On the fourth of July, we celebrate the declaration of independence as a nation on July 4th, 1776. As we reflect on this day, celebrating the independence of all people of this nation, it is meaningful to remember the Juneteenth Day Celebration as well, the declaration of emancipation of slaves in this Nation on June 19th, 1865. I am preparing this message on Juneteenth day, for this message to be preached on July 4th, so I naturally put the two declarations of freedom together. You can see when you reflect on the two celebrations that in 1776, we were not all free as a nation since the African Americans were still enslaved. President Biden has declared Juneteenth day a federal holiday. Celebrations abound. But have we done enough?
The legacy and the trauma of slavery passes down trans-generationally. The effects of slavery get transmitted down to next generations and across generations, even to present day African Americans as well as to rest of the country. We are each in our own way touched by the reality of this country having enslaved Africans. The effects of trauma on African Americans, no doubt, are different and devastating. During the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death, those who testified re-lived their horrific day when they bore witness to the killing.
Darnella Frazier, an eyewitness who was 17 years old when she filmed video of George Floyd’s arrest, testified during the murder trial of Derek Chauvin:
“I heard George Floyd saying, I can`t breathe, please, get off of me. I can`t breathe. He cried for his mom. He was in pain. It seemed like he knew it was over for him. He was terrified. This was a cry for help.”
Darnelle Frazier goes onto talk about what witnessing the killing of George Floyd meant for her:
“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad. I look at my brothers. I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all black. I have a black father. I have a black brother. I have black friends. And I look at that and I look at how that could have been one of them.
“It’s been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more, and not physically interacting, and not saving his life.
“But it’s like, it’s not what I should have done. It’s what he should have done.”
For those who are observing the testimonies and for those who testified, we are not only experiencing things in the present, but the past traumatic events get triggered. For Black people, the pain is compounded by traumas of the slavery, the violence and lynching’s of the Jim Crow era, as well as the much more frequent incarceration of Black people. How are we as human beings, and as children of God, to reflect and to act on the present issues in light of the past traumas of this nation?
The Scripture we have before us in 2 Corinthians Chapter 12 is the following:
6But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, 7even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. 8Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:6-10)
Apostle Paul writes of “a thorn” given to him “in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Three times he appealed to the Lord about this, to be rid of this agonizing pain, but the only answer he got was God telling him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). You probably have heard of the passage before, “My grace is sufficient for you” and also “for power is made perfect in weakness.” Indeed, God’s grace is sufficient for anything and everything. In contrast to eternal separation from God, the salvation God offers us, our redemption of eternally being with God makes everything that this world could bring upon us seem “pale” or less significant in comparison to the joy of our salvation. But even so, the daily suffering, fear, violence, pain, distress, all of these compose the reality we live in today in our lives. Here and now, the bad things seem to be winning. It feels like the inequality of race will never improve. Parents whose children drive, if their skin color is black, they probably can’t sleep at night until their children come home safely. Police violence against Black people brings fears and worries to people of color. Apostle Paul was told by God that God’s grace is sufficient. If God’s grace is sufficient, what must be true of this world?
This message “for power is made perfect in weakness” is mysterious yet this is what holds the key to our lives. How can power be made perfect in weakness? Our power is either weak or strong. If someone else has stronger power, we are weak in comparison. If we are stronger than others, then we are strong. Can weak power be made perfect? Can it can be made stronger? We cannot simply conjure up or wish for more power for ourselves. Power is perfect or efficacious when it can produce some effect in the world. Have you heard of the phrase, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? The adversities and hardships we go through, if it doesn’t crush us, can make us resilient and stronger. With God’s help, if we can get through difficult times, when we make it to the other side of the struggles, even though may feel exhausted from the fight, we also have the sense of satisfaction and awareness that we survived. Whatever adversities we face, if we can get through them, we will emerge stronger for it.
We also see how God uses weakness made perfect: God uses imperfect individuals to accomplish greater things for God’s purpose. Throughout the Hebrew Bible and also in the New Testament, we see time and time again where God uses those who are imperfect! Moses was not a natural leader. He even admitted this to God and God allowed his brother Aaron to speak on his behalf. David was from Benjaminite, the tribe that was the smallest of the twelve tribes. He was not a fully grown tall strong man when he met Samuel and was anointed by God. Peter was not a great fisherman, and he was not perfect probably in any way. But Jesus called him and Peter’s life was spent as a fisherman of people to proclaim the good news. So, we have examples of God’s work being executed through those who are weak. In their weakness, with God’s help, God’s people have done God’s will. So then in our weakness, our power will be made perfect with God’s help. This means that we pursue God’s justice, God’s peace, God’s loving kindness and merciful acts.
Most definitely with certainty, we celebrate the Declaration of the Independence of this nation on July 4th. God bless America! And Juneteenth Day is not something to be remembered and celebrated and reflected only one day of the year. On June 19th, and every day, we must remember that we cannot celebrate as a nation our independence until all of God’s people are free. Not until June 19th, 1865, was the Independence Day of this nation a true celebration of independence of the people of this nation. Would God’s justice only free the White people in this nation? The Declaration of Independence Day on July 4th, 1776 was based on such an understanding of a mis-guided reality where only white people were free. How can we understand God giving freedom only to the white people of America? Did Jesus come to dwell with us, live, and die and resurrected for everyone or did he only come for people with a particular skin color? Jesus came to bring all the people to God. Jesus said to go make disciples of all the nations. Our calling is to bring freedom, justice, love, mercy, and kindness of God to all people. Together, when all people have freedom, not only freedom from slavery, but freedom to be able to come home alive at the end of the day, freedom to vote, freedom to pursue happiness, only then can we be truly free, and only then would our celebration of our independence be truly be worthy of God’s justice.
How do we bring about the reality of God’s justice? For each of us this would look different, for obvious reasons. But I would encourage each person to go vote, to protect the rights of voting, and to give support in whatever way you are able to pursuing justice. Black people and people of color are still disenfranchised. One way their freedom is being threatened is by their voting rights being under attack. After the surprising record turnout of voters in Georgia in the last election, politicians who are afraid of a repeat of such a turnout of voters of people of color, are attempting to pass laws to restrict voting:
“State lawmakers have enacted nearly two dozen laws since the 2020 election that restrict ballot access, according to a new tally by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.
“The legislative push is part of a national Republican effort to restrict access to the ballot box following record turnout in the 2020 election.”
We are the eyes, hands, and feet that bring good news. We are also the eyes, hands, and feet that bring about God’s justice and mercy in this world. God saves us from our afflictions and consoles us that we might save others from their afflictions and console them. Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4 who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Lastly, I encourage each of us not to neglect gathering as a family of God, as brothers and sisters in Christ, even as we keep fighting for God’s purposes. Together, may we console others, and bring forth God’s justice, love, and mercy in this world.