Today we celebrate Anna Julia Haywood Cooper and Elizabeth Evelyn Wright. Cooper was born in 1859 to an enslaved woman and a white man. She went on to study at St. Augustine’s, and Oberlin College, and eventually became the fourth African-American woman to receive a doctorate. She was a teacher who insisted on equal education for African-Americans. She even served as a college president. Wright was born in 1872 to an African-American father and a mother of Cherokee descent. She studied at Tuskegee and worked to form schools for rural black children. Though she faced much opposition, including arson, she started a college for African-American young people that eventually became Voorhees College. Both of these women were privileged to receive an education when they did. But they did not keep this gift to themselves – they worked hard to ensure they brought others with them.
One could imagine that both Cooper and Wright, women highly influenced by the Episcopal Church, might have read the epistle lesson we heard today. “Do not neglect the gift that is in you … put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching: Continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
Many of us may not have been teachers, professionally, but we have at times neglected the gifts that are in us. For quite some time, I avoided my call. I avoided. I tried substituting other things. I tried doing good work, just not the work I was given to do. We all do this from time to time; we neglect the gifts God has given us, because we are afraid of where they will take us or how hard the road will be. But our epistle reminds us that living into a call is not just for us; it’s for others as well.
Cooper and Wright knew this to be true. Their work was for others, but their work also fed themselves. Though we may not be teachers like Cooper and Wright, we learn from them and our epistle that we are all teaching others. When we neglect the gift in ourselves, others notice. We have to only think of our most admired friends and saints to know that passion inspires passion. Just by living into our gifts and vocation, we bless others without even realizing it. God sees the gifts in you. Your work is to nurture that gift and live into that gift fully before others. Amen.