I want to share a story about a young seminarian whose life, faith, words and actions so powerfully embody the messages we find in the appointed readings for this Sunday. His name is Jon. When he was a 26-year-old student at the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Jon went to Alabama to help reconcile persons of different races and to secure basic human and civil rights for black citizens. In the town of Hayneville, he and others were jailed for picketing a local business. Soon after they were released they tried to enter a store to buy a cold soft drink when they were confronted by a deputy holding a shotgun. Jon pushed Ruby Sales, a sixteen-year-old black girl out of harm’s way. He was shot and killed. A Roman Catholic priest with them was also severely wounded.
When I read the lesson from Isaiah appointed for this Sunday, I couldn’t help but think of God’s expectation of justice and how Jon, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave up his life for someone else. The epistle lesson from Hebrews speaks of setting aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and running the race set before us, looking to Jesus who endured the cross. Jon ran his race. Shortly before his death, he wrote “I lost all fear when I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and resurrection, that in the only sense that really matters I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God.”
The appointed Gospel lesson from Luke tells us that Jesus did not come to bring peace but rather division. Jesus then asks why, if we know how to interpret the sky and the earth, we do not know how to interpret the present time. This has always such a challenging passage for me; however, in light of Jon’s story, I can see that Jesus asks us to endure division for the sake of God’s justice. Jesus asks us to interpret the present time in light of the Gospel message and our Baptismal Covenant. Jesus is asking us to do the same. The race is not over. Our work is not done. We must interpret our present time and respond according to Jesus command that we love one another as he loves us. God is still calling for justice and compassion; calling us to lay down our lives for the defenseless and the outcast, the marginalized and the oppressed.
For more information about Jonathan Myrick Daniels, whom we commemorate on Sunday, please see The Jon Daniels Story, ed. William J Schneider (Seabury Press, NY, 1967). Jon is remembered and honored not only for his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement but also as a bright example of the Gospel teaching that we love and care for one another; that the strong defend the powerless and that we respect the dignity of every human being. Bishop Robert O. Miller of Alabama said of him, “Jon was not simply a civil rights worker who happened to be Christian. He was a person whose mature formation in Christ led him to the prophetic ministry that led him to his death.”
O God of justice and compassion, who put down the proud and the Mighty from their place, and lift up the poor and afflicted: We give you thanks for your faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one: who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.