July 8, 2018

2018 July8

Proper 9 - Year B

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

The United States just celebrated its 242nd Birthday on Wednesday. There were the usual celebrations with BBQs, parades, fireworks, and lots of red, white and blue! I hope that each of you had a fitting celebration.

 

On social media, along with the plethora of festive stars & stripes and fireworks, there was the usual handful of sarcastic and provocative comments about the nature of our history:

 

  • Reminders that the American Indian tribes were here long before the establishment of what is now the United States.
  • Memes related to the politics of the day, particularly the treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers under the failed Zero Tolerance Policy.
  • And of course, the photo of an angry-looking Queen Elizabeth II with the caption: Happy Treason Day.

My comment on social media was questioning

 

to what degree Independence
Day applies to those of us in California.

 

Should we be celebrating Mexican Cessation Day, which was February 2, 1848? That was when Mexico turned over an area the size of Western Europe to the United States at the end of the Mexican-American War. Or would Constitution Day, September 17, be a better day for a celebration by the 36 States which were not part of the 13 Original Colonies in 1776? (Note that West Virginia was not one of the 13 Original Colonies, but was part of Virginia at the time, hence 36 States not territories, instead of 37.)

 

As we in the United States celebrate the dispensing of the Monarchy, our Old Testament Reading reminds us of Monarchy as David is made King over Israel. The Psalm emphasizes the role of God in the nation of Israel and that the greatness of the nation, and by inference the king, are ordained by God and exclusive to Israel.

 

Last week I summarized what takes place between last week’s reading and this week’s reading. I mistakenly referred to it as a summary of 2 Samuel 1, but it was a summary of chapters 1 to 5. In the verses missing in today’s reading, David captures Jerusalem from the Jebusites for his capital, and coincidentally with today’s time: a political leader mocking the disabled.

 

By stark contrast, Mark’s Gospel offers an image of an exceptionally humble Jesus, who, despite His wisdom and power, is rejected in His own hometown. Jesus impresses a humble manner of spreading the Gospel in insisting that the Disciples maintain a minimalist and modest lifestyle, and to be considerate of those to whom they preach.

 

The Foundation of America contained strong undertones of the pride exhibited by David. As far back as the Puritan settlements, we can see the emergence of American exceptionalism substantiated by religious language. A sprinkling of Calvinist Predestination & Election, a pinch of the theology of Divine Providence, and a smattering of Old Testament Covenant language, and there is born a Chosen People who be the model for the other nations of the Earth – The United States as the New Jerusalem.

 

Among historians (both of the academic and armchair variety), there exists debate over the religious adherence of the Founding Mothers and Fathers. George Washington strongly believed in the religious case for the War for Independence. Thomas Paine sprinkled biblical quotes throughout his pamphlet “Common Sense”, the most influential writing of the revolution. And Abagail Adams wrote, “A true patriot must be a religious man.” The Bible was the most widely-owned and -read book of the Colonists. John Adams is quoted as saying, “The Bible is the best book in the world…the most Republican book in the world.”

 

Thomas Paine was actually an opponent of Christianity, referring to the Old Testament as “a history of wickedness” and should be thought of as “the word of a demon [rather] than the word of God”. Yet, chief among the historical criticism is the faith of Thomas Jefferson. When the Religious Right claim that the United States was founded upon Christianity, the non-religious Left cites that Thomas Jefferson was an atheist! But it wasn’t that straightforward.

 

Thomas Jefferson was a firm believer in the teachings of Jesus. According to many sources, including the Thomas Jefferson Institute at Montecello, Jefferson redacted a version of the Bible to include only the life and doctrines of Jesus. The full title is believed to be:

 

“The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth: extracted from the account of his life and doctrines as given by Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John. Being an abridgement of the New Testament for the use of the Indians unembarrassed with matters of fact or faith beyond the level of their comprehensions.”

 

“Indians” did not refer to the American Indians; it was his code word for the anti-Federalist and clergy who called him a “howling atheist”. Jefferson thought very highly of his extraction of Jesus’ sayings and doings, yet had quite a bit of disdain for the Bible as a whole. I think that he thought the book was primarily a source wealth for peddlers of the Good Book for profit. He wrote of the power of his own work that, through it:

 

“…fogs shall be dispelled, in which for 14. centuries he [presumably Jesus] has been inveloped by Jugglers to make money of him, when the genuine character shall be exhibited, which they have dressed up in the rags of an Impostor, the world, I say, will at length see the immortal merit of this first of human Sages.”

 

So, what I take from that is that Jesus was used to con people for 14 centuries, but, when all the packaging, as it were, is stripped away, and all that is left are the works of Jesus, and only those, Jefferson says that we can find the greatness of the world’s first true prophet.

 

The Founding Fathers, of course, were not agreed in their religious beliefs. What was part of their genius, though, was to allow differences, exploration and a break from the norm in religious thinking. But what they did agree on was that religion played a role in overthrowing tyranny. The blend of religion and politics was not much different than making David the King over Israel King. David’s history is riddled with pious arrogance, as is our own American history.

 

America's unique blend of politics and religion vacillates between arrogance and humility. When we save the world, either economically or militarily, we make sure the world knows it. And we do that often! But so does almost every other country in the world. No other country in the world believes themselves to express arrogance or exceptionalism – only the Americans do that, they say – Oh, but they do!

 

Our humility is probably most evident in those times that we have come together as a nation to promote our principles of equality and equity. On the 4th of July, more than any other day of the year, there are recitations of the Declaration of Independence, which states that all are created equal, endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable Rights, words of the supposedly atheist Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence. On the 4th of July, more than any other day of the year, we hear the words of the poem attached to the foot of the Statue of Liberty, “A New Colossus”:

 

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to
breathe free, The wretched refuse
of your teeming shore. Send
these, the homeless, tempest-tost
to me, I lift my lamp beside the
golden door!”

 

Paralleled with today’s Gospel, we take in those who, like Jesus, are not welcome in their own home town, not welcome in their own country, those who are homeless. When there is a suppression of human rights somewhere else in the world, we are the first to make an impassioned plea for in support of people being treated with equity. We ARE a nation of people who truly care about other people, our sisters and brothers on what Eucharistic Prayer C calls this fragile earth, our island home.

 

So, this Sunday closest to July 4, we experience the pious might and power of King David, “who became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him”. And we also experience the humility of Jesus, who was not welcomed even in His own hometown. Both stories illustrate Godly service. One is shrouded in power and might; the other is presented as duty and deference.

 

It poses a dichotomy for our personal reflection of who we want to be, or who we are called to be. Jesus gives us a new way to live with one another and a new way to live Godly lives – which was His initial remit. We Christians, people of faith, people who follow Jesus, have been shown a new way through which humility not only empowers others, but empowers us. We can be a nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all, but only in love and care for others, and not in a grab for control and authority.

 

We will spend the next couple of weeks hearing the contrast between David’s might and Jesus’ humility. It presents to us at least two concepts to contemplate:

  • The first is who do we want to be as a nation?
  • The second is how do we live this new way that Jesus is calling us to be as Christians?


David was made King over Israel; Jesus was made King of King and Lord of Lords – a title He never referred to. In fact, He left the title of King of the Jews in limbo when asked by Pilate. We have a new model for a king in Jesus Christ, one based on love.

 

The societies of King David and Jesus were worlds apart, about 1,000 years. The societies of the Founding Mothers and Fathers and us are also worlds apart. Our country’s birthday – even though the land we are in now was part of Spain at the time – gives us the opportunity to reflect on who we are as Americans and as Christians. King David provides one model; Jesus provides another.

 

I will end with stringing together quotes from our foundational document, our daily patriotic duty, and a quote from a Fourth of July speech of a former President.

 

Let us remember with humility
and love that:

 

  • all are created equal and endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights: life liberty and the pursuit of happiness,
  • as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL.
  • God bless you. God bless your families. And God bless the United States of America (Obama 2013).

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