21 They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22 Then they brought Jesus[d] to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.
1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,[a]
To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, 2 to Apphia our sister,[b] to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 When I remember you[c] in my prayers, I always thank my God 5 because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we[d] may do for Christ. 7 I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.
8 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9 yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.[e] 10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful[f] both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. 15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
22 One thing more—prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you. 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you,[g] 24 and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.
25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
The Word of the Lord
Thanks be to G-d
We have a wonderful Bible Study that happens Wednesday Nights over Zoom, and they are making their way through Paul’s Letters and we were talking about how many letters there are. And how it can be a little confusing because there is some debate about who wrote some of the letters- if they are actually by Paul or by Paul’s students after he died. But I mentioned that one of the letters that we know is by Paul is sort of odd and challenging entitled Philemon and it is unique because it isn’t addressed to a specific Church but rather an individual. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of a sermon from this letter and there are a few reasons for this. One it is a very short letter- you just heard it all. It’s just one chapter. And if you look closely it is incredibly problematic because the letter is about Paul returning a run away slave to his master. Excuse me, what? Really?! Verse 15 and 16 reads; “you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” I mean there, he is saying- he’s more than a slave- he’s a brother- in flesh and in the Lord…but the first part of the sentence is definitely returning him to Philemon as a slave. And so slavery and racism is embed in our religion. And we need to acknowledge that and work with the Lord to step into the second part of that sentence. And into Paul’s proclamation in Galatians 3
26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring,[k] heirs according to the promise.
But I was still curious about this man in the Bible named Onesimus. And so I did a little search on my computer. Now, I don’t know about you but I am waiting to get my Covid-19 Vaccine. In fact, to be honest, I have vaccine envy for all of you who have already gotten it! Never before have I been so excited to receive a shot before. And as I was preparing for the sermon, I was doing some research on Onesimus, and so I typed into a web browser, Onesimus the Slave and I was shocked by what came up. An article on the Boston Slave who was kidnapped from his home and family and land and brought to America. We don’t know what his name really was. That was also stolen from him. In 1706, he was given to a New England Puritan minister named Cotton Mather, who decided to name him Onesimus. Now we might think; a minister- wonderful but you should know that he played a prominent role in the Salem Witch Trials, and as we know from our story today, we thought it was okay to own people- so there’s that. But he is also credited with playing a significant role in contributing to our understandings of vaccinations and preventing the spread of small pocks in Boston. But really it wasn’t him, it was Onesimus. Mather asked Onesimus if he had ever had small pocks and Onesimus answered yes and no, and he explained that when someone in his community back in Africa had an illness, someone would take a thorn and put it in the wound or pocs and then another would be scrapped with the same thorn. And he showed him the scar on his arm. And because of those scratches his and the other people’s bodies developed antibodies and become immune, and that is where the groundwork for our understanding of vaccines comes from.
Perhaps you are wondering, what if anything these verses have to do with our Lenten journey to the cross. Well, today we have gotten to the story of Simon of Cyrene, the man who helped Jesus carry his cross. And many believe that, Simon was black. The belief comes from the fact that he is described as being from a region in Africa. And there is a little bit of debate around this because we can’t guarantee he wasn’t an immigrant and wasn’t African in origin. But even if he wasn’t African, we do know that he had darker skin, because if he wasn’t from Africa, he was from the Middle East. The Bible is not full of light skinned people. Rev.Jeania Ree V. Moore wrote; (Simon of Cyrene and Mary McLeod Bethune: A
Lenten Reflection, Rev. Jeania Ree V. Moore March 21, 2017 )
In the stories I heard growing up, Simon of Cyrene was a black man. While the association may stem from Cyrene’s location in North Africa (modern-day Libya), its power lies in racial experience.
Black folk claim Simon with reference not to geography but to identity. Simon’s blackness is truth-telling and empowering. It names the ongoing reality of social hostility and forced labor imposed upon blacks the world over. It also names the dignity, power, and humanity black people have had in the face of half a millennium of such oppression. Simon of Cyrene, the black man in society, helping God carry his burden…
In…Simon we see the oppressed helping the oppressed. This image speaks not only to the depths of oppression but also to the subjectivity and power of the oppressed. I imagine that Simon was a profound presence of solidarity to Jesus as they struggled together to Calvary. Forced to help Jesus carry the cross, Simon may have ignored his companion–or he may have helped him with intention, perhaps shouldering more of the cross when Jesus could not, perhaps pausing to help Christ catch his breath. Even without saying a word, Simon showed to God and the world the existence of agency in suffering and thus, the power of the oppressed. https://www.umcjustice.org/news-and-stories/simon-of-cyrene-and-mary-mcleod-bethune-a-lenten-reflection-190
The idea that Simon of Cyrene was a black man is nothing new, in fact in 1965, a film came out entitled The Greatest Story Ever Told and in it Sidney Portier played the role of Simon. This is important to our understanding of this story and our call to embody it. If a man of color helped carry the Lord’s cross, we need to be in solidary with him as well. Now perhaps you are thinking- we’ve done this. Jim Crow is over, thanks be to G-d. But devastatingly there is still much to be done.
“Eighty percent of American churches are monocultural. In our denomination, 89 percent of our congregations are predominantly white. I had accepted this segregation as an unfortunate but effective means of doing church. Why let cultural differences get in the way of the work of the church? It was more pragmatic to reach out to people culturally like yourself. As long as we recognize other cultural congregations as churches too, we are fine just taking care of our people. In a 1963 speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said the fact that Sunday at 11:00 a.m. was the most segregated hour in America was “a tragedy.” I never disputed the fact that on Sunday morning, we all drive to churches that have our type of music and people. But I heard Dr. King’s interpretation as inordinately harsh. Now, I share Dr. King’s sense of sadness and urgency. Our segregated worship is a true tragedy for it is a contradiction of the gospel. We did not get to our segregated congregations by mere happenstance.” (https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/new-matthew-25-bible-study-explores-the-intersectionality-of-vital-congregations-and-racism/)
Stanely D. Krider wrote a letter to The Columbia Dispatch that stated, “To my fellow Republicans: I am a white Republican writing regarding those of you who insist on using the phrase “All Lives Matter” instead of “Black Lives Matter.”
I say “Black Lives Matter” because “All” didn’t include Blacks when whites said “All men are created equal.”
I say “Black Lives Matter” because “All” didn’t include Blacks when whites said “With liberty and justice for all.”
I say “Black Lives Matter” because “All” didn’t include Blacks when whites said “All men have the right to vote.”
I pray that we have the strength and faith to be like Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in protest at the 1968 Olympic Games. And a white Australian runner Peter Norman stood in solidarity with them as well, and as a result it cost him his career. But it was the right thing to do, it was him carrying the cross of solidarity.
Erin Blakemore wrote an article for the History Channel entitled, “How the Black Power Protest at the 1968 Olympics Killed Careers, (https://www.history.com/news/1968-mexico-city-olympics-black-power-protest-backlash)
It’s an iconic image: Two athletes raise their fists on the Olympic podium. The photograph, taken after the 200 meter race at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, turned African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos from track-and-field stars into the center of a roiling controversy over their raised-fist salute, a symbol of Black power and the human rights movement at large.
But look in the photo and you’ll see another man as well: silver medalist Peter Norman, a white Australian runner. Norman didn’t raise his fist that day, but he stood with Smith and Carlos. Though his show of solidarity ended up destroying Norman’s career, the three athletes’ actions that day would be just one in a line of protests on the athletic stage. Smith and Carlos, who had won gold and bronze, respectively, agreed to use their medal wins as an opportunity to highlight the social issues roiling the United States at the time. Racial tensions were at a height, and the Civil Rights movement had given way to the Black Power movement. African-Americans like Smith and Carlos were frustrated by what they saw as the passive nature of the Civil Rights movement. They sought out active forms of protests and advocated for racial pride, Black nationalism and dramatic action rather than incremental change.
It was only months after the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and protests against the Vietnam War were gaining steam as well. …Carlos and Smith were deeply affected by these events and the plight of marginalized people around the world. “It was a cry for freedom and for human rights,” Smith told Smithsonian magazine in 2008. “We had to be seen because we couldn’t be heard.”
The third man on the podium became part of the protest, too, albeit in a less direct way. Before winning silver, Norman was a working-class boy from Melbourne, Australia, born in 1942. His family members were devout members of the Salvation Army, an evangelical group connected with the charitable group better known to Americans. Part of that faith was the belief that all men were equal.
At the time, Australia was experiencing racial tensions of its own. For years, it had been governed by its “White Australia Policy,” which dramatically limited immigration to the country by non-white people. While the Australian government welcomed new residents from predominantly white areas like the Baltics, it regularly turned down non-European migrants. In 1966, the government made the first steps toward abolishing the policy, but its effects reverberated throughout Australia. Non-Australians weren’t the only people discriminated against: Aboriginal Australians, too, were historically oppressed in the country, which forced Aboriginal children into boarding schools, while removing others from their families and placing them with white households.
Norman supported his fellow Olympians’ protest, in part because of the intolerance he had witnessed in Australia. “Australia was not a crucible of tolerance,” notes Steve Georgakis, a sports studies specialist from Australia. “Norman, a teacher and guided by his Salvation Army faith, took part in the Black Power salute because of this opposition to racism and the White Australia Policy.”
As the athletes waited to go to the podium, Carlos and Smith told Norman that they planned to use their win as an opportunity to protest. Smith and Carlos decided to appear on the podium bearing symbols of protest and strength: black-socked feet without shoes to bring attention to Black poverty, beads to protest lynchings, and raised, black-gloved fists to represent their solidarity and support with Black people and oppressed people around the world.
“I looked at my feet in my high socks and thought about all the Black poverty I’d seen from Harlem to East Texas. I fingered my beads and thought about the pictures I’d seen of the ‘strange fruit’ swinging from the poplar trees of the South,” Carlos later wrote.
Carlos realized he had forgotten his gloves, and Norman suggested the American athletes share a pair. The Australian also asked how he could support his fellow medalists. They suggested he wear a badge for the Olympic Project for Human Rights. Norman didn’t raise his fist, but by wearing the badge he made his stance clear.
As the American athletes raised their fists, the stadium hushed, then burst into racist sneers and angry insults. Smith and Carlos were rushed from the stadium, suspended by the U.S. team, and kicked out of the Olympic Village for turning their medal ceremony into a political statement. They went home to the United States, only to face serious backlash, including death threats.
However, Carlos and Smith were both gradually re-accepted into the Olympic fold, and went on to careers in professional football before retiring. Norman, meanwhile, was punished severely by the Australian sports establishment. Though he qualified for the Olympic team over and over again, posting the fastest times by far in Australia, he was snubbed by the team in 1972. Rather than allow Norman to compete, the Australians did not send a sprinter at all.
Norman immediately retired from the sport and began to suffer from depression, alcoholism and a painkiller addiction. “During that time,” writes Caroline Frost for the BBC, “he used his silver medal as a doorstop.”
Norman died without being acknowledged for his contributions to the sport. Though he kept his silver medal, he was regularly excluded from events related to the sport. Even when the Olympics came to Sydney in 2000, he was not recognized. When Norman died in 2006, Carlos and Smith, who had kept in touch with Norman for years, were pallbearers at the Australian’s funeral.
It took until 2012 for the Australian government to apologize for the treatment Norman received in his home country. But even though it cost him his career and much of his happiness, Norman would have done it over again. “I won a silver medal,” he told the New York Times in 2000. “But really, I ended up running the fastest race of my life to become part of something that transcended the Games.
And in light of the horrific shooting that happened in Atlanta this week against or Asian Siblings in Christ- let us stand in solidarity with them and say, Asian lives matter. Let us be like Bob Fletcher, a Sacramento farmer who saved the farms of kidnapped and interned Japanese American families during World War 2. He kept several family’s grape farms going, and paid their taxes and mortgages and up keep of three different farms- taking care of over 90 acers of land so that they had their home and jobs to return to. And eve though he was working the land- he split the profit with the families. And what did he get for this. Well decades later he got recognition but at the time, some of his fellow white neighbors harassed him, called him un-American and other names I won’t utter here because they’re racist, and shot at him. He bravely carried the cross and fought injustice. (https://www.colorlines.com/articles/world-war-ii-hero-who-stood-japanese-american-farmers)
UP FO Siblings in Christ, let us be in solidarity with Bob Fletcher, and Peter Norman and Tommie Smith and John Carlos and Simon of Cyrene who helped our Lord and Savior, the Slave Oneimious of the Bible and the unknown man in Boston who helped lay the ground work for our modern day Vaccines. Let us carry the cross with them- and in doing so we will come face to face with Christ. Amen