaim as Lord.  In Luke’s Gospel we experience the Christ in whom there truly is “…no East or West, in him no South or North, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth” (Hymnal, #529).  As pure literature Luke’s Gospel also compels me with it’s rich narrative and emphasis on story.  Of course I was probably predisposed to favor Luke if, as a Meyers/Briggs trainer once conjectured, Luke was an “NF” (“Intuitive Feeler,” with Mark being the Sensing Perceiver [SP], Matthew the Sensing Judger [SJ], and John the Intuitive Thinker [NT]).  On the other hand, others I know compare Meyers/Briggs to astrology, so who knows!

To vote, go hereSomebody asked me well what do you do after you’ve gone there?  You scroll to the bottom of that Lent Madness page (pausing to read the musings and much longer bios found there), then click the circle next to the saint you’re voting for, then hit the “vote” button.  And remember, vote early, but not often!  No more Lucy vs John the Baptist mishaps!


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