Sunday, February 1, 2009

Black History Month: Keep us forever in the path, we pray

Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Psalm 111, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28

"God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far on the way; Thou who has by Thy might, Led us into the light, Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee, Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee; Shadowed beneath Thy hand, May we forever stand, True to our God, True to our native land." - James Weldon Johnson


As we begin Black History Month today, we, as African-Americans, are still basking in the afterglow of a momentous event in our history. When James Weldon Johnson wrote this poem, which eventually became the Negro National Anthem, the most significant African-American of that time was Booker T. Washington, founder and president of Tuskegee Institute. Now, 109 years later, an African-American, Barack Obama is the President of the United States.

However, while we take pride in all that we have accomplished, we have to remember how we made it this far. Praising and acknowledging God is part of our heritage and should be tantamount in our celebration. The Psalmist said, "He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations."

There are some who question why we should celebrate Black History Month. I say that we should thank God every chance we get and reflect on His goodness, and that is why we should celebrate Black History Month. Consider February a second Thanksgiving for African-Americans. It is our chance to recognize the contribution of African-Americans to the progress of America, for we know from Frederick Douglas that there can be no progress without struggle.

It is also our chance to study how God, "from whom are all things and for whom we exist," delivers on His promise. How else can one explain how a people, kidnapped from their homeland, brought into a new land as slaves, could have descendants that now have positions of power in that same land? We have seen this story before with Joseph, a Hebrew slave ascending to power in the Egyptian monarchy and we know that it was God who changed hearts to make that so.

It was our faith in God that carried us through some of the darkest moments in American history, so that eventually we would redefine a nation that oppressed us so. That transformative power is strictly of a divine nature and every chance we have, we should be like the apostle Paul in proclaiming it and not be ashamed.

Our history is an affirmation of the wondrous works of God. James Weldon Johnson knew that and so did Rev. Joseph Lowery, when he cited the previously quoted verse at President Obama's inauguration. Therefore, as we celebrate our heritage, do it as a people who are grateful to an awesome God, for He is worthy of that praise.