Archives for July 2009

Jesus continues to gives us our daily bread, 8 Pentecost, Proper 12 (B) – 2009

July 26, 2009

2 Samuel 11:1-15 and Psalm 14; or 2 Kings 4:42-44 and Psalm 145: 10-19; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

The crowd clamors after Jesus for healing. The Great Physician is healing the sick and there are many in search of his healing touch. Yet there is something more going on here than a health clinic or even a faith healing revival. The Gospel of John tells us “A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.”

Notice that John tells us the crowd “saw the signs.” In John’s gospel, miracles are signs that point beyond themselves. The miracles are not important merely because this or that person is healed or because Jesus changes water to wine and so on. The miracles are signs that point to the reality of who Jesus is by showing his mastery of creation. And so the crowd gathered for healing, but they keep following him because of the signs.

Then Jesus provides a new sign. The crowd is hungry and Jesus will feed them. He has been feeding them spiritually and now he will fill their stomachs as well. He takes the small offering of bread and fish, gives thanks for them and distributes the food to the hungry multitude. There is enough bread for twelve basketfuls of leftovers. As for the fish, we are told that everybody ate “as much as they wanted.”

This new sign points not simply to Jesus’ mastery of creation, but how with Jesus we move from scarcity to abundance. There was a lack of sufficient money or food. Philip told Jesus that there was not enough money to buy food as, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Andrew told Jesus, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”

The disciples look to the situation and see that there is not enough to go around. Why spend what little money we have when even a mound of money would not be enough? Why take the little food the boy brought when it wouldn’t be an appetizer for Jesus and the disciples, much less a meal for a multitude? Resources are scarce. When there is not enough to go around, it is not the time to share, but the time to hoard.

Jesus has a different view of the situation. Jesus operates out of abundance. Not only is there always just enough, but there is more than enough. With this hungry hoard, there is fish enough for all to get what they want and bread enough to gather together twelve basketsful of leftovers.

This is a sign that points beyond Jesus to the earlier experiences of the children of Israel. John has tipped us off that the Passover is drawing near. And at that time of year, thoughts of the Jews naturally turn toward the Exodus experience. Under Pharaoh, the people had been enslaved. The book of Genesis ends with the story of their enslavement. In times of plenty, Pharaoh hoarded the surplus produce of the fertile Nile plains. During famine, the people had been forced to give first their money, next their livestock, then their land, and finally their lives to Pharaoh in exchange for food.

The bread of Pharaoh was the bread of fear, scarcity, and slavery. Pharaoh demanded your very life and even still, there was never enough. By the time of the Exodus, the Children of Israel have long been slaves in the land of Egypt.

As the people were brought out of Egypt, they were fed in the wilderness with manna, the bread of angels. Although to get from Egypt to the Promised Land they had to cross an uninhabitable wasteland, each day God gave the people all the food they needed. There was always enough and nothing could be hoarded. The manna would rot if someone tried to store it for the next day. This was the original daily bread, a sign that God would be faithful day after day after day with enough to meet the needs.

With this story in mind as well as the miraculous feeding stories of the prophet Elijah, the people gathered that day on the grassy hillside saw a new sign. They ate the bread and fish that Jesus broke and shared, and in so doing they saw the ultimate sovereign. Why bow to the Roman Caesar, or even the Jewish King Herod? With those leaders, things were hardly changed from slavery under Pharaoh. No matter which leader, the empire offered scarcity to its people and hoarded the riches in palaces the people could never enter.

But here was Jesus on the hillside, freely offering abundance. Everything the people needed for life came without cost. Jesus offered not merely free healthcare and free food. Jesus offered a change from scarcity to abundance. There would be more than enough for everyone.

John’s gospel tells us, “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”

Jesus pulls back. The people have seen the sign and misinterpreted it. Jesus did not come to set up an earthly kingdom, but to inaugurate God’s eternal reign.

Just after our reading for today, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” Jesus wants much more than to heal people who will later get sick again, or to feed people who will again hunger. Jesus wants to give them more. The something more Jesus offers is that to which these signs are the markers. Jesus tells them, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life.”

As we continue reading through John’s gospel in coming weeks, Jesus will draw out the lesson of how he is the Bread of Life and will further connect what he is doing to how God fed the people in the wilderness during the time of Moses. For now, we see that the crowd wanted Jesus to be their king. This is perfectly natural. Who wouldn’t want a king who fed you spiritually and bodily? Who wouldn’t want a king who could heal both the body and the soul?

The multitude, satisfied by the meal, desired to always have Jesus care for their every need. And from our viewpoint twenty centuries later, we can see what the crowd that day could not see. Jesus did come to begin a reign of abundance. But his reign was and is eternal, not bound by time or place. Jesus came and gave life to those bound to the soul-killing ways of the empire where everything you have to give is never enough.

With Jesus, we offer our very lives – ourselves, our souls, and our bodies as a living sacrifice. We offer the broken places that need healing. We offer the sinful places of our lives that need repentance, forgiveness, and redemption. We offer our spiritual hunger and thirst and find spiritual food and living water in abundance.

We find in Christ the Reign of God breaking into the here and now. God knows our needs and provides strength for today and hope for tomorrow. It’s what the masses wanted when they tried to make Jesus their king, and we discover that eternal reign not for an age bound in time and then gone. In giving our lives to Jesus, we cross over from death to life, from the scarcity of an empire to the abundance of the Reign of God.

Jesus continues to gives us our daily bread, and that is one commodity never in short supply.

 

— The Rev. Frank S. Logue is a church planter in the Diocese of Georgia and the vicar of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland, Georgia.

In so many ways we are a tired and weary people, Seventh Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 11 (B) – July 19, 2009

(RCL) 2 Samuel 7:1-14a and Psalm 89:20-37; or Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

We are in many ways a weary people. Literally and figuratively, we are tired.

A survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that 47 million American adults suffer from sleep deprivation. That’s almost a quarter of the adult population in America. That’s a lot of weary people. And it is a serious problem. Fatigue and exhaustion can have serious consequences. Lack of sleep can affect our physical and mental health. It can also be deadly. Sixty percent of licensed drivers reported that they drove cars while drowsy. Fatigue has contributed to many auto accidents and fatalities. Sleep deprivation is a serious problem, and it has a number of causes: from lifestyle choices, to work, to illnesses, to sleeping disorders. The results of the survey are clear: many Americans, too many Americans, both adults and children, are not getting enough sleep. We are, quite literally, a weary people.

However, we really didn’t need a survey to tell us this. Just ask someone how they are doing these days, and listen to what they say. Have you ever heard people say things like: “I’m exhausted.” “I’m running myself ragged.” “I’m wiped out.” “I’m spent.” “I’m running on empty.” “I just need a nap.” “I need caffeine.”

People are tired these days and they will tell you so. We are over-worked, over-committed, over-extended, stretched-thin, stressed-out, and burnt-out. We are too busy and we are too tired, and we will tell you about it. It seems like there is some kind of strange competition going on where we try to outdo each other with how busy and how tired we are. In a curious way, busyness has become a socially desirable good.

Kerby Anderson, in an essay “Time and Busyness,” puts it this way, “Being busy is chic and trendy. Pity the poor person who has an organized life and a livable schedule. Everyone, it seems, is running out of time.”

We are a busy, busy people these days, and ask somebody how they are doing, and you’re more than likely going to hear about how worn-out they are. We didn’t need a national survey to tell us what we already knew: we are, in many ways, a weary people.

The pace of modern life has picked up, with keyboards clicking and computers crunching and cell phones chirping with their instantaneous messages around the globe. Contradicting the optimistic predictions of people in the 1950s and 1960s, these technological feats have not led to more leisure time for Americans. Quite the contrary. Most people are busier than ever. The average workweek has increased rather than decreased in the last thirty years.

Kerby Anderson quotes a Manhattan architect, who designs automated environments, as saying, “Technology is increasing the heartbeat. We are inundated with information. The mind can’t handle it all. The pace is so fast now, I sometimes feel like a gunfighter dodging bullets.”

And we are not just physically tired. The Germans have a good word for this other kind of weariness: weltschmerz, which means “world weariness.” We are wearied by many things in our lives. In our work lives, people speak of being tired of the rat race, the daily grind, or climbing the corporate ladder. In our political lives, people are tired of broken promises, empty rhetoric, and partisan bickering. In our personal lives, we are tired of being alone, tired of the bar scene, tired of the routine. We are tired of feeling angry all the time, or feeling afraid all the time, or feeling worthless all the time.

In so many ways we are a tired and weary people.

In our gospel lesson, Jesus addresses the weariness and busyness of his apostles. We are told that the apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they were doing and all that they were teaching, and, apparently, they were very busy. They were so busy, we are told, that they didn’t even have time to eat. So many people were coming and going, that they didn’t even have a chance to grab something on the go. So Jesus’ words to them must have felt like cool, refreshing water to people who are slaked with thirst. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

How refreshing this response must have been to his weary disciples. Notice Jesus didn’t respond to the apostles’ reports about what they were doing by going over a new strategic plan. Notice he didn’t respond to their reports of what they were teaching by going over a new curriculum. No. He said to his weary apostles, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

Don’t we all long to hear these words spoken to us by our Lord? Don’t we all desire to hear the invitation to come to a place all by ourselves and simply rest a while in the presence of our gracious God?

No doubt our faith requires us to do certain things as well as believe certain things. No doubt we are created to find meaning and value in the work we do, especially when it is done to the greater glory of God and the service and up-building of our neighbors. But our weariness in what we do and our pervasive busyness are signs that something isn’t quite right.

To put it in contemporary terms, our pervasive business and weariness are signs of the failed illusion that we are in control of our lives, that we are self-made men and women. To put it in theological terms, they are signs of the illusion that we can make ourselves right with God through our actions and beliefs. Since these are illusions, we need to keep propping them up. We keep adding one more thing to our to-do list, rather than take some time and reflect on why we are doing all these things.

And rather than see weariness as a sign that something is out of whack, we take it as a sign that we are making headway. See how busy and weary I am? Doesn’t that mean that I am valuable? Doesn’t that somehow make me worthy of admiration? Doesn’t that merit at least a little divine favor?

When the apostles gathered around Jesus, they told him all that they were doing and all that they were teaching. They were so busy, so many people were coming and going, they didn’t even have time to eat. And Jesus said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

Our Lord knows what we need, even when we do not. When we gather around him, we may want to tell him all the things we have done and all the things we have taught others. We hold up before him our busyness and our weariness as objects worthy of praise and reward. We tell him that we have been so busy that we haven’t even had time to eat. And we say to ourselves, surely all these things will prove how important and valuable we are.

And our gracious Lord looks past all our illusions and he doesn’t even mention them, because if he did, he would have to remind us that all that we are and all that we do are gifts from God in the first place. Rather, he looks into our hearts and sees what we truly desire, what we truly need. He makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside the still waters and restores our souls. And he says to us, “Come away to a place all by yourselves and rest a little while with me.”

 

— The Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano is rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland. He received a Ph.D. in theology from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Let us dance together, Sixth Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 10 (B) – July 12, 2009

(RCL) 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 and Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

What does our culture, our society, tell us about dancing? Does it celebrate it? Does it embrace and expand upon it, helping it to infuse our movements through the world? Does it teach us to inhabit the expressive potential of our bodies, coordinated and rhythmic?

Or does it narrow it, relegate it to the back room, the bar room, the stage, and the empty house, unobserved and detached?

The Killers, a popular contemporary band, pose a question in their song “Human.” They wrote the song after hearing a disparaging comment that America was “raising a generation of dancers.” The chorus of the song goes:

Are we human or are we dancer?
My sign is vital, my hands are cold,
And I’m on my knees looking for the answer.
Are we human or are we dancer?

Is it antithetical to our human nature to dance? Surely not. As with many art forms, we convince ourselves that if our potential is not immediately apparent, we hold no stake. “Oh, I’m not a musician.” “No, I’m not an artist.” “I can’t dance.”

But as children, we all dance, we all embody the sounds of the world in a very physical way. Some of us rock spastically in our high chairs while others sway gracefully. Some of us shake our little fists energetically, or beat the ground like a drum, while others jump on any accessible piece of furniture. We are indeed made dancer.

But our hands go cold. We live in a culture where to be human is not necessarily to be dancer, where we are taught to judge the type of dancer we become. Does that mean the music ceases to pulse around us, within us, and through us? No, but it is no longer released to the world through movement and gesture. The music ends abruptly and alone, inside our ears and our heads.

In today’s readings we hear two stories of dancing. The tales are of two dancers in two very different times, dancing two very different dances.

In our reading from the Second Book of Samuel, David has brought to his city the Ark of the Covenant, the experience of God’s relationship to humanity made manifest in metal, textile, and stone. And as he enters the city, as the party of Israel takes up God and welcomes God into their midst, David and all the house of Israel dance “before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.”

They dance! And not a little side-to-side rock, sway, and clap, but “with all their might” they dance! And David, clad in a linen ephod, a ceremonial garment of prayer and worship, presents the gift of his joy, made manifest in his dancing to the Lord.

In this moment, David’s body, the chosen, imperfect, and fully human body of the King of Israel, becomes a gift to the Lord, an expression of the joyful relationship and covenant between God and God’s people. But it doesn’t stop there.

The incarnate celebration continues through a shared meal, as David blesses the people in the name of the LORD of hosts, and distributes food among all the people. That’s right, he feeds them – “the whole multitude,” both men and women – with bread and meat and a cake of raisins! The dance becomes a banquet, a royal meal, of joy, of life, of abundance and community.

In our gospel reading today there is another dance. This second dance takes on a different character. Salome dances to entertain. It is the ruler’s birthday celebration. And all the leaders of Galilee gather to be amused, while John the Baptist sits locked in a cell because he called Herod to emerge from his sinfulness. Salome is apparently a talented dancer. We can imagine her graceful and perhaps provocative movements enrapturing and exciting a room full of powerful men. Her self-expression drives them to distraction and foolishness – a dance worth half a kingdom. This dance too ends in a banquet of sorts: a head served on a silver platter, a banquet of enslavement to desire, hubris, pride, arrogance, and revenge.

The contrast is striking: David’s dance of life, the banquet of heaven, and Salome’s dance and banquet of death.

We gather today to dance. Foolishly, unapologetically, and beautifully we dance. We dance up the aisle in our flow-y white gowns. We sing to each other ballads of our common history, punctuated by gestures of stillness, of standing, kneeling, and sitting, of clasping the hands of another. Our bodies, our voices, and our movements become vehicles for expressing our relationship with the divine. And coming forward to the table, we present those gifts, gifts of ourselves, to God and to one another – a feast, a banquet set open to all who would come.

Today, in Anaheim, California, a tremendous dance is also taking place, a dance involving thousands of Episcopalians, as leaders of our church converge on Disneyland for the triennial gathering known as General Convention.

The dance they do together is one of the most awe-inspiring things we do as a church. It has the potential to be a moment of incredible beauty and synergy, the dance of many ministries, many ways of living Christ’s calling. It has the potential to be the dance of many varied ways of being human as Jesus taught us, moving to the music of the spirit’s common call, offered on a common table for our mutual edification and sustenance. And from that dance there is the potential for the transformation of the world. Ten thousand Episcopalians, standing together, in community can feed the world with their hope, their courage, and their love for one another. The dance can become a holy banquet.

But the beauty and the challenge of these readings, paired as they are, is that they point to the fact that the dance, and the banquet that flows out of it, can be an instrument both of life and death, with potential both to sanctify and desecrate.

How are we as individuals transformed by our dance, transformed by our liturgy? By our gathering? By our faith? How are we, like David, expressing what we know of God, what we have seen of God, and God’s relationship to us, in this moment of dancing – both here today, and at the convention in Anaheim?

What we do often looks like a ridiculous dance in the eyes of the world, amidst so much modern complexity. And it is. But by the grace of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the ardent pursuit of the example of Jesus Christ, it is a dance that can transform the world.

But it can only feed the world when it is for us truly a dance of life, a dance of offering. Like David, our dance must be done with all our might. It must be a dance that acknowledges the unique, limited, often uncoordinated way in which each of us tries to embody and express anew the music and breath of the spirit moving in us. It must acknowledge that the dance we do is an expression of our humanity, and it must be a dance that “with all its might” seeks to draw together instead of dividing, to empower instead of belittling, to interpret rather than dictate. It must be a dance that is shared by all in the human family.

Jesus calls us together at the table, speaking to us in the ways in which our own bodies are offered up one to another at this table, the ways in which our dances merely point to God, gesture toward God. He speaks to us in this dance of life; not performance, but community; not selfish, but sacrificial; not shortsighted, but eternal. It is this dance we celebrate today, this dance of life.

Let us dance as ourselves, as humans, as dancers, as community. Let us dance together!

Thanks be to God.

 

— Jason Sierra is the Associate for Young Adult and Campus Ministries at the Seattle Regional Office of the Episcopal Church Center. He holds a BA in American Studies from Stanford and is a visual and graphic artist.

When God’s power is allowed to shine through us, Fifth Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 9 (B) – July 5, 2009

(RCL) 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 and Psalm 48; or Ezekiel 2:1-5 and Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

“If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”

Today’s gospel reading describes Jesus going to the temple to pray on the Sabbath. He stands up and begins to read the words of Isaiah, and before you know it, his people are whispering and questioning not only his authority but also his wisdom.

He does not argue with them but instead makes a statement that we can all identify with. Those closest to us are usually the ones who have the most difficulty seeing beyond our person, our relationships, or our status; it is those who barely know us who tend to be struck by what they hear or see in us. Sometimes those closest to us can only see the box they have painted us into, while those who see only what they actually see in that moment see so much more – they are able to see God’s power working in us and through us.

Our lives are filled with people telling us what we should think and who we should listen to. In many cases we are misled by individuals who cannot wait to tell us about their own importance. They would have us believe that humility is a sign of weakness, and weakness is not usually something we strive toward.

Strength, on the other hand, is associated with power, and power is not only desired but sought after in this world of ours. There is power in our ability to pay our mortgage or rent, to pay our utility bills and buy groceries. There is power in the language we speak as we communicate our thoughts and ideas to others.

Power might also be perceived in the boastful claims of those who would say that only they have insight into what God intends in our lives. And sometimes power can distort our vision and convince us that we know best who exercises power most profitably and for the best end.

The gospel subverts power and challenges those perceptions. The power that God gave to Jesus was invisible to his own people. And yet, Jesus did not become boastful and lay out for them all the miracles he had performed. Instead, he shook the dust off of his feet and moved on.

Here are some key characteristics of Jesus’ ministry:
• He kept it simple, being fully dependent on God to provide.
• He survived on goodwill, not expecting to be recognized and not profiting from his efforts.
• He showed humility.
• He disassociated from rejection.

In our gospel reading today, Jesus was not looking for attention. He was simply observing the Sabbath in the tradition of his hometown. He was not healing the great multitudes as he had been; he only laid his hands on a few, curing them. And he was amazed at their lack of belief. He made a very powerful statement, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometowns.”

Paul experienced a similar reaction from the people in Corinth. He became aware that they were not only questioning his leadership but also his motives. Paul does not shy away from their charge, but meets it head on, questioning his own motives and leadership publicly in this very straight-forward and transparent letter. He admits that he has been weak, but he points out that there is power in weakness and improving the work of a disciple of Christ.

In both cases the communities remain unwilling to receive anything Jesus or Paul might offer. The communities are so busy judging the package that they miss the most essential part, that which could bring them closer to God.

Paul tells us that he was given a thorn in his side to keep him from being too elated or too boastful. He explains that this thorn keeps him from claiming the gifts of the Holy Spirit as his own creation or making him seem too important.

Have you ever had a thorn? You can’t ignore it. It is always there until it works itself out or until you take it out. In Paul’s life, a thorn kept him humble. Whatever your thorn is, maybe it is a gift that keeps you humble and opens up a space where God’s power can shine through.

Power, God’s power, is seen through our humility when boastfulness has not filled up the space. When God’s power is allowed to shine through us, all can see and experience it. We know those moments. We have experienced them in our lives. Humility is the secret ingredient in this wonderful recipe of living as our Creator intended. It is that simple.

It is a radical idea to see humility as the source of true strength and power. This kind of strength and power is exemplified in the person and life of Christ, and it gives us a new perspective on how we might envision ourselves and our ministry in the church.

This week the Episcopal Church’s seventy-sixth General Convention begins in Anaheim, California. We will have another opportunity to see God at work in the world. We will have many opportunities to hear about how God has transformed people, communities, and the church through simple acts of humility and compassion. We might even see God in action in our lives as the assembly focuses on the mission of the church.

And there will be equal opportunities for boastfulness and for those with agendas seeking power, not for the good of the whole but for a few.

We will also have opportunities to serve God in and through each other. We will consider our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals with a focus on poverty, and just as importantly, we will consider our commitment to alleviating the poverty right here in our own neighborhoods, our own communities, counties, and states.

For this important work, let us pray that the voices bringing forth the work of God will be heard at General Convention and will be supported so that they will not find themselves dusting the sand off their feet as a testimony to our lack of belief or our fear of the power that comes from God.

Here is a Franciscan Benediction to keep in mind as we strive to end domestic poverty.

May God bless us with discomfort
at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships,
so that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that we may work for economic justice for all people.

May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer
from pain, hunger, homelessness and rejection,
so that we may reach out our hand to comfort them
and to turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness
to believe that we can make a difference in the world
so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.

 

— The Rev. Debbie Royals is a regional missioner for Native Ministry Development, based in the Diocese of Los Angeles. She is the Province VIII Indigenous People’s Network chair and a CREDO health faculty member.

 

Independence Day – July 4, 2009

(RCL) Deuteronomy 10:17-21; Psalm 145 or 145:1-9; Hebrews 11:8-16; Matthew 5:43-48

The fact that we have the option of two Collects for Independence Day hints at the possible ambiguities associated with this national holiday. Ambiguities that attempt to hold us somewhere between declaring our independence on one hand, and on the other, thanking God, as the Prayer Book says, “for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.”

Such ambiguities also reside within our gospel reading. This section of the Sermon on the Mount seems to suggest that Jewish tradition directs love of neighbor and hatred of enemies. While the former is well attested to throughout the Old Testament, Judaism nowhere prescribes hating one’s enemies.

And although just who constitutes a neighbor has been subject to much debate, Jesus throughout the gospels, and New Testament writers like the one in Hebrews, and Paul’s mission to the gentiles, appears to extend the boundaries of the neighborhood to all those who have been created in God’s image. Indeed, as early as the Noah narrative deep in the origins of Genesis, our God is portrayed as the One God who provides for the entire human family, letting the sun shine and the rain fall for both evil people and good.

As surely as virtual distances between countries in the global village continue to shrink, forces like globalization extend the neighborhood to even the furthest and most remote corners of this fragile earth, our island home. Images are streamed to us via satellite and the Internet of catastrophes, triumphs, and discoveries wherever they are to be seen.

This day’s scriptural theme reminds us that we are all of us sojourners on God’s earth, and this is ever more important as we pause to reflect on our nation’s origins, history, and contributions to God’s ever-growing neighborhood.

The book of Exodus tells us to “love the sojourner, therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”

A sojourner is one who lives or stays in a place for a time. The Bible understands this to be the most fundamental characteristic of what it means to be human: we are all here just for a time. We are all of us on our way to yet somewhere else. We are all sojourners.

For people of Biblical faith, Abraham and Sarah are the perfect prototype couple signifying a life of sojourn, a journey from home to a homeland, which is ultimately the common denominator of who we are: people on our way. They stepped away from the friendly confines of the familiar and into the new world of God’s dream for them. In the cosmic sense, we come from God and return to God, with this brief sojourn on earth as a kind of midpoint in what we often refer to as eternal life.

Jesus calls us to be perfect, which in Greek means something like “whole,” “undivided,” or “complete.” In one sense, the perfection Jesus calls for is a call to treat other people in the same way God treats people – all people – in the divine realm. Jesus calls us to live in a new world of God’s eternal reign, and Jesus in all that he says and does proclaims this new world to be already operative.

Again, as Hebrews lays it out, persons and communities of persons achieve identity, in part, by imitating exemplars. Abraham and Sarah are such exemplars, setting out from home to they know not where, allowing God to lead and direct them to a new world, a new home, a new life where even a craggy old man, “and him as good as dead,” and a woman, “even when she was past the age,” could become the parents of a nation of God’s people more numerous than the stars of the heavens and grains of sand on the seashore.

As history would have it, this nation of Abraham and Sarah became the quintessential sojourning community, now distributed throughout all the earth. And by adoption, we gentiles were added to that nation through the mystery of the cross and resurrection, a mystery that means to remind us that we too are sojourners called to care for others as God so graciously and generously cares for us.

It takes little reflection on these core stories of our faith to find the stirrings that brought and continues to bring sojourners to this land we call America. A land founded, in part, by religious and entrepreneurial refugees from an old world seeking a new world. A land that, as it found its identity, became a beacon of freedom and liberty for people the world over.

But the liberation of our forefathers came at a price for those already living in the neighborhood, and for those we brought by brute force to work the land that gleams from sea to shining sea. The land has itself been brutalized and gleams a little less each year we are here. It does not appear that we have been completely faithful to live out of whatever it might mean to become perfect as God is perfect.

So it is we gather to reflect and pray on this, our Independence Day. We pray either to “have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace,” as it says in one of the Collects for today, or to have “a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with God’s gracious will,” as it says in the alternate Collect.

That is, we gather to renew our commitment to become a people like Abraham and Sarah, a people like Israel, a people like Jesus, who remember who we are and whose we are: we are God’s sojourner people. And like our lifetime here, we have now only a brief time for this sojourn and this reflection. We have only a brief time to become perfect as God is perfect in caring for others – all others who sojourn with us – and for the earth as God’s creation.

If we take this time to reflect on how we as a nation might use our liberty in accordance with God’s gracious will, we will come to know the kind of faithfulness and hope that gave Abraham and Sarah – and all those who came and still come to the shores of North America seeking a more true vision of God’s purpose – the courage to leave the realm of the familiar as we continue to step out and into the New World God has already begun in Christ. With Christ, in Christ, and to Christ be all honor and glory, now and forever.

 

— The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek is rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, Maryland, a parish in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. He also travels throughout the church leading stewardship events for parishes, dioceses, clergy conferences, and diocesan conventions. He has long been involved in the work of The Episcopal Network for Stewardship (TENS), and the Ministry of Money. He frequently uses music and storytelling in his proclamation of the Word.