Weekly Devotion for June 19, 2023

Jubilee, Juneteenth, and Beloved Community

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.

He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
    to proclaim release to the prisoners
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
    to liberate the oppressed,
       and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. 
(Luke 4:18-19 CEB)

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus introduces his ministry by reading from the scroll of Isaiah at the Nazareth synagogue. In Isaiah’s words, Jesus says he has come in the Spirit of the Lord to preach good news, set prisoners free, to heal and to liberate – to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

The year of the Lord’s favor, or Jubilee, was an ancient concept from the law of Moses. After seven times seven years, the fiftieth year would be a Jubilee, a giant reset for God’s people: debts forgiven, slaves and prisoners freed, lands returned to their original owners, everyone fed well, healthy, and free. Jubilee was a beautiful ideal, a vision of God’s kingdom, heaven on earth, but one that may never have been fully implemented. 

Certainly, the congregation in the synagogue with Jesus had never experienced Jubilee. They knew the crushing weight of imperial Rome, of slavery, injustice, and unforgiven debt. Imagine their amazement when Jesus finishes reading, looks at them, and announces: “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it!” (Luke 4:21) 

Rev. Tsuker Yang anoints youth during the Saturday evening Service of Covenant and Renewal at Annual Conference.

We have had modern Jubilees. 158 years ago today, slaves in Galveston, Texas finally learned they had been freed… two months after the end of the Civil War, and after 500 years of enslavement. This Jubilee experience became an annual celebration. June 19th, or Juneteenth, is American’s second Independence Day, as African-Americans remember when they finally were included in the rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness described in the Declaration of Independence. 

And yet the experience of Jubilee is as strange to us as it was to the people of Israel at the time of Jesus. African-Americans can bear witness to the long hard road since the end of the Civil War, a slow march toward true equality and liberty. Many others live with a daily struggle. Our modern world is not just afflicted by racism, but a whole host of -isms that divide and degrade us. Those burdened by credit card or college debt, those living in sketchy rentals, those imprisoned, those addicted, those isolated, can’t imagine what Jubilee would look like. 

And yet… “The day of the Lord’s favor has come,” Jesus says, “Today, this has been fulfilled!” Jesus has cancelled our debts of sin. As we are forgiven, so we can forgive others. United Methodists are people of grace, working toward perfection in love for God and neighbor. We believe that drawing people closer to the love of Christ can transform the world. We work toward the hope that Jubilee can be a daily reality, not just a once-in-50-years fantasy. 

The Wisconsin Conference’s theme for the next year is “Beloved Community,” building on our work toward racial justice and radical inclusion. Beloved community means a church that is a home for everyone, where everyone is beloved. To achieve this, we must set aside harmful habits and destructive assumptions. We must forswear words that cut and divide. We must do the hard work of forgiving old grudges, forgetting old debts, and welcoming new people who don’t live, look, or love like us. We must learn to celebrate the diverse gifts and heritage each person brings to God’s table. We CAN build beloved community, together, in the power of Christ. 

Jubilee. Thy kingdom come, on earth as in heaven. And let it begin with me.  – Amen. 
I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

(A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition, United Methodist Hymnal 607)