Text of Sermon preached Sunday, July 4th 2021
at Christ Episcopal Church, Alameda
Old Testament: Deuteronomy 10:17-21
17For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. 19You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 20You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. 21He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.
Gospel: Matthew 5:43-48
43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so 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. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Happy Independence Day!
Growing up, my first recollection of celebrating the Fourth of July was at a local park, waiting on a blanket eagerly for the fireworks to begin. I was six years old. As I recall, there was some mention that 210 years had passed since 1776. I also remember probably most of all the tension in the air, as sitting near us in the large field was a group of loud and intoxicated people who instead of waving an American flag were waving a Confederate battle flag. My father was agitated, and as I learned was his custom, felt the need to politely alert these folks that whatever their intentions, the flag they were waving wasn’t patriotic at all, but actually seditious. This was of course not taken kindly, and we may have left early. I don’t remember the fireworks that day.
The Fourth of July, of course, commemorates the Declaration of Independence when the thirteen colonies expressed their desire to govern themselves, free from the tyranny of Great Britain. Ever since, Independence Day, has been a day of celebration, but also struggle. Each generation has wrestled with the meaning of liberty and the unfolding story of these United States.
The sacred texts appointed for this day, remind us that the God of scripture, and of Jesus, longs for people to live in ways that provide justice for orphans, widows and strangers --- to love neighbors and enemies. Over the centuries, people of faith in this nation have struggled with love for country and love for God. I remember one of my relations giving me this somewhat jingoistic definition of patriotism “my country, right or wrong.” Later I came to learn more about that quote, and this adapted and improved version,
“My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”
In eighth grade, I remember standing with my best friend in the cold along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC for a Presidential inauguration. We heard the newly sworn in President say these optimistic words “there’s nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”
We’re living in a time of profound anxiety, fear and despair. Congregations like this one, through our quest to follow Jesus,have a vital role to play in helping cure the ills of our society. But to do that we cannot ignore the wrongs of the past or be naïve about the consequences of failing to address contemporary systemic injustices now.
Last year, Christ Church youth and adults participated in Sacred Ground, a curriculum that helps shed light on the violent and exploitative evils that are part of our nation’s story from colonialism, slavery, genocide, xenophobia, brutal labor practices and the prison industrial complex. There will be opportunities this Fall for those who weren’t able to participate to take the course, and of course there are numerous other ways both to celebrate our country’s beauty and its successes, and also to confront America’s ills.
Some might say that this latter type of exploration is unpatriotic, but I would argue the opposite. Learning more about the history of our nation, especially through the perspectives of those whose family histories, cultures, religions, and beliefs differ most from me or who have been on the receiving end of systemic injustice,has helped me find a love for this country that is deeper and wider.
Now when I celebrate the Fourth of July, I don’t just think of a group of white gentlemen in a room in Philadelphia. I think of the enslaved people, indentured servants, women, and indigenous people whose longings for liberty would take many decades, even hundreds of years to be realized. I think of immigrants who, filled with hope, fled violence and poverty in their homeland to find often the same on these shores, but also advocates, allies, activists and friends whose compassion was often motivated by their spiritual values. Like many of you in this room and watching online, my American family history and present includes stories of refugees, teachers, nurses, and farmers whose own struggles did not keep them from offering care, help or support to those worse off.
Indeed, this country is one made up of orphans, widows, strangers and former enemies turned friends. We are a better, more just, and faithful country because of the persistence, diligence, resilience of people from every gender, race, class and culture who resisted tyranny, jingoism, nativism, xenophobia, white supremacy, and patriarchy. Let us pray that in 2021 and beyond, we as a nation will seek higher ground, and a more perfect union.
God bless America.