34C Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Proud to be an American?
The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’
“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
What is church? Is it simply a place to which we go on Sunday mornings? Yes, it is that. A place to which we go to gather with other believers; to remember and celebrate God’s love; and to be nurtured and nourished by Word and Sacrament. But Church is also, a place from which we are sent? Too often we forget this. Do we not end each celebration of the Eucharist with some form of a directive to go in peace to love and serve the Lord; to walk the way of the cross; to rejoice in the power of the Spirit; to bear witness to the love of God in Christ; and to proclaim the Good News?
Today’s Gospel reminds us that, very much like those first disciples, we are privileged and gifted to be in the presence of Christ that we might be sent forth by him. “Disciple” is an action word.
And we are sent forth by him with the simple yet awesome task of announcing and proclaiming, with both our words and our lives, the nearness of the Kingdom and the immediacy of the Reign of God. It is from this that we derive the joy that the world cannot give, cannot understand, and cannot take away.
Jesus is clear that those who are entrusted with this awesome mission should anticipate an uneven reception, at best, and a violent rejection, at worst. But neither of these scenarios can be sufficient cause to deter us from our appointed calling, mission, and vocation.
We are sent into a world that is not eager for the good news of God in Christ. And that is so terribly obvious. While we deplore the way things are, and the bad news that confronts and traumatizes us each waking day, we often balk and resist becoming conscious in a way that would compel us to make those necessary and sometimes radical changes, that might, actually result in good news.
We seem to prefer the hollow myths that allow us some measure of comfort and don’t appreciate anyone messing with the illusions in which we foolishly seek our identity, security, and peace.
Tomorrow’s national observance is one of those moments. Tomorrow the culture once again invites us to celebrate the greatness of America and its exceptional nature among all the nations of the earth. This is by far one of the most vacant myths of all. We are not better or more noble than other nation of people. Not that we cannot pause as a people to acknowledge what is of value in our common life. But to do so without giving serious attention and consideration to those many terrible things done, and those many good things left undone, and without acknowledging and seeking forgiveness for our crimes against humanity only serves to reinforce an untenable and soul-destroying myth.
Our choices to live from a place a greed induced fear; the historical slaughter of indigenous peoples; the continuing enslavement of people of color; the development and nurture of a military industrial complex that arms the world toward its self-destruction; the continued embrace of an economic system that serves the uber rich and underserves the poor, while expanding their number; our refusal to take seriously the threats associated with climate change; a transparently dysfunctional, unproductive, and undemocratic political system (we don’t live in a democracy – case in point, 84% of the population want semi-automatic weapons banned, but our elected officials will simply not do the will of the people, and choose instead the will of the NRA); just yesterday a twenty-five year old unarmed black man in Akron, Ohio, was shot sixty times, yes, sixty times in the back as he fled from the police who were in pursuit. And earlier this week we were confronted once again with the ugly and evil results of our broken immigration system, as we watched the bodies of fifty- three Guatemalan, men, women, and children, who were suffocated to death during their journey for asylum, being removed from the back of an unventilated trailer truck. This crime is not on the heads of a few human smugglers, but is on all our heads as Americans.
I am not feeling at all proud to be an American. Rather I am embarrassed and even ashamed by this identification. Until we are willing to take seriously the extent of our national moral turpitude, pride cannot be part of the picture.
I rather seek and choose instead to identify as a citizen of the Kingdom of God. And if I am going to boast, like Saint Paul, may I and we never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to us, and we to the world. Nationalism and patriotism are not Gospel values. The universality of God’s love, and the bonds of our common humanity are. Brothers and sisters by blood, and as difficult as this might be to take in, is not as important as brothers and sisters by the blood of Christ. Remember how he responded when Jesus was told that his mother and brothers and sisters wanted to see him. Jesus replies, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” He points to the disciples and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
So called Christian nationalism is an oxymoron as regards reason and a heresy as regards authentic Christian faith. It is fascism by another name. It must be opposed in its every expression. Why not rewrite the script: God, Family, and Country, to read: God, the Human Family, and the Kingdom of God? We are too long overdue as believers in getting these priorities straight.
Rightly does Jesus say, “I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves”. He knows full well that there will always be more wolves than lambs and that the kingdom of God will always be the place where fewer will choose to dwell.
The lambs of which Jesus speaks, are the vulnerable in every society, as well as those who render themselves vulnerable, carrying no purse, no bag, no sandals, for the sake of and on behalf of those who cannot speak for or defend themselves.
In these times, in which we experience a continuing scapegoating of immigrants and undocumented workers, are we not compelled, as disciples, to place the absolute compassion of the kingdom of God before any hyped and imagined and rigid national boundary needs?
Do the words of Emma Lazarus, in her poem, the New Colossus, etched on a tablet of stone at the base of the Statue of Liberty, ring with any truth or have they become yet another hollow expression of questionable and undeserved national pride?
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The Mother of Exiles must surely live with a broken heart and shed a torrent of tears.
If there is no limit to the dollars that we are prepared to advance for the sake of Ukraine and its residents and refugees, and I have no problem with this, I fail to see why we refuse to fund what is needed to accommodate the reception, care and settlement of refugees crossing our southern border. Our paralysis is contrived. It probably has more to do with skin color. Ukrainians, after all, are white and our neighbors in the south are brown.
We reap what we sow. If we sow the seeds of aggression, we will never reap peace. If we sow the seeds of indifference, we will never reap well-being. If we sow the seeds of ignorance, we will never reap wisdom. If we sow the seeds of selfishness, we will never reap abundance. If we sow the seeds of hate hate, we will never reap love.
I am a firm believer in the necessary separation of church and state for without this separation the church cannot sustain its proper role to be the conscience of any and every nation, but if we are ever inclined or tempted to see or to want to see this nation as a “Christian nation”, the commitments we make and fail to make with our money both expose the deception of this inappropriate description and unveil the truth.
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” The heart that beats in this nation, is clearly not a kingdom heart. In some very important ways, is not ours a nation of wolves – where competition, aggression, and great profit for the few, at the expense of many, remain the unchallenged values that define the landscape and that drive the biggest decisions?
Disciples of Jesus, in this and every nation are charged and sent by Jesus to enter the house where people live and as often as possible and as insistently as necessary, with the proclamation and the invitation: “Peace”. “Peace to this house”. “Peace for this house”. “Peace from this house”. And to do so, knowing there is an essential connection between peace and justice, between peace and compassion, between peace and tolerance, between peace and inclusion, between peace and national humility. We are sent by Jesus to proclaim, “Peace to this house”, even at the risk of our own acceptability and our own acceptance. It is OK to be rejected for the sake of the kingdom, for any rejection sustains us in the best company, “Whoever reject you, rejects me and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
In the words of Paul to the Galatians, “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all. And may we never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to us and we to the world”.
The Rev. Frank J. Alagna July 3, 2022