Today we honor James Theodore Holly. Holly was born a free African-American in Washington, D.C., in 1829. Though he was baptized and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church, he later became an Episcopalian. Holly was ordained a deacon in 1855 and a priest in 1856. He served as a rector in Connecticut and founded the Protestant Episcopal Society for Promoting the Extension of the Church among Colored People. He was a friend of Frederick Douglass and worked with him on many projects. In 1861, he left his job in Connecticut to lead a group of African-Americans to settle in Haiti. In the first year, his mother, wife and two children died, but Holly stayed on with his two small sons. In 1874, Holly was ordained the first Bishop of Haiti – making him the first black man to be a bishop in the Episcopal Church. Bishop Holly served the Diocese of Haiti until his death in 1911. Bishop Holly had a passion for the gospel and wanted to ensure that the Gospel was accessible to all.
Our Old Testament lesson today reminds me of what Bishop Holly’s ministry might have been like. Moses talks to the Israelites and tells them their children will be someday asking them, “What is the meaning of the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances that the LORD our God has commanded you?” In other words, “Why do we have to follow all these rules?” And Moses tells the Israelites not to explain the rules, but to explain their history. Moses sounds like an old grandpa, “Now let me tell you a little story …” The children of Israel probably rolled their eyes, but what Moses is trying to remind them of is who the God is who gave those laws. When you know that God is a loving God, who freed them from bondage and delivered them to the Promised Land, the rules just became a natural response. So, luckily, the law is not followed “because I said so,” but because we know no other way to respond to the LORD who loves and cares for us so much.
That is the message Holly took to Haiti. He wanted them to know how much God loved them. That is the same message we share with those we encounter, too. When someone challenges us about the hypocrisy of the church, the ways we do business, or the challenges we face, all we have to do is say, “Now let me tell you a little story …” Your story may be Moses’ story; your story may be about a man named Jesus; or your story may just be about your walk with your loving God. The point is to tell the story so that others might come to know God’s love, too. Amen.