This past Wednesday marked the celebration of a holiday many of us may not be familiar with, but is celebrated in communities across the country: Juneteenth. Juneteenth is a celebration most often remembered in African American communities, often called Freedom Day or Juneteenth Independence Day, commemorating the freedom of slaves in Texas, and by extension, freedom of all African Americans from slavery.
On June 19th, 1865, General Gordon Granger sailed into and occupied Galveston, Texas and read the Emancipation Proclamation, sharing the good news with the now-former slaves of Texas that they were no longer enslaved. The weight of bondage would be lifted and the former slaves would be free men and women. Texas was the last state in the Confederacy to fall, and so the last place in the former Confederacy that the slaves were freed. So the African American community has taken that day ever since to lift up and celebrate freedom from bondage.
This morning we read about Jesus, who sailed across the Sea of Galilee to the land of the Gerasenes, where he freed a man held in bondage.
I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my favorite comics is Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin, the overly-imaginative boy, goes on adventures with his stuffed tiger who comes to life in his mind. And the comic only has a small list of characters—people that interact with Calvin—but the best one, in my opinion, is his dad.
Calvin’s dad has his son’s complete adoration for his wisdom and expansive knowledge. He teaches Calvin such important life lessons as how shoveling the driveway builds character (sometimes too much character, according to Calvin), how the Southwest is all dried and burnt-looking because that’s where the sun goes down, and black-and-white photos are only that way because the world didn’t have any colors until about the 1960s. In so many ways, Calvin’s dad offers the kind of wisdom that’s the most realistic: the kind you make up as you go. He’s the kind of dad I think dads readily relate to.
I like to joke that my family is like the Hotel California—“you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” My parents, maybe by accident, ended up making our family system one that sucks people in like a black hole of love, adopting friends to become like family who become part of what we always did. It’s why, even after my sister’s first marriage has been over for going on six years, her stepkids are still very much my niece and nephew. My parents have always valued being family to whoever needs it; it’s one of those things I’m glad they taught me growing up.
And being a close knit family isn’t something that’s outside of the experience for us at Our Savior’s. It feels like every other week I discover some new family connection in the congregation; people I didn’t realize were related (well, I knew they were related, but I didn’t know how). So when Paul talks about the church being the family of God, and the members being children of God—well, we get a really good picture of that. We here are a literal family!
But there’s a different reason we’re family as a church. It’s not the fact that y’all are all each other’s relatives by blood or by marriage—no, what makes us family as the Church is the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit is a spirit of adoption, as Paul writes, God’s free choice to make us part of the family. God brings us in together, and whether or not we have anyone we’re related to in the congregation, we are family because we are in the Spirit.