SERMON TITLE: “Celebrating Our Tenth with Gratitude”
SERMON TEXT: Luke 17:11-19
PREACHER: Rev. Kim James
OCCASION: November 5, 2017, at First UMC
A couple months ago, when I told my history-loving husband that I was going to preach a sermon series on “Celebrating Our Tenth,” Steve went straight to a shelf in our house and pulled out book. He flipped through it for a few seconds and then pointed me to an essay titled, “The Talented Tenth.” I didn’t get around to reading that essay until this week. But I’m glad I finally did.
“The Talented Tenth” essay, written by W.E.B. DuBois in 1903, was about the natural talent and great potential of African American people in our country. His opening example was a free and self-educated African American named Benjamin Banneker, who lived in the 1700s. Banneker studied astronomy, built clocks, wrote almanacs, and worked as a surveyor helping to lay out the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C.
We get a sense of Banneker’s eloquence and leadership in a 1791 letter he wrote to then-secretary of state Thomas Jefferson. In that letter, Banneker was trying to persuade Jefferson to turn away from the practice of slavery. Gratitude to God figured large in his argument, as Banneker wrote,
I freely and cheerfully acknowledge that I am of the African race, and in colour which is natural to them, of the deepest dye; and it is under a sense of the most profound gratitude to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, that I now confess to you that I am not under that state of tyrannical thralldom and inhuman captivity to which too many of my brethren are doomed, but that I have abundantly tasted of the fruition of those blessings which proceed . . . from the immediate hand of that Being from whom proceedeth every good and perfect gift.
After expressing gratitude to God for his own liberty, Banneker turned Jefferson’s attention to the recent, dangerous, and successful American effort to throw off servitude to the British crown. In such contemplation, wrote Banneker, “You cannot but be led to a serious and grateful sense of your miraculous and providential preservation. You cannot but acknowledge that the present freedom and tranquility which you enjoy, you have mercifully received [as] . . . a blessing of heaven.”*
According to historian and essayist W.E.B. DuBois, Benjamin Banneker was in the top tenth of his people in intellect and ability. If so, we can see from his letter to Thomas Jefferson that Banneker didn’t take his blessings for granted. He was celebrating his tenth with gratitude.
Since we started celebrating our congregation’s tenth year at this Marriott-Slaterville location, we’ve been celebrating our tenth with the guidance of God’s commandments. We’ve been celebrating our tenth with the community of God’s people. And we’ve been celebrating our tenth with hope for our individual and congregational future. Today, as we finish up this series, I invite you to consider the importance of celebrating our tenth with gratitude.