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We’ve come this far by faith

The PC(USA)’s national staff celebrates Juneteenth with the Rev. Keion Jackson’s rousing, prophetic words

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Heather Mount via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Preaching to an online congregation of about 85 people during the Chapel service held on Juneteenth, the Rev. Keion Jackson leaned on the account found in Deuteronomy 31:1-6, which depicts Moses, on the precipice of leading God’s people into the Promised Land, instead turning things over to his successor Joshua, at God’s command, and instructing the people to be strong and bold.

Jackson, the Associate for African American Congregational Support in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, called his homily “Holy Juxtaposition.”

Juneteenth, which commemorates freedom finally coming to 250,000 enslaved people in Texas on June 19, 1865, has been a national holiday only since 2021. “We are aware America has just discovered Juneteenth. There are pizza parties and cookouts instead of a Black anti-crime bill,” Jackson noted. “Nevertheless, we are here to worship God as we are still in the fight for justice for all folks.”

Moses’ admission that he’s too old — and maybe too feeble — to lead the people any longer “is significant,” Jackson said. “We should all be aware that Moses is indeed the crutch upon which Israel has stood.” This is Israel’s second generation at the riverbank, Jackson pointed out, uncircumsized people who “have not lived through God being good. Rather, they have heard that this God has been good.”

When they arrive at the Jordan River, Moses tells the people there are things they must have already, including the understanding that “the literal presence of God will go before you,” Jackson said. They must also be of good courage, and be strong, for “what you are about to receive is an abundance like no other,” Jackson said of Moses’ message.

The Rev. Keion Jackson

“As we think of where we are going and how far we have come, we have to realize there is work on the other side of that riverbank that still must be done,” Jackson said. “Moses understood that abundance may not look like abundance as we think of it. A blessing may not come to us in the way we have prayed it will come. It may come dirty and dusty and bloody. It may not be shiny and glittery and Reformed enough, at first.”

“This is a holy juxtaposition, when we find ourselves ending one thing and beginning a new thing,” Jackson said. We may get cookouts and a day off, but not much in education reform and little protection against gun violence. “We live in a country where we are still trying to fight for human rights after the voting right,” Jackson said. “That causes us to be in holy juxtaposition.”

The media offers up plenty of reporting on war in Gaza and Ukraine, but little on war in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia, “and so on and so forth,” Jackson pointed out. “God has called us in the midst of this messy world to still reform and be reforming, to put our theory into practice, to stand up for the widow and take in the children — to understand that while these things may look tough, God — God’s own self — has gone before us.”

The God “who sits high and looks low” could “probably care less about our denominational distinction,” Jackson said. This same God delivered Daniel from a den of lions, flipped over tables in the Temple “and created something new,” took something “without form and was void and made an Earth that’s so vast and beautiful.”

“There is hope for our babies in a system that is designed to send them to prison,” Jackson said. While “we still need to have hard conversations, God has put a spirit of resilience in us, even when we find ourselves in a holy juxtaposition.”

“The moral of the story is that God has been with us, is with us, and will be with us,” Jackson said. “The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.”

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