Due to technical issue, the worship service on July 3rd was not recorded. Here is the manuscript for the sermon. The Scripture text read in the worship were Psalm 66 and Luke 10:1-20.
Allow Me to Pray with the words of Amanda Gorman:
What might we be if only we tried?
What might we become if only we’d listen?
Two hundred forty-six years ago, on July 4th, 1776, Mr. Hercules Posey was on his way to become the most important culinary artist in his time.
At the places he served in Philadelphia and Virginia, he probably heard conversations about The Declaration of Independence, had some of the founding father’s gathering ecstatic over the food he made, and arguing about sentences like “God made all men equal and gave them the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.
I imagine, Mr. Posey, being as excited as them, learning that freedom might be just around the corner.
Slowly Mr. Posey, took over the kitchens where he worked, he prepared food for ambassadors, princes, and congressmen, and is mentioned in the diary of the last king of France. Mr. Posey made extravagant meals for some of the men writing the Constitution, heard their ideals, and hopes for this new country, their dreams for this land of the free and brave.
Mr. Posey’s owner sent him out of Philadelphia, back to Mount Vernon, every six months. So, Pennsylvania’s gradual abolition laws wouldn’t be triggered, which would have allowed Mr. Posey to claim freedom.
Mr. Posey was the culinary artist in the President’s house, he was enslaved by the first president of the United States, and the president used loopholes, in Pennsylvania’s abolition law, to keep Mr. Posey enslaved, circumventing the purpose of the law for his own benefits.
Mr. Posey learned as he made his culinary art, that none of those ideals the men talked about, as they ate the food he prepared, were supposed to apply to him. Those men writing, didn’t consider him being part of “We the People”, he was not thought to be one of the equals that God has created for the pursuit of happiness.
In 1797, Mr. Posey had become a widower, and knowing that nothing would ever change for him, he escaped the enslavement, leaving behind three children. When a person in the French prince entourage asked Mr. Posey’s enslaved daughter, if she wasn’t deeply upset never to see her father again. The enslaved child replied, “Oh! Sir, I am very glad, because he is free now.”
However, the president was angry and accused Mr. Posey of forcing him to go back on his promise as president, that he would never buy an enslaved person again. Yes, I say it again, the president was angry at Mr. Posey, for escaping, because Mr. Posey forced the president, to go back on his word, that the president would never buy another human being for enslavement.
Presidents deflecting blame is not new.
Mr. Posey staid in hiding for the rest of his life, and if you have heard the whitewashed history, that the first president freed his slave on his deathbed, that story is a half-truth, and didn’t apply to Mr. Posey’s children who were sold from Mount Vernon after the president’s widow died, never to be united with their father.
Independence Day, we celebrate tomorrow, was never intended by the founding fathers to be a day of independence for all. It was only supposed to be independence for white males, from European colonising countries.
The documents they wrote, be it Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, or The Bill of Rights, were written for and by white, well educated, males, many of which considered all women, people of color, and indigenous people, as second-class citizens at best, and more often than not a property or savages that should or at least could be killed without any consequences.
Which brings us to the question, what do we do with old texts, that are written for and by a subset of people from a long-gone era.
When I look at today’s gospel text, there are things I embrace and love, and other things that trouble me. The condemnation of those that refuse to show the disciples hospitality is tough on me, but the notion that Jesus likes to delegate tasks and responsibilities is awesome. In the same way, the reminder at the end – do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven – is wonderful.
This is a wonderful and important teaching, to not forget what is most important, just because you have discovered some new powers. The most important gift of all, is that we are loved by God, our name is written in God’s book of love.
So, we have nearly two-thousand-year-old text about a religious leader and his followers, and we learn about the importance of delegating tasks, about not spending time with people that don’t want to spend time with us, and that we should stay focused on what it is that matters.
We could of course get stuck in a conversation about demons of various kinds, dust on sandals, and even Satan that fell from the sky. All meaningful things for Luke, but perhaps not as obviously actual for our current world.
What we get fixated on when reading old texts, depends on us. What do we want to see
There are a few professions that are specially trained to read old texts, assess the original meaning and its limitations, and apply their meaning to current situations.
Among them are lawyers and theologians. Both groups are, or at least should be, knowledgeable about how the original writers were limited in their understanding or even unjust, and how our own current biases can influence us as we read. We should try to acknowledge and/or avoid those limitations of the writer and the reader, as we interpret and learn from the texts.
If we, lawyers and/or theologians, are honest in our search for truth, we know that our understanding of texts, be it holy texts or law documents, or some combination of both, is going to evolve over time, as we learn more about the writers and as we gain deeper insights into our own biases.
There is never going to be the perfect text and definitely not the perfect interpretation. I would actually claim that texts should be seen as either helpful or unhelpful. And as a believer, I like to say, texts either bring us towards the kin-dom of God or they draw us away from what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.
When we read the New Testament, it is helpful to know the background of the Gospel writers, understand the story of the Israelites, and know about the Roman occupation in Palestine.
And when we celebrate Independence Day, if we celebrate Independence Day,
or when we quote or make claims based on the Declaration of Independence,
or interpret and make rulings based on the Constitution,
we better know the name of the culinary artist, Mr. Hercules Posey, that was forced to feed the men who wrote the texts and was enslaved by the first president of this country.
Without knowing the name Mr. Hercules Posey, without knowing his children’s names, Richmond, Eve, and Delia, it is easier to ignore that the constitution is a flawed document, a product of deeply flawed men and needs to be reassessed and reinterpreted so it may protect all of us, including families like the Posey‘s, not only protect those that look like me.
The founding fathers didn’t care about the rights of women, they didn’t care about LGBTQ rights, they didn’t care about the enslaved people serving them, or for that matter about anyone that was different from themselves.
Those among us who call for an originalist or pure reading of those documents, are still loved by God, but such reading is racist, entitled, and bigoted. Those who refuse to understand and confront the past are doomed to repeat it.
If we don’t understand and acknowledge the truth about the founding fathers when we talk about those old documents, and sadly the Supreme Court doesn’t seem to, we move from what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Current times are hard, things look bleak, but we must continue to claim justice and love, and we should rejoice that all our names are written in heaven.
We are all loved unconditionally by God, and no matter how hard they try, the Supreme Court, can never ever erase us from God’s book of love, where our names are listed along with Mr. Hercules Posey, his spouse Alice, and their children Richmond, Eve, and Delia.