Sermon - including the full text of Rev. Absalom Jones
January 6, 2001
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
Write to Rev. Moran

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Scripture Readings

Exodus 3:1-8 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the
priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb,
the mountain of God.  There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame
of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not
consumed.
Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see
why the bush is not burned up."
When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of
the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am."  Then he said, "Come no
closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are
standing is holy ground."  He said further, "I am the God of your father,
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid
his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Then the LORD said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in
Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I
know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the
Egyptians.

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Sermon

On the first Sunday in January, in the year 1808, the Rev. Absalom Jones, an
Episcopal priest who had been born a slave, delivered "A Thanksgiving
 Sermon" at St. Thomas Church in Philadelphia.  The subject of his sermon
was the fundamental right to personal liberty, and he was thanking God for a
new federal law which prohibited from that day forward the import of African
slaves into the United States.

He asked that January 1st always be set aside as a day of thanksgiving for
the end of American involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  To honor
that request, I'd like to share with you an edited version of his sermon.
The text was Exodus 3: 7-8:

And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are
in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I
know their sorrows; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of
the Egyptians.

THESE WORDS, my brethren, contain a short account of some of the
circumstances which preceded the deliverance of the children of Israel from
their captivity and bondage in Egypt.

They mention, in the first place, their affliction. This consisted in their
privation of liberty: they were slaves to the kings of Egypt, compelled to
work in the open air, in one of the hottest climates in the world. Their
work was of a laborious kind performed under the eye of vigilant and
rigorous masters, who constantly upbraided them with idleness. Their food
was of the cheapest kind, and contained but little nourishment.

Painful and distressing as these sufferings were, they constituted the
smallest part of their misery. While the fields resounded with their cries
in the day, their huts were vocal at night with their lamentations over
their sons; who were dragged from the arms of their mothers, and put to
death by drowning, in order to prevent such an increase in their population,
as to endanger the safety of the state by an insurrection.

In this condition, thus degraded and oppressed, they passed nearly four
hundred years. Ah! who can conceive of the measure of their sufferings,
during that time? All was misery; all was grief; all was despair.

Our text mentions, in the second place, that, in this situation, they were
not forgotten by the God of their fathers, the Father of the human race. Our
text tells us, that God saw their affliction, and heard their cry: his eye
and his ear were constantly open to their complaint: every tear they shed
was preserved and every groan they uttered, was recorded.

But our text goes further: it describes the Judge of the world to be so much
moved, with what he saw and what he heard, that he rises from his throne -
not to issue a command to the armies of angels that surrounded him to fly to
the relief of his suffering children - but to come down from heaven, in his
own person, in order to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians.
Glory to God for this precious record of his power and goodness!

The history of the world shows us, that the deliverance of the children of
Israel from their bondage, is not the only instance, in which it has pleased
God to appear in behalf of oppressed nations, as the deliverer of the
innocent, and of those who call upon his name. The great and blessed event,
which we have this day met to celebrate, is a striking proof, that the God
of heaven and earth is the same, yesterday, and today and for ever.

Yes, my brethren, we have been visited by the tender mercy of the Common
Father of the human race. He has seen the affliction of our countrymen, with
an eye of pity. He has seen the wicked arts, by which wars have been
fomented among the different tribes of the Africans, in order to procure
captives, for the purpose of selling them for slaves. He has seen ships
fitted out from different ports in Europe and America, and freighted with
trinkets to be exchanged for the bodies and souls of men.

He has seen the anguish which has taken place, when parents have been torn
from their children, and children from their parents, and conveyed, with
their hands and feet bound in fetters, on board of ships prepared to receive
them.

He has seen them exposed for sale, like horses and cattle, upon the wharves,
or, like bales of goods, in warehouses of West India and American sea ports.
He has seen them driven into the sugar, the rice, and the tobacco fields,
and faint beneath the pressure of their labours. He has seen them return to
their smoky huts in the evening with nothing to satisfy their hunger but a
scanty allowance of roots.

He has seen all the different modes of torture, by means of the whip, the
screw, the pincers, and the red-hot iron, which have been exercised upon
their bodies, by inhuman overseers deaf to their cries and shrieks -- but
their cries have been heard in Heaven.

God has heard the prayers that have ascended from the hearts of his people;
and he has, as in the case of his ancient and chosen people the Jews, come
down to deliver our suffering countrymen from the hands of their oppressors.

He came down into the United States, when they declared, in the constitution
which they framed in 1788, that the trade in our African fellow-men, should
cease in the year 1808: He came down into the British Parliament, when they
passed a law to put an end to the same iniquitous trade in May, 1807. He
came down into the Congress of the United States, the last winter, when they
passed a similar law, the operation of which commences on this happy day.

For this signal interposition of the God of mercies, in behalf of our
brethren, it becomes us this day to offer up our united thanks. Let the song
of angels, which was first heard in the air at the birth of our Saviour, be
heard this day in. our assembly: Glory to God in the highest, for these
first fruits of peace upon earth and good-will to man:

Now, let the first of January, the day of the abolition of the slave trade
in our country, be set apart in every year as a day of publick thanksgiving
for that mercy. Let the history of the sufferings of our brethren, and of
their deliverance, descend by this means to our children, to the remotest
generations; and when they shall ask, in time to come, saying, What mean the
lessons, the psalms, the prayers and the praises in the worship of this day?
Let us answer them, by saying, the Lord, on the day of which this is the
anniversary, abolished the trade which dragged your fathers from their
native country, and sold them as slaves in the United States of America.

Now I edited Rev. Jones' sermon from three thousand to one thousand words -
the full text will be posted on the web.  But this portion is enough to
remind us of the great evil that was committed, and the great difficulty and
suffering that was engaged to end it - for this sermon was preached fully a
half century before the Civil War.  And now, fully a century and a half
later, how we still struggle to rid American and the world of bigotry,
racism, and oppression.

It is true that in 1808 and in 2002 some Americans have used the protection
of democracy to grow rich off the suffering of others.  But this is not a
problem exclusive to democracy.  It has happened under Pharaohs, Fuehrers,
Popes, Counts, Kings, and all manner of governments.  But, thank God, under
democracy, with its guarantees of freedom, we have the means to correct
these wrongs, even if it takes the efforts of many generations.

Rev. Jones reminds us that our faith is in a God who comes down from heaven
to set the oppressed free and to work justice in a world of suffering.  The
rock upon which we build the foundation of personal freedom is the long
historical revelation of God, a revelation which found a full expression in
the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The will of that same God is made visible in this table that is set before
us today.  Here all are welcome, all are forgiven and redeemed, all are
invited to a full share of the grace of God and the fruits of God's
creation.

The promise of this table has not been fully realized in our social order,
but the promise guides us, informs us, gives us reason to give thanks for
glimpses of progress and to redouble our efforts in the face of opposition.

And so the prayer that Rev. Jones used at the conclusion of his sermon is as
fitting for 2002 as it was for 1808:

Give peace in our day, we beseech thee, O thou God of peace! and grant, that
this highly favoured country may continue to afford a safe and peaceful
retreat from the calamities of war and slavery, for ages yet to come. We
implore all these blessings and mercies, only in the name of thy beloved
Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. And now, O Lord, we desire, with angels and
archangels, and all the company of heaven, evermore to praise thee, saying,
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty: the whole earth is full of thy glory.
Amen.



The full text of the sermon:
Rev. Absalom Jones

A Thanksgiving Sermon: Preached January 1 1808, In St. Thomas's, or the
African Episcopal, Church, Philadelphia: On Account of The Abolition of the
African Slave Trade, On That Day, by the Congress of the United States

(from American Sermons, The Pilgrims to Martin Luther King Jr., Michael
Warner, editor, The Library of America, Literary Classics of the United
States, New York, NY  1999, with support from the Lilly Endowment)

Exodus iii. 7
And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are
in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I
know their sorrows; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of
the Egyptians.

THESE WORDS, my brethren, contain a short account of some of the
circumstances which preceded the deliverance of the children of Israel from
their captivity and bondage in Egypt.

They mention, in the first place, their affliction. This consisted in their
privation of liberty: they were slaves to the kings of Egypt, in common with
their other subjects; and they were slaves to their fellow slaves. They were
compelled to work in the open air, in one of the hottest climates in the
world: and, probably, without a covering from the burning rays of the sun.
Their work was of a laborious kind: it consisted of making bricks, and
travelling, perhaps to a great distance, for the straw, or stubble, that was
a component part of them. Their work was dealt out to them in tasks, and
performed under the eye of vigilant and rigorous masters, who constantly
upbraided them with idleness. The least deficiency in the product of their
labour was punished by beating. Nor was this all. Their food was of the
cheapest kind, and contained but little nourishment: it consisted only of
leeks and, onions, which grew almost spontaneously in the land of Egypt.
Painful and distressing as these sufferings were, they constituted the
smallest part of their misery. 'While the fields resounded with their cries
in the day, their huts and hamlets were vocal at night with their
lamentations over their sons; who were dragged from the arms of their
mothers, and put to death by drowning, in order to prevent such an increase
in their population, as to endanger the safety of the state by an
insurrection. In this condition, thus degraded and oppressed, they passed
nearly four hundred years. Ah! who can conceive of the measure of their
sufferings, during that time? What tongue, or pen, can compute the number of
their sorrows? To them no morning or evening sun ever disclosed a single
charm: to them, the beauties of spring, and the plenty of autumn had no
attractions: even domestick endearments were scarcely known to them: all was
misery; all was grief; all was despair.

Our text mentions, in the second place, that, in this situation, they were
not forgotten by the God of their fathers, and the Father of the human race.
Though, for wise reasons, he delayed to appear in their behalf for several
hundred years; yet he was not indifferent to their sufferings. Our text
tells us, that he saw their affliction, and heard their cry: his eye and his
ear were constantly open to their complaint: every tear they shed, was
preserved, and every groan they uttered, was recorded; in order to testify,
at a future day, against the authors of their oppressions. But our text goes
further: it describes the Judge of the world to be so much moved, with what
he saw and what he heard, that he rises from his throne-not to issue a
command to the armies of angels that surrounded him to fly to the relief of
his suffering children - but to come down from heaven, in his own person, in
order to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians. Glory to God for
this precious record of his power and goodness: let all the nations of the
earth praise him. Clouds and darkness are round about him, but righteousness
and judgment are the habitation of his throne. O sing unto the Lord a new
song, for he hath done marvellous things. his right hand and his holy arm
hath gotten him the victory. He hath remembered his mercy and truth toward
the house of Israel, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation
of God.

The history of the world shows us, that the deliverance of the children of
Israel from their bondage, is not the only instance, in which it has pleased
God to appear in behalf of oppressed and distressed nations, as the
deliverer of the innocent, and of those who call upon his name. He is as
unchangeable in his nature and character, as he is in his wisdom and power.
The great and blessed event, which we have this day met to celebrate, is a
striking proof, that the God of heaven and earth is the same, yesterday, and
today and for ever. Yes, my brethren, the nations from which most of us have
descended, and the country in which some of us were born, have been visited
by the tender mercy of the Common Father of the human race. He has seen the
affliction of our countrymen, with an eye of pity. He has seen the wicked
arts, by which wars have been fomented among the different tribes of the
Africans, in order to procure captives, for the purpose of selling them for
slaves. He has seen ships fitted out from different ports in Europe and
America, and freighted with trinkets to be exchanged for the bodies and
souls of men. He has seen the anguish which has taken place, when parents
have been torn from their children, and children from their parents, and
conveyed, with their hands and feet bound in fetters, on board of ships
prepared to receive them. He has seen them thrust in crowds into the holds
of those ships, where many of them have perished from the want of air. He
has seen such of them as have escaped from that noxious place of
confinement, leap into the ocean, with a faint hope of swimming back to
their native shore, or a determination to seek an early retreat from their
impending misery, in a watery grave. He has seen them exposed for sale, like
horses and cattle, upon the wharves, or, like bales of goods, in warehouses
of West India and American sea ports. He has seen the pangs of separation
between members of the same family. He has seen them driven into the sugar,
the rice, and the tobacco fields, and compelled to work - in spite of the
habits of ease which they derived from the natural fertility of their own
country-in the open air, beneath a burning sun with scarcely as much
clothing upon them as modesty required. He has seen them faint beneath the
pressure of their labours. He has seen. them return to their smokv huts in
the evening with nothing to satisfy their hunger but a scanty allowance of
roots; and these, cultivated for themselves, on that day only, which God
ordained as a day of rest for man and beast. He has seen the neglect with
which their masters have treated their immortal souls; not only in
withholding reli ious instruction from them, but, in some instances,
depriving them of access to the means of obtaining it. He has seen all the
different modes of torture, by means of the whip, the screw, the pincers,
and the red hot iron, which have been exercised upon their bodies, by
inhuman overseers: overseers, did I say? Yes: but not by these only. Our God
has seen masters and mistresses, educated in fashionable life, sometimes
take the instruments of torture into their own hands, and, deaf to the cries
and shrieks of their agonizing slaves, exceed even their overseers in
cruelty. Inhuman wretches! though You have been deaf to their cries and
shrieks, they have been heard in Heaven. The ears of Jehovah have been
constantly open to them: He has heard the prayers that have ascended from
the hearts of his people; and he has, as in the case of his ancient and
chosen people the Jews, come down to deliver our suffering countrymen from
the hands of their oppressors. He came down into the United States, when
they declared, in the constitution which they framed in 1788, that the trade
in our African fellow-men, should cease in the year 1808: He came down into
the British Parliament, when they passed a law to put an end to the same
iniquitous trade in May, 1807. He came down into the Congress of the United
States, the last winter, when they passed a similar law, the operation of
which commences on this happy day. Dear land of our ancestors! thou shalt no
more be stained with the blood of thy children, shed by British and American
hands: the ocean shall no more afford a refuge to their bodies, from
impending slavery: nor shall the shores of the British West India islands,
and of the United States, any more witness the anguish of families, parted
for ever by a publick sale. For this signal interposition of the God of
mercies, in behalf of our brethren, it becomes us this day to offer up our
united thanks. Let the song of angels, which was first heard in the air at
the birth of our Saviour, be heard this day in. our assembly: Glory to God
in the highest, for these first fruits of peace upon earth and good-will to
man: O! let us give thanks unto the Lord: let us call upon his name, and
make known his deeds among the people. Let us sing psalms unto him and talk
of all his wondrous works.

Having enumerated the mercies of God to our people, it becomes us to ask,
What shall we render unto the Lord for them? Sacrifices and burnt offerings
are no longer pleasing to him: the pomp of public worship, and the
ceremonies of a festive day, will find no acceptance with him, unless they
are accompanied with actions that correspond with them. The duties which are
inculcated upon us, by the event we are now celebrating, divide themselves
into five heads.

In the first place, Let not our expressions of gratitude to God for his late
goodness and mercy to our countrymen, be confined to this day, nor to this
house: let us carry grateful hearts with us to our places of abode, and to
our daily occupations; and let praise and thanksgivings ascend daily to the
throne of grace, in our families, and in our closets, for what God has done
for our African brethren. Let us not forget to praise him for his mercies to
such of our colour as are inhabitants of this country; particularly, for
disposing the hearts of the rulers of many of the states to pass laws for
the abolition of slavery; for the number and zeal of the friends he has
raised up to plead our cause; and for the privileges we enjoy, of worshiping
God, agreeably to our consciences, in churches of our own. This comely
building, erected chiefly by the generosity of our friends, is a monument of
God's goodness to us, and calls for our gratitude with all the other
blessings that have been mentioned.

Secondly, Let us unite, with our thanksgiving, prayer to Almighty God, for
the completion of his begun goodness to our brethren in Africa. Let us
beseech him to extend to all the nations in Europe, the same humane and just
spirit towards them, which he has imparted to the British and American
nations. Let us', further, implore the influence of his divine and holy
Spirit, to dispose the hearts of our legislatures to pass laws, to
ameliorate the condition of our brethren who are still in bondage; also, to
dispose their masters to treat them with kindness and humanity; and, above
all things, to favour them with the means of acquiring such parts of human
knowledge will enable them to read the holv scriptures, and understand the
doctrines of the Christian religion, whereby they may become, even while
they are the slaves of men, the freemen of the Lord.

Thirdly, Let us conduct ourselves in such a manner as to furnish no cause of
regret to the deliverers of our nation, for their kindness to us. Let us
constantly remember the rock whence we were hewn, and the pit whence we were
digged. Pride was not made for man, in any situation; and, still less, for
persons who have recently emerged from bondage. The Jews, after they entered
the promised land, were commanded, when they offered sacrifices to the Lord,
never to forget their humble origin; and hence, part of the worship that
accompanied their sacrifices consisted in acknowledging, that a Syrian,
ready to perish, was their father: in like manner, it becomes us, publickly
and privately, to acknowledge, that an African slave, ready to perish, was
our father or our grandfather. Let our conduct be regulated by the precepts
of the gospel; let us be sober minded, humble, peaceable, temperate in our
meats and drinks, frugal in our apparel and in the furniture of our houses,
industrious in our occupations, just in all our dealings, and ever ready to
honour all men. Let us teach our children the rudiments of the English
language, in order to enable them to acquire a knowledge of useful trades,
and, above all things, let us instruct them in the principles of the gospel
of Jesus Christ, whereby they may become wise unto salvation. It has always
been a mystery, Why the impartial Father of the human race should have
permitted the transportation of so many millions of our fellow creatures to
this country, to endure all the miseries of slavery. Perhaps his design was,
that a knowledge of the gospel might be acquired by some of their
descendants, in order that they might become qualified to be the messengers
of it, to the land of their fathers. Let this thought animate us, when we
are teaching our children to love and adore the name of our Redeemer. Who
knows but that a Joseph may rise up among them, who shall be the instrument
of feeding the African nations with the bread of life, and of saving them,
not from earthly bondage, but from the more galling yoke of sin and satan.

Fourthly, Let us be grateful to our benefactors, who, by enlightening the
minds of the rulers of the earth, by means of their publications and
remonstrances against the trade in our countrymen, have produced the great
event we are this day celebrating. Abolition societies and individuals have
equal claims to our gratitude. It would be difficult to mention the names of
any of our benefactors, without offending many whom we do not know. Some of
them are gone to heaven, to receive the reward of their labours of love
towards us; and the kindness and benevolence of the survivors, we hope, are
recorded in the book of life, to be mentioned with honour when our Lord
shall come to reward his faithful servants before an assembled world.

Fifthly, and lastly, Let the first of January, the day of the abolition of
the slave trade in our country, be set apart in every year as a day of
publick thanksgiving for that mercy. Let the history of the sufferings of
our brethren, and of their deliverance, descend by this means to our
children, to the remotest generations; and when they shall ask, in time to
come, saying, What mean the lessons, the psalms, the prayers and the praises
in the worship of this day? let us answer them, by saying, the Lord, on the
day of which this is the anniversary, abolished the trade which dragged your
fathers from their native country, and sold them as bondmen in the United
States of America.

Oh thou God of all the nations upon the earth! we thank thee, that thou. art
no respecter of persons, and that thou hast made of one blood all nations of
men. We thank thee, that thou hast appeared, in the fulness of time, in
behalf of the nation from which most of the worshipping people, now before
thee, are descended. We thank thee, that the sun of righteousness has at
last shed his morning beams upon them. Rend thy heavens, O Lord, and come
down upon the earth, and grant that the mountains, which now obstruct the
perfect day of thy goodness and mercy towards them, may flow down at thy
presence. Send thy gospel, we beseech thee, among them. May the nations,
which now sit in darkncss, behold and rejoice in its ligbt. May Ethiopia
soon stretch out her hands unto thee, and lay hold of the gracious promise
of thy everlasting covenant. Destroy, we beseech thee, all the false
religions which now prevail among them and grant, that may they soon cast
their idols, to the moles and the bats of the wilderness.

O, hasten that glorious time, when the knowledge of the gospel of Jesus
Christ, shall cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea; when the wolf
shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid and
the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child
shall lead them; and, when, instead of the thorn, shall come up the fir
tree, and, instead of the brier, shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall
be to the Lord for a name and for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut
off. We pray, O God, for all our friends and benefactors, in Great Britain,
as well as in the United States: reward them, we beseech thee, with
blessings upon earth, and prepare them to enjoy the fruits of their kindness
to us, in thy everlasting kingdom in heaven: and dispose us, who are
assembled in thy presence, to be always thankful for thy mercies, and to act
as becomes a people who owe so much to thy goodness. We implore thy
blessing, O God, upon the President, and all who are in authority in the
United States. Direct them by thy wisdom, in all their deliberations, and O
save thy people from the calamities of war. Give peace in our day, we
beseech thee, 0 thou God of peace! and grant, that this highly favoured
country may continue to afford a safe and peaceful retreat from the
calamities of war and slavery, for ages yet to come. We implore all these
blessings and mercies, only in the name of thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ,
our Lord. And now, O Lord, we desire, with angels and arch-angels, and all
the company of heaven, evermore to praise thee, saying, Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God Almighty: the whole earth is full of thy glory.
Amen.

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