After having dreamed of freedom for nearly 30 years, Harriet Tubman took victorious steps into the free state of Pennsylvania. I cannot imagine the relief, the joy, the satisfaction that must have flooded her tired body after having conducted through various danger-laden stations of the Underground Railroad. She had left her husband, a free negro who had threatened to tell her Master if she sought to run away. She had left it all for the promise of freedom, staying true to her personal vow liberty or death.
Our boys listened intently (a rare thing for our morning “motions” as Phin calls our devotions) as we read about Harriet Tubman this morning. To be honest, the story fell upon my ears in a fresh way.
She had made it to Pennsylvania. She had, by the grace of God and the help of so many now nameless and unknown abolitionists, crossed the line into safety.
What did she do with her freedom? She took her free self back over that line into danger, she crossed the line many times bringing over 300 other passengers to enjoy freedom.
The image of Harriet Tubman’s tired feet stepping from a place of safety and privilege and a hard-fought-for-freedom back into risk and uncertainty has been haunting my soul all day.
It would have been completely understandable for her to have said, “I have had my fair share of suffering; I have been hit on the head with a two-pound weight sacrificing myself so a runaway slave wouldn’t be caught; I have struggled with headaches everyday since; I had to leave my husband and my family. I get to rest now.”
It would have been admirable for her to build a house close to the border and cheer other passengers on as they reached safety, welcoming them to free ground. Do all you possibly can from a place of safety to further the abolitionist agenda. If I am honest, that would probably be my natural inclination.
But she left a place of privilege, laid down her newly worn right to freedom and personally with great risk to herself, ushered others to freedom.
It makes for an amazing story. It reads well for a morning devotion. But it makes for quite uncomfortable application.
If I read Galatians 5:13 correctly, I am convicted that Harriet’s bold and brazen act of crossing the line is not meant to be the exception, but the rule of Christian living.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
I am reminded of Numbers 32 when the Ruebenites, Gadites and half-tribe of Manasseh receive the land they requested east of the Jordan River with one important provision.
“We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place….We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance.” Numbers 32:16-18.
They had found a land suitable to their way of living, a perfect place for raising livestock, but the rest of the tribes of Israel were still a long way from their places of peace. They vowed that they would not enjoy their own land or settle down fully until their brothers had received their respective lots. For many years they did so, as seen in Joshua 22: 3-4.
You have not forsaken your brothers these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the Lord your God. And now the Lord your God has given rest to your brothers, as he promised to them. Therefore, turn and go to your tents in the land where your possession lies.
Harriet and the half-tribe of Manasseh challenge me. They remind me that even though I have been graciously transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light and freedom, ther is work to be done.
It is not enough that I sit in church pews and pray for people to come to the Church’s doors. The example of Jesus who left Heaven to come and seek and save the lost bids me follow him out of my comfort zone. He calls me to cross the line back into enemy territory to go find would-be brothers and sisters. He bids me personally point them, spot-by-spot, danger-by-danger, step-by-step toward the One who offers a much deeper freedom than Pennsylvania offered Harriet Tubman.
Oh, that we would be a generation of Harriets, crossing back over many times to lead others to the true freedom found in Christ alone.