Fruit in Due Season
On February 13 the Episcopal Church commemorates the life of Absalom Jones (1746-1818), first African-American priest in the Episcopal Church. This year the Daily Office Lectionary provided for the second reading at Evening Prayer to be Mark's account of the Cursing of the Fig Tree:
On the following day, when they came from Bethany, Jesus was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard it. Mark 11:12-14
Later at Mass, while proclaiming the appointed Gospel, I found myself wishing that we were reading instead the story of the Fig Tree.
Absalom Jones was born a slave in Delaware in 1746. He eventually gained his freedom after being sold to a shopkeeper in Philadelphia. He was a Christian. When segregation was imposed on him and other African-Americans in one community, a new congregation was organized. The Free African Society petitioned to be admitted as a congregation of the Diocese of Philadelphia and was received. Subsequently ordained deacon and priest, the life of Absalom Jones was marked by enormous moral and religious courage and conviction. He died in 1818. When a world could not imagine a free black church and the Episcopal Church could not imagine a black ordained minister, God brought forth fruit out of season in Absalom Jones and his community.
I know that at some point early in my life I learned deep on my insides that no one is a better person than another because of the condition of his or her birth. The kids who could run faster than I were not better people; they could just run faster. I remember once going into a restroom out of necessity that was marked "Colored Men Only." I remember nothing about being on the inside of the restroom except that it was more important to go in and make use of it than to risk not finding the door that said "White Men Only." It was the first of many experiences while growing up in a Southern state, Virginia, that would shape my attitudes towards other people, especially towards people who are sometimes deemed marginal by those who hold power.
When I was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia during the last years of the Vietnam War there was an anti-war newspaper called "The Sally Hemings." At the time it was considered clever to name the paper after the woman who was supposed to have been Jefferson's mistress. The professional historians assured us that Jefferson had certainly not had children by a slave. Well it turns out of course he did.
I know Jefferson's home, Monticello, pretty well. While in college, I once stood on the roof and had the opportunity with two other guys to do things we shouldn't have done - to sit in Jefferson's chair, to pick up his cup, etc. When I heard the news about Sally Hemings a few years ago-- the DNA evidence supporting the claims her family have always made-- the picture of Jefferson's dining came into my mind. Only now, I can't imagine the Wedgwood blue without also bringing to mind the picture of a person's back, beaten bloody. That's what Monticello cost. That was slavery and it was wrong. Everyone knew it too.
There was an article in The Times last week on Leicester, England. It is the United Kingdom's most culturally diverse city. The reporter talked to many children of color who have grown up there having never experienced racial prejudice. This should be true of every American city, of every city everywhere. I think it is important that you and I make deliberate efforts to grow in our understanding of the truth about our lives and our world. The Church in some places has made great strides in recognizing this but we continue to pray for God's Spirit to increase our knowledge of his truth and his desire to set us free from the sin of prejudice.
We all make excuses. The fig tree could have made the excuse that it wasn't the right season for bearing figs. It wasn’t time, but Jesus was hungry for good fruit. Jesus still hungers for good fruit and invites us to be open to the work of God's Spirit to bring forth good fruit in season and out. The lives of Absalom Jones and others show us the way.
PRAYER LIST…Your prayers are asked for Beatrice, Jack, Nolan, Harold, Olga, Carl, Harold, Frank, Eleanor, John, Barbara, Cindy, Judy, Roy, Peter, John, Jonathan, Bill, Melanie, Joe, Luella, Elwyn, Shirlah, Joyce, Rodney, priest, and Charles, priest.
GRANT THEM PEACE… February 19: 1958 Harry Osmond Weed, February 20: 1985 Theresa Anne Furlong, February 23: 1999 George Everston Dix.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: Genesis 45:3-11,21-28, Psalm 37:3-10, 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50, Luke 6:27-38 . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, February 17 by Father Gerth and on February 24 by Father Shin.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . This Sunday, the musical prelude before Mass will be sung by Mr. Ryland Angel, countertenor. Mr. Angel is widely known and will be appearing in New York City Opera production of Handel's Agrippina, next fall. When he is in New York, he often joins our choir, and we are grateful for his friendship and his connection with Saint Mary's. Before Mass on Sunday he will sing "Thou shalt bring them in" from Handel's Israel in Egypt . . . All who would like to help work on and repair some of the church vestments should come to help on Saturday morning, February 24 at 10:30 AM . . .Saint Mary's Lenten Retreat entitled "Life's Spiritual Paths," led by Sister Catherine Grace, Community of the Holy Spirit, will be held at the Saint Hilda's House March 23-24. The retreat brochure is on the table in the back of the church or can be obtained by calling the parish office. The fee for the retreat (with meals and overnight accommodations) is $60.00. Please contact Father Shin for more information. Space is limited, so make your reservations now . . . The 20's & 30's Network at Saint Mary's will meet on Saturday, March 3 from 11:00 AM to Noon at the Temple of the Pure Land, a Japanese Shin Buddhism Temple. RSVP to Father Shin at the church or E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org . . . Attendance last Sunday 175.
LENTEN QUIET DAY . . . The Lenten Quiet Day is scheduled for Saturday, March 17 from 10:30 AM to 3:00 PM. We are fortunate to have as our retreat leader the Reverend Margaret Guenther: priest, author, and former director of the Center for Christian Spirituality at General Seminary. As in the past, those interested in attending should sign up on the bulletin board in Saint Joseph's Hall or call the church office.
VOCATION & SPIRITUALITY . . . The Thursday evening Spiritual Formation class concludes with its meeting on February 22. The class meets from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM in Saint Benedict's Study and is being presented by Nina Frost and John Beddingfield. All are welcome to attend. The next weeknight Formation class will begin on March 7. Father Breidenthal will lead a Lenten journey entitled, "Going Outside the Camp," based on Hebrews 13:13.
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
Monday Weekday - Presidents' Day; one Mass only, at 12:15 PM
Friday Polycarp, bishop & martyr Abstinence
Eve of Saint Matthias 6:00 PM
Saturday Saint Matthias the Apostle
The Parish Clergy
The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector,
The Reverend Allen Shin, curate, The Reverend Thomas Breidenthal, assistant,
The Reverend Arthur Wolsoncroft, The Reverend Canon Maurice Garrison, The Reverend Amilcar Figueroa, The Reverend J. Barrington Bates, assisting priests, The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.