The Rev. Jon Roberts
Calvary Episcopal Church
Indian Rocks Beach, FL
40 “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me. 41 He who receives a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward, and he who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. 42 And whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”
Christ and Child by Carl Bloch, 1873
Freedom has an innocence to which slavery corrupts.
Slavery has an insolence to which God disrupts.
There is simply nothing moral about slavery yet it exists.
It is far beyond something that is rude and disrespectful.
It is far beyond the perceptions of poverty or the color of one’s skin.
It is about the abuse of power and wielding it unjustly on the innocents.
There is a great deal of controversy in our land today about the inequalities and abuses of power that existed in all parts of our world in the 18th and 19th centuries. America obviously followed the pattern of taking advantage of innocent, unsuspecting people. It has become a subject that has torn the souls of many, throughout the ages and undoubtedly will never go away. It is not only a controversial subject, it is a divisive one. You can choose to look the other way, but somehow, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we still believe that one can determine their course in life. With a good work ethic, good education and good upbringing, you can go anywhere in life. That may be true, but what if you don’t have any of those?
Director Steve McQueen took a good hard look at the subject of slavery in his 2013 movie, “12 years a slave” that portrays the true story of once freeman Solomon Northup. Born in New York, a talented violinist, he is kidnapped by human traffickers, beaten and sold on a Georgian slave market. The violence is someone shielded by the cinematography, but you have to endure what your imagination fills in. The focus is not as much on slavery, as it is on the terrible injustice of a person who was free, and everything is taken from him. He is beaten into submission to which he is brutalized, to the point where he had to confess he was a slave. He lost his family, his clothes and worst, his name. It is not a movie to show children.
At this point, it would be the practice of any human being to take a position. One side says this type of bondage and abuse is still happening, while the other side says even with freedom there is still the risk of abuse. We so desperately want to right the wrong and move along but we are now stuck, might I say, enslaved, as a culture to the bondage of our anxiety.
This is a heavy load to carry and our backs may not be strong enough, but we are assured there is good news. Believe it or not, we find it in the Psalm this day, as the person crys out, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long shall I have perplexity in my mind, and grief in my heart, day after day? How long shall my enemy triumph over me?”
And then the questioning turns to submission. “Look upon me and answer me, O Lord my God: give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death; Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” and my foes rejoice that I have fallen.” Can you hear the freedman, the innocent one who is broken and tortured?
Then, and only then, their heart turns to God. “But I put my trust in your mercy; my heart is joyful because of your saving help. I will sing to the Lord, for he has dealt with me richly; I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High.”
St. Paul addresses the subject of human slavery head on with the people in Rome. There, they knew the hardship of slavery. Many of them have lost their freedom to the oppression of Caesar’s government and absolute power crushes those who are under their rule. How does Paul comfort them by saying, “So once you presented your members as slaves to impurity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness.” He presents a coping mechanism for those in that place, those who were innocent, who were now made to sin. With this he says that although you were slaves, beaten, abused and oppressed, know that you always have the choice in how you respond.
This is what we see in the main character of the movie that was referenced. Solomon may have been a slave, but he chose to be a messenger of freedom to the masters of sin. He never lost the hope that one day the fortunes of Zion would be restored and he would be with his family. Perhaps that is what kept him going. To be a prophet is to be in submission to the righteousness of God. The prophet’s heart and soul is made under intense situations. It comes out of losing one’s freedom in self, becoming a bond servant, bought with a wage of sin, and has seen the road of death. It is not always a welcomed message as many who are still living in sin cannot submit their obedience to God. The prophet has already lost everything in order to receive the riches of God.
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones, truly I tell you, none of these will lose their [freedom]”
The verses of scripture this morning are most serious and most difficult because we do not want to face the reality that we are either a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness. It is an issue that is black and white. It puts us in the position of making a choice and choices can often be disruptive. Why do you suppose God puts them there? It is so he can teach us how to choose to be free and yet dependent on Him. The only true freedom is found in our innocense, our pure thoughts and hearts and our ability to forgive. This choice does not give you a guarantee that you will never be hurt, but it does guarantee that you will surely live another day, with the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost who have decided that the righteous path is the one worth living for all eternity. Until that time, in choosing to be innocent, pure and righteous there is “light from light, true God from true God” who will come to our aid while we suffer the abuses and effects of sin on Earth.
Nobody wants to be a slave. Nobody wants to have their rights taken away. Nobody wants to be forced into doing something they don’t want to do. What is God saying to you right now when he says, “The Lord will provide?” Do you believe Him? Do you believe God will come to your aid and be your sure defense?
Remember this: God is the master of this house. He is the good and loving Father who desires all of you and wants to pour only His love and Spirit into you for the soul purpose of salvation, if you let him? Will you submit to God? Will you turn to Him for all things? Will you be righteous, pure and innocent before Him? No matter what it may look like in this crazy and enslaved world we live today, God has a plan and is executing it with skill and precision. Everything has a purpose and God is in control.
Freedom has an innocence to which slavery corrupts.
But Slavery has an insolence to which God disrupts.
 The Rev. Jon Roberts
 Psalm 13
 Romans 6:12-23
 Matthew 10:40-42
 Nicene Creed
 Genesis 22:1-14