Sunday, July 1, 2018

Year B Independence Day (Observed) 2018 A More Perfect Union

Year B Independence Day (Observed), 1 July 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“A More Perfect (Grown Up) Union” 

Collect: Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 
Deuteronomy 10:17-21 
Hebrews 11:8-16 
Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” 
TeleiosTELEI-osTelephone. Telegraph. We still use the word. Distance. Far. A stretch. However you look at it, Jesus said to be it. “Be teleioi, therefore, as your heavenly Father is teleios.” Now we translate it out of tradition as PERFECT. But for me, perfection comes with a lot of baggage. I know I am not perfect, nor do I expect it of anyone else. I think the word is better translated in different ways. Mature. Complete. Grown Up. Gone the Distance. Distance, the full measure, like in Telephone or Telegraph. 

In his wonderful thought-translation, Eugene Peterson puts it this way: “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”  

When I taught middle school, I cannot tell you how many times I had to pull a young boy/man aside, because that is what adolescents are, and ask him to be the bigger man. Yes, someone wronged you. Yes, you would be justified in “getting them back.” Yes, you could. But I am asking you to step up, to step over this situation, and be the bigger person. I am asking you to be teleios. Complete. Mature. Grown Up. 

And today, as we look at our country which we love, and we celebrate the freedom that so many fought for, which so many died for, we celebrate this American experiment where we called for people to be there best for the common good. The hopeful optimism of the founding of this country came directly from the intellectual movement of the Enlightenment, in which all were asked to be there best. An educated, informed, landed Gentry demanded of their King a right to have a say in their own governing. They demanded that be given the right to be treated and have the responsibility of maturity. With rights come responsibility, and from the outset, we needed to have both, the two sides of our freedoms. We are free not to do what we want. That is an adolescent pipe-dream. We are free to do what we ought. And we first find this freedom, as believers in Christ, in our relationship with him. 

On Wednesday morning, I spoke on the privilege of being laborers in the Vineyard. I spoke on being able to respond as a co-laborer and friend of Christ. The freedoms and responsibilities that sprang from the Renaissance and Enlightenment birthed the Protestant Reformation, which I believe led to the thought movement and the birth of the noble Experiment in self-rule we call the United States of America. Intellectually the footprints lead directly back to those sources. 

Mature. Complete. Grown Up. And how does Christ ask us to do that? How does he ask us to be teleios? 

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven 

A couple of weeks ago I spoke on Jesus’ politics. And this is exactly part of that. In Jesus’ way of dealing with those who are in opposition to us, we are called to go exactly AGAINST what the world does and teaches. LOVE your enemy. PRAY for those who persecute you. 

Somewhere along the way, we lost sight that no other American is our enemy. Somewhere along the way, we lost sight that if we see ANYONE as our enemy, we are to love them. 
Somewhere along the way, we lost sight of HOLDING UP TO GOD IN PRAYER those who oppose us. 
Somewhere along the way, we stopped following Jesus and decided to take power into our own hands. God help us. God forgive us. 

Scripture is often a cautionary tale, when the people of God chose power over faith, they were much less than the people of God. Abram did not wait for God’s promised son and heir, and Hagar and Ishmael started a conflict that continues to this day. Saul lost the Spirit of God, and turned to witch to get back what he missed. When Peter who had just confessed Jesus as the Christ said that no one would crucify Jesus, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!” When we choose to take up power instead of living in faith, nothing good can come from this. 

Last week, Robert so eloquently spoke on Fear. As he said, if our faith is about anything, it is in opposition to fear. Franklin Delano Roosevelt intoned at the height of the Great Depression in his first inaugural speech: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” No truer words were spoken, especially those of us who are in Christ and following Christ. “If God is for us, who can stand against us,” St. Paul reminds us in Romans. 

Two weeks ago, I quoted our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry when he used a phrase that has been repeated in our history: A Bright and Shining City on a Hill. This image comes from Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount(Matthew 5:14). But Kennedy, and Reagan, and Bush Sr. and Obama all have used it or alluded to it. It is us at our best. It is who we want to be, and how we want to see ourselves. 

For us to be that, a light of hope, a beacon of freedom and justice, we must model our best selves, our Mature selves. Our Complete selves. Our Grown Up selves. Our TELEIOS selves. 

When Jesus asked of us to love our enemies, he is asking us to not have enemies, really. Think about it. How can you call someone an enemy if you love them. There are times when people are in opposition to me and I have to choose to love. 

One time while I was teaching school, I had a student, a 7th grade girl, who was just horrible. She was oppositional, and doing her best to get under my skin. The contempt, or so it seemed, was dripping in her sneer when she chose to talk back to me. And then it came out what she wanted, “You want to hit me, don’t you?” It was at that moment when I finally saw where she was coming from. This hurting, broken, little girl was wanting the only type of attention she knew how to get, negative and corporal. She was trying to get me to slap or hit her. As I looked at her steaming glaze, I was able to see through the veneer of rage and hurt and I was able to see the little girl that needed love, in want of a hug more than a hit. And in that moment, I did something she never expected. Now a hug would not have been appropriate, nor would it have been accepted. But in those two seconds after she asked if I wanted to hit her, I actually paused, calmed down to a deep, centered place and out came… 

A laugh. 

Yes, I actually laughed at what she said. That is what came out. Now, in her anger, she took offense. “You laughing at me?” I paused, and said, “No. But there is nothing you could do or say that would make me hit you. I love my wife and my kids too much, and I kinda need to keep my job. So, no, I do not want to hit you.” 

And in a humbled, muttered breath as she turned away to go back to her seat, she said, “Because you’re a real man.” Out of the mouths of babes, that is what she needed. She needed a Grown Up. Someone Mature. Someone who could love her through The Distance. Someone who could be Teleios, “perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect.”  

Even her in her adolescent outrage she knew what a Grown Up would do, SHOULD do, and she even named it. (As an aside, I can say our relationship changed after that. She treated me very differently, and I was able to love her, help her, respect her, and help her become the Grown Up she is today.) 

In all our interactions, we need to aim for that. In one of my first sermons here, I talked about the communal canary in the coalmine. In groups, the first thing to go when we stop acting in everyone’s best interest is The Benefit of The Doubt. When we stop seeing the Other, whoever they may be, as trying to do what is best, something is wrong. Now they may be our Enemy. They may be working in Opposition to Us intentionally, or they may be seeking only their Self-Interest. That is what immature people do. I expect it of children or adolescents. Mature people look out for those in their charge, and as people of faith, we are shown and repeatedly commanded to be our Brother’s Keeper. Cain and Abel, or the Good Samaritan, or even with our Enemies, we are commanded to care for the other person, to love them even. And as we do so, they shift from being Enemies to Brothers and Sisters. 

I pray for our Nation today, and most days. We are moving into uncharted waters where the old rules and old ways are being systematically dismantled. We are commanded by Christ to consider the Least of These, and yet we are actively working to undermine what little they have. And in my frustration and worry, it is very easy to vilify and condemn. Yet I am called to love.  

Today, we pray by name for Donald our President. For some that sticks in their throats. Today we pray by name for Ralph our Governor. For a different set, that name will stick in their throats. But both are serving in roles, but we pray for the people, by name, intimate first names at that, for we are all God’s Children. Even Ralph. Even Donald. Even me. Even you. We need to look past the angry, sneering face, if our “Enemy” has one, and see the beloved child of God they are. 

A long time ago, when I felt like I was casting someone as an enemy, I would start to pray for them. If they really upset me, I would ask for God to bless them. (Talk about hard.) And if I was burdened by something even stronger and more upsetting, I would picture it as a package. In my prayers I would lay that package at God’s altar, and ask for deliverance from it. My hate did nothing for them or me, it only kept me from being who God wanted me to be. Forgiveness in the end, is about our connection to God. The person I hate may accept the forgiveness, or not. But hating them is like me drinking a poison and expecting them to die. Talk about laughable, poison does not work that way. And neither does hate. “Love your enemy.” It really does change everything. 

“We the People, in order to form a more Perfect Union…” These are the opening words to our Constitution. Maybe we need to replace Perfect here, too. Maybe we need to start it with Teleios, “We the People, in order to form a more Grown Up Union…” 

Brothers and Sisters, I urge you, in the name of Christ, to put our faith in Christ first, and in so doing, we will be lifted to a higher calling, a better place, and in so doing, create that more perfect union, that bright and shining city on the hill, that Jesus, Kennedy, Reagan, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Obama intoned. I dream of a day, again, when someone like Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neal and Republican President Ronald Reagan can be good friends despite the deep chasm of difference in their political ideas. They actually liked each other, broke bread together, laughed and spent time appreciating the other, and recognized that both wanted the best for the country. May we be the same. 
God bless you. God bless this Church. And God bless America. Amen. 

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Blessings, Rock