Sunday, July 01, 2007
" . . .he set his face to go to Jerusalem."
Luke 9:51 – 62
July 1, 2007
V Pentecost –
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor
If you close your eyes for a minute, you can see His face.
The words of the gospel of St. Luke draw a picture, sharp and clear, of a man on a mission. Jesus has “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” He’s ready. He knows what is to come. Fully anticipates what is to happen to him. Expects it will, in fact, come to pass. And he is resolute. He has even sent messengers ahead of him. He has no time to waste. No time for goodbyes. No time to rest. “Let the dead bury their dead,” he says to a man who asks that he wait so he may bury his father.
If you close your eyes for a minute, you can see His face. It must have been absolutely consumed with clarity of purpose. Etched with intention. Carved with deep lines of determination and single-mindedness and a tenacity that anyone could read – even from afar.
Never mind that it meant walking into the city of Jerusalem with shouts of “Hosanna!” which would turn suddenly, coldly, to calls to “Crucify him!” Never mind that it meant marching to Calvary to his death on the hard wood of the cross. He is marching to the tune of his destiny, and everyone can see it on his face.
In many ways, the image of the face of Jesus in this morning’s gospel is a perfect image to summon up the faces of the people in the history of our nation which were set on freedom. Beginning this weekend but especially on Wednesday, July 4th, we celebrate the 231st Anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. There are also faces in our history which were set on freedom in the Civil War – a war which ripped this nation’s very fabric from North to South.
Both our Christian and American heritage are interwoven with the history of the Episcopal church. As the bulletin insert from Episcopal Life reminds us, our church and this nation emerged from Jamestown, Virginia, the New World’s first permanent English settlement, which continues to observe its 400th anniversary this year.
A few days ago, the Episcopal Church marked that anniversary – a “heritage made of a fabric woven in prayer” – during the celebration of Eucharist in Jamestown, VA. In her sermon, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori asked: "What does it mean to be a Christian in this nation? What stories and values do we claim from the history of this place? What do we remember about this beginning, and how does it continue to shape our lives today?"
These are the questions we ask today as we re-examine the history of this nation which was shaped and formed in the prayers of the Book of Common Prayer. Lately, being “Christian” has come to be narrowly defined by televangelists like Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell. To be a Christian has also come to mean being a patriot which has come to mean unconditional support for an increasingly unpopular war.
Because of this many of our youth are beginning to eschew the term “Christian” in favor of the term “Christ-follower.” To be honest, I like the term “Christ-follower” myself. I believe it more nearly captures the spirit of the first apostles, the early disciples and followers of Jesus, the Christ.
I think it also conveys the soul and character and determination of those who were the founders of this great nation and this great church of ours - whether we are speaking of those members in Bruton Parish Church in Jamestown, Virginia where the first Eucharist was celebrated in America. . . .
. . . or Old North Church, Boston, Massachusetts where the church sexton, Robert Newman held two lanterns high as a signal from patriot Paul Revere that the British were marching toward Lexington and Concord by sea and not by land. . . .
…or, Christ Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where the story goes that the architects of the Constitution walked after writing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States by day to begin writing, by night the Constitution and Canons for the new Church of England – The Episcopal Church, USA.
Whether we are talking about the Revolutionary War or the Civil War, men and women have set their faces toward freedom just as Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. When men and women took bold risks to ensure “liberty and justice for all,” and soldiers marched off into battle, ready to make the” ultimate sacrifice,” they often did so in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection they knew to be promised them by Christ Jesus. As you turn the pages of our history books, you can almost see it in their faces.
One of my favorite hymns of this day does not appear in our Hymnal, interestingly enough, but it is, for me, emblematic of this “heritage made of a fabric woven in prayer,” which we commemorate on July 4th.
Many think of it as a battle hymn. Indeed, it is called, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” In fact, it was written by Julia Ward Howe, a dedicated pacifist and abolitionist who also was the founder of Mother’s Day – a day she envisioned for all mothers everywhere to rise up and protest the loss of their sons to war.
This hymn was born dur-ing the American civil war, when Howe visited a Union Army camp on the Potomac River near Washington, D. C in 1861. She heard the soldiers singing the song “John Brown’s Body,” and was taken with the strong marching beat. She wrote the words the next day:
(said) Mine eyes have seen the glory
of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage
where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning
of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
She wrote in an article which appeared in Atlantic Monthly, 1862:
I awoke in the grey of the morning, and as I lay waiting for dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to entwine themselves in my mind, and I said to myself, “I must get up and write these verses, lest I fall asleep and forget them!” So I sprang out of bed and in the dimness found an old stump of a pen, which I remembered using the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper.
You can almost see her face, can’t you? You know she had the face of Jesus before her – which bore the faces of all the prophets before Him, especially the young prophet, Jeremiah who wrote: “The Lord will roar from on high and from his holy habitation utter his voice; he will roar mightily against his fold, and shout, like those who tread grapes against all the inhabitants of the earth.” (Jeremiah 25:30)
Julia Ward Howe was writing a marching song that would remind soldiers, with every step, about freedom and peace. If fight they must, to fight for peace. If war it must be, that it be a war that wins the peace of God which passes all human understanding. If die they must, let them die as Christ had died for us, that everyone, everywhere might be free to live in peace, with justice for all.
As the war continues to rage in the Middle East, in Iran and in Afghanistan, and in other places in the world, and yes, even in our beloved church, let us take time during our Fourth of July celebrations, to meditate on the cost of our freedom. Let us remember the face of Jesus, his face set toward Jerusalem. Let us see the face of Jesus in others and resolve, with them, to pay the high price of peace. More importantly, let us be the face of Jesus in a world that hungers for the bread of freedom and the thirsts for the wine of peace.
(sing) In the beauty of the lilies
Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom
that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make (us) holy,
let us live to make (all) free;
[originally …let us die to make men free]
While God is marching on.
Sing with me, church:
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
While God is marching on.