Let my people go!

Hey there, Friends! Welcome to worship at Springfield Friends Meeting.

This weekend we had to cancel in-person worship at Springfield because of an ice storm. But we want to reach out to everyone, so I have posted today’s message here and on Facebook for you to enjoy. I hope your power doesn’t go out!

This week is a national holiday, celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In many churches today, people are remembering in different ways the long struggle for freedom here in this country.

I want to start today with a Scripture reading, which has been an inspiration to millions of people down across the years. It’s from the book of Exodus in the Old Testament, from Exodus chapter 3.

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. Moses led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

There the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Don’t come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

Then the Lord said, “I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.

So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.

And now the cry of my people has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.

So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt.”

Exodus 3:1-10

I’m sure you’ve heard that story before. It’s one of the oldest stories in the Bible, from the deepest layers of memory of the Jewish people.

That story has been told, again and again, for more than three thousand years. Why?

Well, it’s part of our history. If you are a Jew, if you are a Christian, if you are a Muslim, this is part of your story.

God sent a man – born into slavery, adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, who escaped into the wilderness after he struck down an Egyptian slave-master, a wandering shepherd – God chose Moses to go to Pharaoh, the mightiest ruler in the world of that day – God chose Moses to go to Pharaoh with the simple message: “Let my people go!”

Pharaoh scorned the God of Israel. Nothing Moses could do would convince him. Pharaoh hardened his heart, repeatedly, in spite of all the warnings and all the signs that Moses did in front of him.

Ten times Moses went to Pharaoh – again and again – with the command of God, and with a fresh warning. The warnings were terrible – plagues they called them. Pharaoh responded by making things even worse for the Hebrew slaves.

Even when every river and stream in the nation turned into blood, even when the nation was overrun with every kind of irritation and illness, by storms and darkness, Pharaoh refused to listen. And still God had Moses tell him, “Let my people go!”

We read this story and we remember it, not just because it’s dramatic and heart-stirring. We read it because down through history, this story has inspired people to speak out and fight against fresh forms of slavery.

It has inspired people with the same message, to speak it again in their own generation. Because it wasn’t just Moses’ message. It was the Lord’s message, the Lord’s command.
“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: let my people go!”

I’m not going to talk about the evil of slavery – the misery it caused to millions of people here in this country. Other people have more of a right to tell that story.

Today, I want to help you connect the dots between this unforgettable word from the Bible, and some actual people who lived in our own congregation. Because God’s word didn’t end with Moses and people of three thousand years ago. It continued, with hundreds of people, here at Springfield, through many generations.

So, here are some ways that people here in our own meeting listened to God’s message, and responded to it.

  1. For many years, since the early 1700’s, many Quakers were deeply uneasy about slavery here in the colonies. Starting in 1775, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting forbade any of its members from owning slaves. Other yearly meetings quickly followed.
  2. In the early 1800’s, thousands of Quakers migrated from North Carolina to the “free states” of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. They were looking for homes where they could live in peace, without being entangled in the slave-based economy of the South.
  3. Many members of Springfield who remained in North Carolina were sympathetic to Abolition – the complete removal of slavery. Nathan Hunt, a famous Quaker minister here at Springfield, helped set up a “Free Produce” store where people could buy goods made only by free labor. Nathan Hunt openly said that “he would as soon hear an ass bray as to hear a slave-owner preach the Gospel.” When he was criticized, he said, “that was what came up and had to come out.”
  4. North Carolina Quakers helped organize the Manumission Society in 1816 to try to persuade owners to voluntarily free their slaves. The Manumission Society included many members of Springfield. The Manumission Society lasted for almost 20 years, until new laws made it almost impossible to set slaves free legally.
  5. Helping slaves to escape was highly illegal. A few Quakers, including Allen Jay as a boy, risked prison and heavy fines to help with the Underground Railroad. The fine for helping a single slave to escape was $1,000 – the equivalent of almost three years of income for most families. The law was intended to bankrupt anyone who tried to help. According to oral history, the house across the street from Springfield may have been one of the stations. In our Museum, we have a stone from the farm of Allen U. Tomlinson, who was clerk of Springfield. The stone is supposed to have been a marker, pointing the way to the next station.
  6. Even teaching slaves to read and write was against the law. Before the Civil War, one of our members, Solomon Blair gave slaves reading lessons in secret.
  7. After the war, Solomon Blair organized the first school for former slaves in our area, in a small building at the present day corner of Centennial and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard
  8. Meanwhile, another Quaker, Yardley Warner purchased land in Greensboro and laid it off into small town lots with gardens which he sold at cost on easy terms to former slaves. The neighborhood is still known to this day as Warnersville. Yardley Warner also organized more than 30 elementary schools for African-American children, and trained African-American teachers to staff them.
  9. With financial help from New York Yearly Meeting, Quakers set up the Penn-Griffin School – the first high school in North Carolina for African-Americans. It was eventually taken over and became part of the public school system of High Point.
  10. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, Clara I. Cox, pastor of Springfield Friends, did pioneering social work in the African-American community in High Point. She worked with a group of African-American church women to create a residential program for young women who were in trouble with the law, to keep them out of prison. Clara Cox also chaired the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching
  11. Robert Frazier, who grew up at Springfield Friends, served for many years as chairman of the board of North Carolina A&T State University, an historically black college.
  12. On February 11th, 1960, a group of twenty-four high school students from William Penn School, with advice and support from leaders in the American Friends Service Committee, occupied the lunch counter at the High Point branch of Woolworth’s. This sit-in paved the way for the desegregation of lunch rooms and other public facilities here in High Point.

    These are just a few of the many people here in our meeting who listened to God speaking through the Scripture we read this morning.

They felt that when God said, “Let my people go!”, God wasn’t just speaking to a group of Hebrew slaves in Egypt, long ago. These members of Springfield knew in their hearts that God was still speaking, to them and to their generation.

This Scripture is part of our spiritual DNA. “Let my people go!” is in our bones and in our blood.

One of the grandfather clocks which stands in the worship room here at Springfield belonged to a Quaker family who left this area, to move to the free state of Indiana in the early 1800’s. After many years, one of their descendants brought it back to Springfield.

Whether you realized it or not, every Sunday when you come here to worship, that clock is a witness to today’s Scripture.

A minute ago, I mentioned Solomon Blair, who taught slaves to read in secret before the Civil War, and who set up the first school for former slaves in this area.

When Springfield built our present meetinghouse in 1927, one of Solomon Blair’s children gave the money for all the pews in our worship room. His other children gave all the light fixtures.

Every time you sit down to worship at Springfield, you’re sitting in a pew which was given in loving memory of a Quaker farmer who risked everything he owned in order to teach slaves to read.

Every time you enjoy the light in our worship room, it’s coming from a light given in memory of Solomon Blair, who built and personally supported the first school for former slaves here in High Point.

And all those other people I told you about – they’re part of our meeting’s blood line, too. They heard God say, “Let my people go!” and they knew that those words applied, not to history, but to them. And God was calling them, in their own day, to listen and to respond.

Thank you so much for watching this video today. All these stories are true. They’re part of your history, if you have any connection to Springfield Friends Meeting.

I hope that you’ll think about them, and read and re-read the story of Moses and the people he led to freedom. These Bible stories are powerful, and we need to think about them.

Please be healthy and safe this week. I hope you are blessed in many ways.

Until we meet again, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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