The Rev. Canon Leonard L. Hamlin, Sr.
Almighty God, once again as we come before you, we are thankful for your presence with us, your love towards us. And now may you hold us, cover us, keep us, unite us, but most of all, fill us for the places you are preparing to send us. This we ask in your wonderful name, Amen.
There are moments in all of our lives, where in that one moment we become keenly aware of past, present and future. There are certain days where it is perhaps more apparent than others. Our own birthdays, the birth of children, weddings, dates that we mark on the calendars as holidays, special days, where time becomes rich and full because we meet where we are looking at the present, reflecting upon the past and even searching for vision of the future. I must admit it that it happens when we gather with certain individuals perhaps more than others, family members, when we’re more conscious of generations that are sitting in front of us. Even in an unplanned moment, seeing the scholars sitting there this morning, caused me to think even harder about the days behind and the days ahead. The life to be lived, the life to be embraced the duties that we have, and the responsibilities we’re to take up.
When we look at the moment, this present moment, we find ourselves living in a moment when our past, our present and our future are all the subject of examination, study, analysis and assessment. Out of all of this has come numerous personalities, pundits, so-called experts, opinions, conclusions, and masses of people lining up to take positions. It is a time when openly or silently, if we’re honest and would tell someone openly or even privately, many of us have been wondering about this time that we’re living in and wondering, and working through, so that we may take an appropriate position on the issues that are so present among us. Think for a moment about the poor that are among us. Think for a moment about the gun violence that is seemingly overwhelming us. Think for a moment about the racism that continues to divide us. The militarism that continues to shape the world around us. You don’t have to say it openly, but I know most of us reasonably wonder about where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going. There are an abundant of opinions and conclusions in this sacred space. And even an abundant of those who are watching and viewing online. Some you’ve shared, some we hide behind the covers of our demeanor.
Even on this day, when we think about it, we are reminded that here on February 6, 1968, in the concluding words of his speech entitled A Proper Sense of Priorities, it was Dr. Martin Luther king, Jr., who stood in this space at another moment, but he said in that moment. “On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but we must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” And listening to the gospel, reflecting upon the life, the ministry and witness of Jesus, we’re called to see the circumstances and receive his invitation to follow him in doing what is right. Not following him so we could be popular, not following him so that we would be here accepted in certain political arenas or places, not following him because it is out of our own vanity to be seen in certain ways. We follow him so that we might be able to have the strength and the power to do what is right.
In the reading today, Jesus delivers a man from demonic forces that held him and the scripture records that the people who came to see the man and found him clothed in his right mind, became afraid. When listening to this particular gospel, while there are a multitude of issues in this passage that could be pointed out. And if I had time, I would certainly lift them all out. But the truth is there would be none of these issues and none of the issues would have come to light, if the man had not been delivered. The legion would not have been named. The forces would not have been confronted. The people could have, and most likely would have continued in their carefully crafted social, and perhaps even religious, bliss.
The man would have continued to live in the tombs. The swine would have run down a steep bank into the lake and drowned. The people would not have become afraid or motivated to stir up such a commotion and ask Jesus to leave from our territory. I put before you today, all of this happened because of one reason, the man was delivered. For some people, there’s nothing more unsettling than to see someone delivered. Something that shakes us to our bones, when we see people set free. When we see persons put down the weight that has held them, bound them, something makes us uncomfortable when it should make us excited. The problem in this text is not just the demon. The problem in this text is not the swine. The problem in this text is not just the forces that are at work. The problem with the people is because someone got delivered. The real issue is to see that where and whenever Jesus is present, people get delivered. When Jesus becomes part of the conversation, people talk about freedom. When Jesus gets in the mix, something happens that changes our eyesight about what was, what is and what shall be.
The Apostle Paul even recognized this through his own experience, when he became blinded by a great light, knocked from his horse and was delivered from persecuting others that he considered to be “the other.” He expressed this in a fuller sense, when he stated this in his second letter to the church of Corinth, he simply said, “Now the Lord is a spirit and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” This freedom, this kind of freedom is before us. And before this nation on today. This issue of freedom is a freedom from the forces that bind us. Freedom from the forces that divide us. Freedom from a spirit that blinds us. Freedom from a spirit that always tries to hold us. That we’re called to embrace, a spirit that would unite us. This kind of freedom, this kind of spirit should not be avoided by us. Freedom, liberty, justice is what this day is speaking about. We focus in on this man because he’s at the center of our texts. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Letters and Papers From Prison wrote, “We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or admit to do, and more in light of what they suffer.”
It is Sunday. It is the Lord’s day. It is Father’s Day. But it’s also Juneteenth. Freedom Day. Freedom. Liberty. It has been prayed for, fought for, negotiated, and even sometimes agreed upon. Jesus stood in the temple at the beginning of his earthly ministry and declared that in bringing good news, liberty and freedom was an essential element of good news. One author, columnist Doug Larson, once wrote, “Bad news travels fast, good news takes the scenic route.” Jesus did not take the scenic route or did not take the route expected, I should say, when he left his previous encounter and traveled to what many would’ve said would not have been their preferred choice of destination.
This man must have heard about Jesus and came running when Jesus showed up. We don’t know how long this man had lived in the tombs. We don’t know how long he had been an outcast. We don’t know how long he had been treated as “the other” by people, or had been fighting against the forces that had been working on him and against him. He was struggling, but he showed up. He was struggling, but he was still fighting. He was struggling. And somewhere deep down inside must have been a little bit of faith against the forces that were working on him and in him that Jesus was the answer. That Jesus had the power. That Jesus would make it all possible. In spite of his circumstances, in spite of all that was going on, Jesus and good news had to take the scenic route across the water, but was now present in front of the man. Freedom has taken the scenic route, even for many of us. And to put it plainly, freedom is often taking the scenic route for many within this nation. With all the opportunity that we’ve had as a nation, many have wrestled unsuccessfully to separate the issue of freedom, from freedom for all.
They’ve tried to separate freedom from those words about inalienable rights endowed by our Creator. They’ve tried to separate and parse out what freedom means out of the words of the Declaration of Independence, the fullness of the Constitution, the laws and the precious documents that been forged throughout history. The words have been spoken, but the life needs to be lived. Even as we experience this day, marking the moment in 1865, when enslaved black people in Galveston, Texas, found out they were freed. They found out they were freed more than two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. The good news was forced to take the scenic route and was seeing people delivered. And even then, people became afraid. It is not biblical text. It is not limited to what was because it is still present. That deliverance makes some afraid. What is it about freedom and liberty that evades us? What is it about liberty and freedom that divides us? What is it about freedom and liberty that keeps us in certain neighborhoods and parts of town and family separated? What is it about freedom that here we don’t want to embrace?
There are many throughout history, even when claiming to be followers of Jesus. have tried to separate Jesus from liberty. They’ve used his name to put folk down instead of lifting folk up. They’ve used his name, not to set folk free, but to keep them bound. They’ve used his name, not that the sick would be well. Not that here the captive would be set free. Not that there would be deliverance in all forms from all places, from all people, no matter what color of your skin, no matter where you live. There’s something about Jesus where liberty cannot be separated from him.
But the spirit of liberty is present with Jesus. Just ask the angel who declared at his birth, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace goodwill towards all men.” Just ask the man who was delivered from an unclean spirit in the synagogue. Just ask Simon Peter’s mother-in-law who was set free from her own sickness. Just ask the man who was delivered from leprosy when he met Jesus. The woman at the well. Nicodemus who came by night. Zacharias who climbed the tree. Here, Lazarus at the grave. The poor that were fed, the broken hearted that were lifted, the hungry that were fed. Those who had their back against the wall and found a way outta no way. And they will tell you that where Jesus is there’s liberty. They will tell you that Jesus has made a difference.
I wanna remind you today that there are moments in all of our lives that are uniquely memorable. We remember them, we mark them. And I remind you once again that we will never forget them. We carve out time so that we will be together to lift them and together to celebrate them. When we look at these dates, we are lifted by them. We hold on to them. There are all sorts of days, but this day is a day, a Father’s Day, a Lord’s Day, a Juneteenth, a Freedom Day. These days remind us of loved ones who are present, loved ones gone by, loved ones yet to come. These moments are life altering and can be life defining. So Jesus told the man when the man was delivered, he wanted to get and follow Jesus because maybe he wanted to get away from the folk that feared him, the folk who had treated him a certain way. But Jesus said, “Declare how much God has done for you.”
This is a moment for me. I must be transparently honest, where I’m looking back. I’m looking at the moment and I’m looking ahead at the same time. This is a moment for me because it’s Juneteenth and it’s Father’s Day. It is a Lord’s day and they all meet on the same day. I’m a black man preaching, if you haven’t noticed. I’m a father of one son in whom I am well pleased. I am a newly minted grandfather, where I look further than where I’m sitting right now. I’ve spent days looking at his face, wondering what life will be for him. When I think about this, and I’ve looked at Leonard III over and over and over again, I’m even caught up in this moment about freedom, liberty, justice.
I’m married to a lawyer, but have always been fascinated by legal shows. I have heard on the shows and by members of the profession, and even from preachers, who in preaching said, “When you are making your case, when the law is on your side, pound on the law. If the law as written is not on your side, pound on the facts. If the law as written is not on your side, and the facts are even disputed, then remember just pound on the table. Well, today I’m pounding on the law. I’m pounding on the facts. And I’m even pounding on the table.
Because there’s a witness today that all of us should be lifting to say, “See what God has done.” I come out of a tradition where we should be pounding on all three, in our strive towards freedom. In our statements of liberty and justice for all, we should be pounding on all three, because I come out of that tradition. I come out of a faith. I come out of a culture that in spite of the forces against them, they lifted their voices to sing songs like Oh Freedom. To sing songs like We Shall Overcome. To sing There is Good News Today. But we even when good news must take the scenic route, I remind you that truth will still rise.
On this day, I conclude and put it in the words of that old great songwriter, Walter Hawkins, who I remember being with family and singing so often. And with many who simply said, “Tragedies are commonplace. All issues of diseases, people are slipping away. Economy’s down. People can’t get enough pay, but all I can say is, thank you Lord, for all you’ve done for me.” I want to thank you for your love. Thank you for your power. Thank you for your protection every hour. I want to thank you for your mercy. Thank you for your grace. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for loving my family. Thank you for loving my parents. Thank you for loving my grandparents. Thank you from generation. All I can say is thank you, Lord, for what you’ve done for us. Amen.