Sermon: Proper 9
4 July, 2010
North Shore Baptist Church
Luke 10: 1-20
A More Perfect Union
Eleven score and 14 years ago, our forefathers brought forth upon this continent an imperfect union: conceived with the belief that only Free Men are worth counting. Later compromised that 3/5 of enslaved men count count. A union conceived in the belief that only Men could decide who and how the republic was led. A union conceived with the idea that Manifest Destiny permitted for the genocide of indigenous inhabitants of this land. A union in which Master Jim Crow denied voting rights to the men who for the first time were being counted as fully human; a union in which children were used as cheap labor. A union that allowed for the companies rights to trump the rights of the worker. A union in which a jobs bill and unemployment benefits extensions do not get passed, but unfettered war spending does. A union in which a child can be sentenced to prison for life, and in which state sanctioned execution continues unchallenged by those in power. A union in which the ability to own a handgun is more important than working to assure that gun is not used to kill a poor black kid on the South Side of Chicago. A union conceived in the name of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Sisters and brothers, I love this country. I am sure of you do, too. That does not mean we should be blind to her imperfections. It means we should openly talk about her dark moments. We should name her sins. We should work – together – to make her a more perfect union.
Let us pray: Holy Sprit, God. Fill this place with your renewing and revitalizing presence. Descend upon each and every one in this place today. Anoint us. Mold us. Make us. And gracious LORD, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to your purposes of grace. All the children of God who love God say Amen.
The text for today is unique in the Gospels. It is only in Luke that we see Jesus sending out more than just the twelve. Jesus notes that the harvest is plentiful and the time has come for the laborers to harvest it. In Matthew, Jesus uses this metaphor when commissioning the twelve to go out and preach and do healings, but here – in the Lukan account – Jesus commissions seventy (or seventy-two depending on the translation). The number 70 or 72 is important because it symbolized Jesus sending his followers into all nations. In Genesis 10 we are given the list of nations coming from the descendants of Noah. This number of nations is seventy in the Hebrew and seventy-two in the Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures that would have been in use at the time of the writing of Luke and by many Jews in the time of Jesus. Luke chose the number 70 for a reason, and that was he knew the readers/hearers of his Gospel would understand the symbolism. Coming and going into all the world – foreshadowing the expansion of the church in the sequel to Luke – Acts.
These disciples were appointed by Jesus. Called out. Told to go into the world and proclaim God’s Peace – God’s Shalom. They were sent out with nothing. If the recipient of the Shalom accepted the blessing then they were told to remain and eat what was in front of them. In some ways this, also, foreshadows some of the early church’s issues with eating what is clean or unclean…Jesus says eat what is in front of you. Let the host set the rules. You are a guest. As a guest, then you may begin to preach the Gospel, heal the sick, and proclaim the Rule of God is near.
Jesus, though, also foresaw there would be those who reject the message of Shalom. He did not say to judge them that is in God’s hands. Just knock the dust off your feet and keep moving. The cities of rejection have made their own beds and must lay in them. For those who listen to the ones bringing the message listen to the LORD, and those who reject the messengers reject the LORD. Part of the proclamation of the Rule of God is that of repentance.
Another uniqueness of Luke happens next with the return of the seventy to Jesus’ side. The return joyous for they were able to preform the mighty works of God. They were able to exorcise the all demons….if you remember earlier in Luke they were not able to exorcise the demon from the boy and they had tattled on another who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. The were joyous the the great work they were doing. But Jesus reminds them their authority comes from Him…for he was there at the exorcising of the first demon, the king of the demons. He tells them they are to use the authority given to them to do these mighty works and to crush the snakes and scorpions, but not to rejoice in their own successes – there is nothing wrong with being joyous at the results of work – the problem comes when one does not recognize by whose authority those works are done. Jesus reminds them to remain humble, but also joyous. Joyous that their name is written in heaven.
Today’s passage gives us great insight into how we called are into action. First of all, Jesus appoints the 70 from among his followers. Though I get carried away sometimes thinking everyone in the church must go out and speak the prophetic word, that is not what happens here. Those with the gifts for that work are called. Those who did not go out, though, were the support system for the ones out in the world.
Though not everyone is called to go into the world to heal and to proclaim, the church is to be out in the world. Making her voice heard – through those called to such a witness. I opened today with a litany of items which make our country an imperfect union. Items from our past and continuing through the present. Things which do not stand up to the Gospel witness of justice, equality, mercy and the greatest of these…love. Some of these grievances have been repaired through the voices of those who answered the call to speak out. Who were supported by networks of faithful praying and acting as witnesses in their own way to the Rule of God -helping to make this a more perfect union.
William Lloyd Garrison, exactly 180 years ago today, burned a copy of the constitution – in a church – because it states in Article 1 Section 2 that “respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons,” and thus was pro-slavery. He, who said, in 1831 about the urgency for abolition:
I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; – but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.
Garrison was moved by his faith to proclaim his witness to the sin of human slavery. He was supported by his faith community found in anti-slavery societies to have courage and to be not afraid to make this a more perfect union.
Moved by the witness of Garrison, a run away slave rose to be one of the leading voices of abolition. Fredrick Douglass buoyed by his faith helped to lead the way to liberation. “One and God make a majority,” he said undeterred by those who hated him. Through his faith he encouraged, “Be not discouraged. There is a future for you. . . . The resistance encountered now predicates hope. . . . Only as we rise . . . do we encounter opposition.” He proclaimed a message that would help lead to a more perfect union.
His friend, initially fearful of speaking in public, but strengthened by her faith and a community of support, Susan B. Anthony became a dominant voice speaking out about the repression of the rights of women. For, not only were men, created in God’s image, but so were women – saying:
[The] aristocracy of sex, imposes upon the women of this nation a more absolute and cruel despotism than monarchy; in that, woman finds a political master in her father, husband, brother, son. The aristocracies of the old world are based upon birth, wealth, refinement, education, nobility, brave deeds of chivalry; in this nation, on sex alone; exalting brute force above moral power, vice above virtue, ignorance above education, and the son above the mother who bore him.
Susan B. Anthony’s faith moved her actions…called forth to proclaim freedom for those oppressed she preached, “I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old Revolutionary maxim. Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.” She sought a more perfect union.
Dorothy Day founded the Catholic worker to serve as a voice for “those who worked with hand or brain, those who did physical, mental, or spiritual work. But we thought primarily of the poor, the dispossessed, the exploited.” She worked for a more perfect union.
The most famous voice is that of Dr. King. A man who heard the call of the LORD and responded even unto death. A man supported by many faith communities. A man who fought and died to proclaim God’s Rule and help to form a more perfect union.
We are far from that ideal perfect union, though. I am working in Bronzeville this summer. A large part of my job is to work with kids 2nd-8th grades who live in low-income housing. The program I am working for is a literacy program and summer day camp. One of the exercises I did with the kids was to have them write poetry. More than one of their poems broke my heart. Here are kids, 7-13 years old, and almost all of them have been touched by gun violence in one way or another. One of my kids, has an uncle who is confined to a wheel chair because a bullet grazed his spinal cord. Others witness fights, daily, in their back yard. We can not go to one park because it is on different turf. Since 2008 over 90 school aged children have been killed because of gun violence.
We are far from a more perfect union.
The text for today encourages us in the knowledge that those sent out were received, but Jesus has warnings for those who do not hear the message. For in their rejection of the messengers they are rejecting the very LORD.
Friends, there are those called to be the messengers and there are those called to be supporters there are those called to other forms of witness. But the church, as a whole, is called to be a voice calling for a more perfect union. This is a tricky wicket for those of us who take seriously the Baptists tradition of the separation of church and state. But we must remember where our ultimate concern lies.
Theologian Paul Tillich defines faith as the state of being ultimately concerned. Where the ultimate concern lies, there the faith is. Throughout the history of the church and within the political debate in my lifetime there have been conflations of where the ultimate concern is to lie. Does it lie with my country or with my church? Can it lie with both? I am saying here, today, that as Christians our ultimate concern is to be with the Rule of God. That does not mean we can not be faithful citizens of our country, but we must not be afraid to be witness to the greater reality when our country is not being faithful to the God’s Rule. Our ultimate concern must lie with the Triune God, and witness of the Gospel message of healing, reconciliation, justice and love. If our country is not living up to this bar it is the church’s role to call leaders to proclaim the good news. It is the church’s role to support those leaders and organizations that put first the Rule of God.
When we see injustice, we are to do as Sojouner Truth did and work for a more perfect union.
When we see the need for mercy, we should support the work of people like Sister Helen Prejean and work for a more perfect union.
When we notice the need for healing of our communities, we should join Father Michael Pfleger and work for a more perfect union.
When we hear the cries for reconciliation, we should march in the sprit of Brother Bill Tomes and work for a more perfect union.
When we see there is no love in our city, we should be the body of Christ and open ourselves to the possibility of being labeled as unpatriotic, but work in the knowledge and truth that we are first and foremost citizens of God’s Rule and with that as our core we can then work to make this a more perfect union.
This republic is an amazing land. The way she welcomes refugees. Her strength in the way she recovers after tragedy. They way she can pull herself up after events like the great depression, 9/11, and even our present economic recession. It provides so much for so many. That is why we must be the voice of God’s Rule. Though there is much, there are too many who fall through the cracks. As I said earlier, I love this country, and that is why I believe – so deeply – we, the church, should not be afraid to example and even better reality.
Sisters and Brothers, Christ gives the messengers authority to crush snakes and scorpions and the promise that nothing will hurt them. In our work to make this a more perfect union we, too, have been given that authority and that promise. We pray God lead us and Guide us as we go forth into the world. This is an imperfect union, but in community and with sisters and brothers of faith we can make it a more perfect one.