About Birds and Lilies…

Subtitle: Just a little talk with Jesus

A Black History Month reflection, based on Matthew 6.25-34, in commemoration of the Reverend Absalom Jones (November 7, 1746-February 13, 1818), first Black priest of the Episcopal Church.

Jesus: Look at the birds of the air. Consider the lilies of the field.

Me: Jesus, you speak of carefree birds that don’t sow or reap and contented lilies that don’t toil or spin, yet are robed more splendidly than King Solomon. Really, Jesus? I have countless cares and concerns. And when I contemplate them, which I do almost daily, and, sometimes, I confess, though you already know, many times on a given day, your idyllic imagery is just that! Ideal! Idealistic!

Jesus: Yes, Paul, really! For have I asked you, ever, to forget your troubles?

Me: No.

Jesus: Precisely! Such amnesia is escapist unreality. And I, you do recall my life and story, was troubled literally unto death. So, in the words of the spiritual, I know the troubles, all the troubles that you have seen…that everyone has seen.

Me: You’re right, Jesus. I’m sorry.

Jesus: No apology necessary. I understand your difficulty with my teaching. The point of which is that you place your trust solely in God.

Me: For if…

Jesus: For as!

Me: For as God provides for the birds and the lilies, God provides for all of us.

Jesus: Precisely! This is why I counsel everyone to strive first for the kingdom of God.

Me: For the cure for care about many things is to care about one thing.

Jesus: Precisely!

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Today, on the 203rd anniversary of his death, I remember Absalom Jones as one who trusted God, striving for God’s kingdom of justice and compassion. Never one or the other. Always both.

For Absalom knew that justice can shape fair policy, but without compassion can fail to see the individual hungering for equality. Absalom also knew that compassion cares for the individual, but without justice can fail to see the corrupt system that needs transformation.

Absalom trusted God, striving for God’s kingdom of justice and compassion, helping to establish the Free African Society, and later the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, Philadelphia, for the spiritual and social, personal and political redemption of God’s people.

Therefore, Absalom is honored as: Zealous for the prosperity of the Church, unwearied in doing good…especially beloved as a consequence of his devotion to the people of God, particularly the poor, the sick, and the longsuffering.[1]

Therefore, Absalom is a trustworthy mentor for all who long to sing God’s kingdom song of justice and compassion in the foreign land of this world.[2]

A world whose moral economy often is bankrupt. A world whose political currency remains power in the hands of few who exercise control over many.

As this is true, all too true of this world, I confess that my trust in God, sometimes, has waned, does and will wane in my fear that the “what is” will continue to overwhelm the “what ought to be.”

Today, remembering Absalom, I say, “Nevertheless!”

In the face of my fear, nevertheless, I will sing God’s song. For to sing is to dare to see the world from the point of view of the victory of God’s kingdom already achieved in Jesus’ life of justice and compassion for all!

For as Absalom knew, I know that when I dare to sing God’s song, striving for God’s kingdom, I never truly can be afraid!

© 2021 PRA

[1] From Richard Allen and Absalom Jones (1916), page 7; The Reverend Dr. George Freeman Bragg (1863-1940).

[2] A reference to Psalm 137.1-4

Illustration: Absalom Jones (c. 1810), Raphaelle Peale (1774-1825)

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