July 2, 2017: May God’s words alone be spoken, may God’s words alone be heard. Amen.
Well, this weekend, which for many extends through Tuesday, will be filled with all sorts of celebrations of our nation’s birthday on the 4th. Or, as pet owners everywhere call it – National Torture My Dog & Cat With Fireworks Day. But while dogs and cats might not like fireworks, kids (and kids at heart) sure do. Not only that, the summer itself is a several month long kid fest. The children in our Nursery School are so excited by all the activities.
Now, I tried not to make the same mistake with our Nursery School children last week that one priest did with his, as July 4th approached. “Father William was visiting with the 4th grade class of the Parish School, where the children were studying the states, and asked them how many states they could name. They came up with about 40 names. Father William jokingly told them that in his day students knew the names of all the states. One kid raised his hand and said, ‘Yes sir, but in those days there were only 13 states.” You gotta love the things kids say.
Of course, loads of BBQs will be happening, with all the trimmings of hot dogs and pies. I get hungry just thinking about it all. Now, a long while ago, there used to be a television ad for a hot dog company – Hebrew National – in which they proclaimed that their product was made with pure kosher beef, no fillers. It often ran around the fourth of July and featured an actor playing Uncle Sam. The commercial goes something like this, as Uncle Sam starts to take a bite, a voiceover says “The government says, we can make our hot dogs from frozen beef (Uncle Sam nods approvingly) – we don’t (Uncle Sam looks puzzled). The government says we can use artificial colors – we don’t. The government says we can use meat by-products – we don’t. The government says we can use non-meat fillers – we can’t. We’re Kosher, and we answer to a higher authority.” And then the camera pans to the heavens.
Here is a link to that commercial: Hebrew National Commercial 1975
It’s a great commercial, and really makes the point. And perhaps it is a point Christians need to remember on this holiday most of all. No, we aren’t Kosher, and I really don’t care what hot dog you eat. But at a time when we celebrate the founding of our nation, we must remember too who we are as a people of God, because we too answer to a higher authority.
In the gospel passage today, Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me… and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple– truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
One of the things that I think we can sometimes get lost in is how to live our Christian identity. There is so much need in the world for love – God’s love – to be proclaimed and lived out. What do we do? How do we start? Can I really make a difference? The message of this gospel is very clear.
Whoever welcomes another welcomes Jesus, and God, even if the welcome is as simple as a cup of cool water to a child. Christianity isn’t about heroics, but about welcome and love. Our founding, or really our foundation, is Jesus and the ideals, values, principals he taught to us, and called to us to live into in his commission to love and serve all of God’s creation. We are called to live what we believe.
Living what we believe is important for a faith community, and for a nation. Our founding principals for these United States were noble, if not fully realized in the beginning. We proclaimed this country would be a place where freedom, justice, and life for all would be valued. The founding Fathers initially left slaves, Native Americans, and women out in the cold, and while much has changed in that regard, there is still much work to do to fully live into the ideals that comprised the framework of our country which we celebrate this weekend (though one could reasonably argue we should be celebrating the date of the adoption of the Constitution as a more appropriate date).
But like we sometimes do with our faith, we do with our government. We start to either get lazy, figuring that being a good citizen or a good Christian is about checking off a box – go to church, don’t break the law – done. We become passive cogs rather than the active and engaged participants we are supposed to be.
We know Jesus was not one to sit around, and he called us to be as he was in the world. And just a look at our scripture from the Hebrew texts, will make it clear that this isn’t something we turn over to the ordained. The prophet Jeremiah is preaching not only to the lay people as a lay prophet, but also to the priests! We cannot turn this faith stuff over to others – we must embrace the ministry each of us was born into from the moment we were created. It is what it means to really be a person of faith! You can’t phone this stuff in from Deluth.
The same is true of our country. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Patriotism is not a short and frenzied burst of emotion but the long and steady dedication of a lifetime.” And yet we seem to think all we need to do is vote. Heck, most people don’t even do that, and when they do, they just tick off the box next to whatever party they are in half the time not even knowing anything about the candidates.
There’s an example of this I heard about once. It seems that in 1938, the name Boston Curtis appeared on the ballot for Committeeman from Wilton, Washington. Actually, Boston Curtis was a mule. The town’s mayor sponsored the animal to demonstrate that people know very little about the candidates. He proved his point. The mule won!” I guess that meant there really was a jack___ – well, you know – in office!
We often take for granted what so many around the world die to have – the ability to make choices of how we are governed, and to protest against that government when we believe it has erred. We think someone else will fix it. Someone else will stand up and make it right.
We do the same with our faith. We think coming to church on Sunday is enough – that it makes us Christian. It does not. It is only one part of being Jesus – the body of Christ in the world. We must be actively engaged in the work we are called to do in Christ’s name – to break the bonds of injustice, welcome the stranger, care for the poor and the outcast, and proclaim the good news that all people are God’s beloved children. When we do this, even for the least of these, we do this for Christ. We live what we say we believe.
See, in some ways Christianity is to the Church, as Democracy is to the Nation. If we forget the former, the latter is destroyed through neglect and abuse. If we live the former – really live what it means – the latter thrives. Sadly, we often value the institution over the ideals out of which it was formed.
Yet, even in our failings to live into who we are, our two identities – as Christians and as citizens of the United States – share a common set of ideals – that all people are endowed with rights by our Creator – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And all of that comes, if we truly think about it, through relationship – with God, with self, and with one another. All of it requires a core of love – God’s love – freely given, freely received.
We know that there are Christians who will proclaim from pulpits and in the streets that only some people are loved by God, while God hates others. It is repulsive to me that anyone would try to put hate in the heart of God, but we know that they do – and it is up to each of us to be the ones to stop it – to call out these false prophets as Jeremiah was doing – and let the world know that hate is of humanity, not of God. God loves everyone. The way we do this? Just start with the cool glass of water of welcome, of love, of kindness, of compassion, of forgiveness. It is an every day thing – it is a way of being – it is not something for Sundays only – but for our lives that we may have life.
Also today, we have leaders in our government that want to hoard our nation’s resources, close our borders to those in peril, divide people by ethnicity and economics, deny people access to healthcare, and use the power of their office to abuse others. Perhaps we forget that freedom can never fully be realized when it comes at the expense of others – we are never free while others are in chains.
I love the hymns we are singing today, because if you look at the words, really read them – especially the opening hymn “God of EVERY nation” and our closing hymn – commonly known as America the Beautiful – they speak to exactly this point. I believe that America the Beautiful should be our national anthem (and it has been proposed to replace our current one on more than one occasion). While the opening verse is well known, perhaps if we sang more than just that one verse, we might be less inclined to allow others to pull our society so far from the ideals we claim to profess as citizens of this country, because in the second verse, it says:
“O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!
God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law!”
“confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law”
Folks, sadly our leaders are not living into this vision of self-control and liberty in law, and it is up to us to be prophetic citizens as well as prophetic Christians. We must be actively engaged in no less a way than we should in our faith – because while the actions of our government of late violate the founding principals of our country, they also violate the teachings of Jesus – who commanded us to love as he loved – to be him in the world. We cannot be lazy citizens, we cannot just abide the government, because we answer to a higher authority!
Our Christianity and our citizenship require active engagement if they are to mean anything, stand for anything, represent anything in the world. If you cannot get out in the streets and stand for the poor, the stranger, and the oppressed as a citizen, than dang it – do it because you are a follower of Christ who told you it is what you must do!
Lives depend on this very essence of our faith and our life as citizens. Our democratic republic, and our faith, is meaningless if we remain silent. So, on this holiday weekend, I leave you with this prayer, offered to the Senate in the late 1940s by its chaplain, the renowned Presbyterian pastor, the Rev. Peter Marshall. He speaks of liberty, but the same can be said about who we are as followers of Jesus.
Let us pray. “Lord Jesus, thou who art the way, the truth, and the life; hear us as we pray for the truth that shall make all free. Teach us that liberty is not only to be loved but also to be lived,…Help us see that our liberty is not the right to do as we please, but the opportunity to be pleased to do what is right.”
For the audio from our 10:30am service, click here:
 Our Daily Bread, November 3, 1992.
Rev. Diana L. Wilcox
Christ Church in Bloomfield & Glen Ridge
July 2, 2017
Pentecost 4 – Track 2
1st Reading – Jeremiah 28:5-9
2nd Reading – Romans 6:12-23
Gospel – Matthew 10:40-42