JONATHAN DANIELS and RUBY SALES

Here’s what Steve did with us this morning!

  1. Welcome to nowness. We are invited by Jesus into the NOW – where the past is fixed and forgiven and the future hope yet to be fully realised. We are invited to this day. To NOW. We breath with our God-given breathe – YAH – WEH – each breathe an inhaled capturing and exhaled expression of the creator herself. And with thanks.

Psalm 18 v 24

“This is the very day God acted – let’s celebrate and be festive.” The Message

“This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” AV

  • JONATHAN DANIELS 1939 – 1965

He was born into a white middle class New Hampshire home, went to the Virginia Military Institute and then to Harvard University to study English Literature. During an Easter service in 1962 he felt a renewed call to serve God and decided to pursue ordination at the Episcopal Theological School, Cambridge, Massachusetts starting his studies in 1963 and expecting to graduate in 1966.

In the summer of 1965 he answered the call of MLK to take part in the march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama. He had anticipated spending just the weekend there. When he returned to his theological college, he requested permission to spend the rest of the semester working in Selma. There he stayed with the Wests – a local African-American family. He returned to take his exams and then went back to Alabama for the summer vacation. He tutored local children, helped provide assistance to those in need, worked to register voters etc.

August 14th 1965 he went to picket white-only stores. All 29 protestors were arrested and transported in a garbage truck to jail in the nearby town of Hayneville. On August 20th the prisoners were released. Whilst waiting near the courthouse for transport, Jonathan Daniels, together with a RC priest and two female black activists, walked to get a cold soft drink. Blocking the door to Varner’s Cash Store was an unpaid special deputy holding a shotgun. He threatened the group and levelled his shotgun at 17 year old Ruby Sales. Jonathan pushed Ruby down and caught the full force of the blast. He died instantly.

MLK said that “one of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have ever heard in my entire ministry was performed by Jonathan Daniels.”

The special deputy was tried and found not guilty of manslaughter by an all-white jury. The RC priest who was also shot and badly injured was not allowed to testify at the trial.

His death shocked the Episcopalian Church into confronting the violent reality of racial inequality in the South.

In 1991 the Episcopalian Church designated Jonathan Daniels as a martyr.

August 14th is the day set aside to commemorate Jonathan Daniels and other martyrs of the Civil Rights movement in the Episcopalian Church.

  • RUBY SALES 1948 – 

She was born in Alabama and was educated at segregated schools. Aged 17 she took part in the Selma to Montgomery marches. She was one of 29 people who were involved in the demonstration against white-only stores in Fort Deposit on 14th August 1965. She was arrested along with Jonathan Daniels and imprisoned. On August 20th upon their release, Ruby walked with Jonathan and two others to buy a cold soft drink.

She is a social justice activist, scholar and public theologian. She has been described as a “legendary civil rights activist” and is one of 50 civil rights leaders showcased in the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC. She has multiple degrees and is the founder of the “Spirit House Project” (in honour of Jonathan Daniels). Starting in 2007 this has documented over 2,000 state-sanctioned deaths against black people – 98% were unarmed.

  • Ponderwalk:
  • In honour of Jonathan Daniels. To the river to acknowledge those who have laid down their lives – for us – for Jesus – for God – for Truth – for Justice and Mercy – for others. We are living and breathing on the shoulders of giants. We give thanks for those people and their witness which surrounds us now. Pick leaves to throw into the waters in remembrance.
  • Ruby Sales – 3 oncepts to ponder, crunch and chew on.
  1. Ruby Sales speaks of “a spiritual crisis of white America. What is it that public theology can say to the white person in Massachusetts who’s heroin addicted? I don’t hear anyone speaking to the 45 year old (white) person in Appalachia who feels that they have been eradicated, because whiteness is so much smaller today than it was yesterday. Because there’s nothing wrong with being European-American; that’s not the problem. It’s almost like white people don’t believe other white people are worthy of being redeemed.”

A fascinating and compassionate comment on the Trump supporter, the white supremacist, the neo-Nazi, the Klansman. (See point 3.)

  • Ruby Sales makes the distinction between “black folk religion” and black churches. Black folk religion is a combination of the ideals of US democracy and a theological sense of justice. It was a religion that said that people who were considered property and disposable, were essential in the eyes of God. “I grew up believing that I was a first class person…our parents were spiritual geniuses who were able to shape a counterculture of black folk religion which raised us from disposability to being essential players in society…and it’s about love for everybody. Never hate – it was not a word in our vocabulary.” Black folk religion grew up in the bush and on plantations – no buildings – no institution. Outdoors in a sanctuary – trees – a secret meeting. All participated. The black spirituals arose in this environment. It was ordinary people – not black preachers. And in that context non-violence developed.

I am reminded of Bonhoeffer’s “religionless religion”, of the “base communities” of Liberation Theology, of Spirit movements throughout Church history…of Third Space perhaps?

  • Ruby Sales on the USA today. “The whole business of demonization, I’ve been deeply concerned about it because it does not locate good in people. It gives up on people. And you see it in the right and the left…so at the heart of this business of finding something good in people…not giving up on people…not writing someone’s obituary…it’s very problematic today. I have deep problems with the anger and the vitriolic rage that has come out of the right and the left – and I never thought I would say this – the only safe landing space seems to be in the middle.”

Ruby Sales is somebody who has looked into the heart of darkness very directly and knows what it is to be despised and abused and shot at because of her colour. She has campaigned for Civil Rights and social justice her entire life. And yet she speaks of “the middle”.

I am reminded of the Quaker insight that there is something of God in each person. Perhaps our “ZEAL” should be for love of the other whatever their political/social position.

There is increasing talk of “culture wars” in our country – a phrase taken from America and used initially, I think, by the right and then by the left. The right want to take on the BBC and the Universities and Education more generally and woke-ism and the middle class liberal left in their patronising moral superiority towards others. The left want to take on the selfish, grasping right with their entrenched privilege and wealth and their unconcern for the poor and for social justice.

Where should a follower of Jesus position him/herself in this increasingly hate-filled and polarised society?

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PRAYERS and The NOW liturgy: People and places named.

We are caught in NOW. We have no option. We wrestle to change the past and mould the future. But we know you call us to NOW; you gift us NOW. This NOW moment is for us alone and we give thanks.

We thank you for past faithfulness – for the created order in which we live and breathe, for our journeys of discovery to this point, for your enduring love expressed in Jesus who first took bread and transformed it in his self-giving on the cross.

We thank you for our future hope of all things renewed. A future free of anxiety and fear and tears, where the Kingdom of Justice and Righteousness shall reign, the Lion and the Lamb shall sit together and on the throne: King Jesus dispensing renewed wine.

And NOW we take and eat bread together – our common fellowship transformed. AMEN!

And NOW we take and drink wine together – our little fellowship joined with those around the world into eternity. AMEN!

A NOW may all be blessed, freed from past regrets and future worries. Send us out into new NOWNESS to join Jesus who is of course already there. Hold tightly and wait for the LORD. AMEN!

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