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Sunday, July 03, 2016

Revolutionary Love

A sermon for Pentecost VII - July 2, 2016
St. Phillip's Episcopal Church, Laurel, DE
(the Rev'd Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

It’s an interesting gospel for this holiday weekend.

Here we are, celebrating the birth of this nation with family cookouts and picnics and, of course, fireworks. And, there is Jesus, commissioning 70 brand-new disciples, urgently talking with them about mission and ministry what to do about rejection.

I find it irresistible not to imagine the urgency of the early mission of Jesus and compare that with the urgency of the founders of this country in the early days of the Revolutionary War.

I should note that, in American, we call it the Revolutionary War. In Britain, it’s still called “The War of Independence”.  That’s because the British did not see America as a nation; it was referred to as “the colonies.”  Some folks there still do, when they want to be pejorative . 

British school children, I’m told, still do not learn about the Boston Tea Party or Paul Revere’s ride. What is discussed in textbooks is the effect the war had on Britain.  It was just “independence” you see. Nothing more, nothing less. As if we were naughty adolescents, throwing a tantrum because we refused to contribute to England after the Seven Years War between England and France through outrageously high taxes.

“No taxation without representation,” as a succinct complaint of the problem made perfect sense to people living on this side of The Pond. To our founders it was the oppression of occupation by a foreign government – not unlike what the Hebrew people  in Jerusalem were experiencing under the occupation of their country by Romans.   

And, like the Romans, the British, at the time, simply did not understand the complaint. We were “their” colonies. They believed they could do with us as they pleased. (For now, I’ll refrain from modern examples of occupation, but I'm sure you can name a few without breaking a sweat.)

There’s a revealing story about a conversation between King George III and then Prime Minister William Pitt.  George asks, “What of the colonies, Mr. Pitt?” Pitt reminds him that, “America is now a nation, sir.” And George answers, “Is it? Well, we must try and get used to it. I have known stranger things. I once saw a sheep with five legs . . . . .”

As the Brits would say, “Right.” Or, “Well, there it is, then.”

It was a Revolutionary War because, among many issues, it was the first war where thirteen independent colonies joined together to overthrow rule by a foreign monarchy. 

That had never been done before. And, what resulted was, in fact, revolutionary. What emerged was an independent nation. The sentence – “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all" from the Pledge of Allegiance – was not lightly or irreverently penned. Those independent colonies eventually became states, which became part of  “The United States of America”.

That’s pretty revolutionary.  Which is precisely why there was so much resistance to it.

Jesus had another revolutionary mission in mind. He did not pursue a military overthrow of the oppressive forces of Rome. That would have been a fool’s errand. He had other, higher-minded goals. 

His revolution was not economic or political to be achieved by military might. Rather, his revolution was that of the heart and soul of a nation, with the establishment of a spirituality that would redeem the religious leadership of Judaism from its cozy, symbiotic relationship with Rome and begin to establish a freedom from the law of the land and religious tyranny, into a life in the spirit of the religious laws. 

His mission was a way to reestablish the soul of a nation of oppressed people – not for the short term, but for the long haul.

That’s pretty revolutionary. Which is precisely why there was so much resistance to it.

What has any of this have to do with us, today? 

Most of us here in this church this morning are living pretty comfortable lives. Oh, we want more – that’s just human nature. And, some of us need more – better economic security, easier access to quality health care, equal employment opportunity with equal compensation. There are still injustices in our country and in our world.

But, most of us did not go to bed last night with the distant roar of hunger in our bellies. Most of us did not wake up this morning with anxiety about how we were going to feed our children. Yes, we worry about ‘home grown terrorists’ as well as those who may come into this country to overthrow what they believe is a “godless nation” of a democracy and turn it into their own theocracy. 

That said, we are still the greatest free democratic nation in the world, founded on “liberty and justice for all.” The working out of those principles is not without struggle, but those remain the principles to which we adhere and for which we strive.

It’s still a pretty revolutionary idea. Which is why there remains so much resistance to it.

I am struck by the words of Jesus to the seventy which come at the very end of this passage from Luke’s gospel. 

The 70 have been commissioned and sent out “as lambs in the midst of wolves” with instructions to live simply, trusting in the kindness of strangers; to cure the sick and proclaim that the Realm of God has drawn near to them.   

And, when they experience rejection, they are to “kick the dust from their sandals,” proclaim peace and move on.

The seventy returned with joy because of the miracles they had performed. Jesus reminds them of the source of their power and gives to them a spirit of humility, saying that, whether they succeed wildly or fail miserably, God’s love is theirs. 

“Rejoice that your names are written in heaven,” says Jesus. No matter what, God sees. God knows. God understands. God loves.

Revolutionary ideas are bound to fail all along the lines from inception to reality. Martin Luther King, Jr., wisely taught that “the arc of history is long, but it always bends toward justice”. 

We, as a nation, have not always remained true to our goals and ideals. Our history is stained and tarnished by the capture and slavery of Africans and the tyranny and oppression of Native Americans as well as the denial of civil rights to people of color and women and LGBT people.

I think this is what is meant by the words in the Preamble of the Constitution, “ . . in order to be a more perfect union.” We are not perfect. We were never conceived to be perfect. We were created to be “more perfect” – to cast ourselves into the crucible of the refiner’s fire until the arc of history bends toward justice.  And that refiner’s fire is in the free expression of ideas and the controversy and tension that arise from those differences. 

That freedom - used responsibly - is the essence of what it means to be a democracy.

It is in that spirit of humility and expansiveness of freedom and God’s love that I offer this closing hymn as a meditation on this revolutionary idea of being part of something greater than ourselves – this revolutionary notion that “all men” – all people, male, female, young, old, black, white, brown and every shade of God’s glorious palette of creation, gay, and so-called straight, rich and poor, from every nation and people and tongue and tribe – are created equal, even if they do not receive equal treatment under the law. 
The words come from a variety of sources: Poem Lloyd Stone wrote vs 1& 2. Vs 3-5 were written by Methodist Georgia Harkness. The tune is “Finlandia by Jean Sibelius. Wesley has graciously agreed to play it for us. I’ve included the words as a bulletin insert.

As you celebrate today and tomorrow and enjoy the great bounty of this nation, I bid you to remember the words of Jesus. Remember that, no matter what, your names are written in heaven. Remember that God sees. God knows. God understands. And, God loves. Unconditionally.

And, remember the words of this song. Carry them in your heart, so there might be there planted the revolutionary idea of peace in your life, peace in your family, peace in this nation and peace in the world.

For such peace is the product of revolutionary love. 

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine;
this is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a prayer that peace transcends in every place;
and yet I pray for my beloved country --
the reassurance of continued grace:
Lord, help us find our one-ness in the Savior,
in spite of differences of age and race.

May truth and freedom come to every nation;
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
that each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting every wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.

This is my prayer, O Lord of all earth's kingdoms,
thy kingdom come, on earth, thy will be done;
let Christ be lifted up 'til all shall serve him,
and hearts united, learn to live as one:
O hear my prayer, thou God of all the nations,
myself I give thee -- let thy will be done.

Words: Lloyd Stone and Georgia Harkness. 
Tune: Finlandia by Jean Sibelius


JudyH said...

And you, madam, are a narcissist of the highest degree. Apparently only you are right, and others have nothing to offer. Your listening skills as a priest have much to be desired! Read something about Islam other than Karen Armstrong's sodden, whitewashed, highly biased propaganda. In fact, maybe read the Koran itself! Armstrong's no expert on Islam. She conveniently leaves out many things, including Islamic warfare halfway across France in 732AD attacking "people of the Book". Most important of all, realize that God wouldn't put forth a competing religion AFTER sacrificing his only begotten Son, and seeing Jesus' beloved apostles martyred for their faith. Wake up to your own apostasy!

lsiepw-W said...

Your seminary EDS is closing.
Any thoughts?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Why do you care? You don't believe there's a God.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Judy, it is a sermon. It is the function of a sermon to state what one believes. Not to the exclusion of other beliefs but what the preacher believes, having studied scripture and the subject matter, understanding what's happening in the world at that time, and examining her own heart and the hearts of the people God has given her the privilege to tend for that moment in time. It's about the deep spiritual struggle to break open the Word so people may hear it in a new way and be fed and nourished.

It's a very humbling exercise.

You should try it sometime.