Sermon, 7/3/22. Independence Day 2022: An Antidote to Pride

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4 Pentecost

Psalm 30:1 – 13; 2 Kings 5:1 – 14; Galatians 6:1 – 16; Luke 10:1 – 11, 16 – 20

But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me [Elisha] would surely come out and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! 2 Kings 5:11

[My friends], bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. Luke 10:20


246 years ago, our nation ratified a decision to declare itself an independent nation, no longer under the jurisdiction of the king of England. This act gives cause to reflect on our history, our present, and to imagine our future. I begin my reflections with a prayer set in poetic form:
O God of earth and altar, bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us, the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.

If we were to hear the melody to which this prayer is sung, the words would become immediately familiar to you. These are the opening lines to Hymn 591, written by Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936), a man who had lived through The Great War (World War I) and who had experienced The Great Depression, all firsthand. To be sure, these appear at first reading to be words of lamentation. But they are, in fact, words that emerge out of and express a deep, deep faith.

I am moved this morning to begin my reflections on where we stand, not only as an independent nation, but what we, as an independent nation among nations. may contribute positively to the human endeavor. We are, you and I, embraced and comforted by the beauty and quiet of this sanctuary, a rest stop during our weekly journal. We require this pause because, as we make our way during a typical week, we encounter, both physically and metaphorically, major and minor disturbances of construction site and unexpected collapses in infrastructure that impede our way, and that cause us, to recalibrate our planned route and the time allotted to achieve our destination. Wars and the rumors of wars in myriad places on our globe, the seemingly unabating presence of Coronavirus, the challenges within our own nation against our system of government—all cause us to pause in this rest stop, in this place of hope. Yet that said, our faith does not allow us to linger long term here. Like the disciples in today’s gospel, we have a task to undertake.

It may not be immediately obvious that our Independence Day harbors both a religious and a secular quality. The secular is easiest to understand and to describe. After all, who does not like a party? In previous years, the day offered an occasion to get together with family and friends to celebrate what was for our forebears, with all their flaws of owning slaves and economic self-interest, an act most solemn. This year will be different from secular observances of prior years, as we temper our celebrations because of Covid-19. Still, 4 July, so I believe, is a day worthy of a celebration.

However, 4 July is not a holy day, at least not as those of us within the church define “holy.” I declare boldly that 4 July is a sacred day, and that is because it is a tenet of our faith that every day is sacred unto God. What those men, shaped by their all too human shortcomings, did on 4 July 1776, was to reconnect the secular with the sacred. They placed their very lives at risk, in order to establish for themselves, and for those of us who were to follow, what the God of creation had intended at humankind’s beginning, namely the freedom and right to explore and create further. And, although those signers of the Declaration of Independence eschewed/rejected organized, institutional religion, they were driven by faith, by hope of a better day.

What those men did, was to engage in a ritual which has gone by the way in our modern world. They concluded a deal, a business deal if you will, with a handshake, a handshake no less with an unseen partner. They shook hands with a Silent Partner who throughout the history of humankind has said, ‘if you would be my people, if you accept my covenant which I handed down at Creation, namely that all people are created equal with inalienable rights, I will guide you into all truths. I, the God of Creation, shook hand with the Hebrews. I sent prophet to remind them of our agreement: Moses, Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos. I shook hand with them and the other peoples of the world whom I fashioned after my image, but all of whom cast aside our contract. And now lastly, through my Messiah, my hand is extended again to all people on the face of the earth.’

What made then, and makes now, the act of the signers of The Declaration of Independence, solemn and sacred was their willingness and readiness to die for their conviction, all of which recalls the saying of Christ, that no greater love has a man (person, if you will), than that he should lay down his life for his brother. And it was for the welfare of the community that the founding fathers shook hands with the Divine, and in so doing, lay aside self.

This brings me directly to the lectionary of the day. When I think about what the signers of our Declaration of Independence had to overcome, in order to reach a common goal, “Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, …a great man and in high favor with his master” provided me with the personification of the barrier that threatens every human endeavor. Those men had to overcome a strong barrier made all the stronger because it is invisible. Whereas verbally Naaman places faith in God—and Naaman, suffering from leprosy (today: Hansen Disease) is in need of the healing power of God which is offered him via Elisha, a servant of God—Naaman wanted the healing on his own terms. As a man of high position, it was beneath his dignity to subject himself to something as simple as bathing in a river. And he had already been offended that Elisha had not himself come out to greet him, but had sent a messenger, an underling, instead.

Naaman is portrayed in our lectionary as a solitary individual, but he is emblematic for individual pride, for family pride, for tribal pride and national pride. And in a mercantile driven environment, lurking in the background is the question: “how much does it cost?” That question cloaks really the assumption, that whatever the cure, should it not cost much, it must not be of value. Thus, Naaman is, essentially, “every man,” that attitude which diverts the work of God. You will surely recall the question which Nathaniel, who in a generation many centuries later becomes a disciple of Jesus, raises in the question: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) This was a Naaman-esque question that challenged the credentials of Jesus as God’s Messiah, just as Jesus was in the process of assembly his team. The pride of place and tribe prompted the Jerusalem crowd to debase Nazareth which lay to its south.

Yet, it is this very Jesus who offered then, and offers now, the antidote to the invisible wall of pride of person, of tribe, and of nation. When Jesus of Nazareth sent his disciples out in pairs, he told them in advance, that they might meet a similar opposition. “If that be the case,” said he, “just leave, but not before you let them know that they had forfeited a chance to hear what God wanted to say to them.” And the disciples/apostles experienced God who, once again, gave them the power to preach, teach, and heal. They experienced the potentials of belief that allowed the people to dream dreams, to stand in awe of a God, who had contracted with a people to show to the other nations what good could come to all, if they would bu aside their pride, their gods of lower case, their gods that they had fashioned after their own desires and needs.

Several years ago, pre-Covid, I attended a magnificent 2-person Black-Box Theatre performance of the contemporary play “Gutenberg – the Musical” which called immediately to mind the comparison of the gods of lower case and the God of Creation. Gutenberg, as you recall, invented the printing press. In interaction with the audience, the two co-stars, assuming various roles as dictated by the script, informed us that their story was fiction, but a true fiction, which, of course, evoked laughter among us. Yet behind the humor stood much truth. The child-character died because of the pride of the father-character. The father fed the child jellybeans, instead of life-saving medicine. The father could not read what was printed on the jar. The father saw no need to waste his time in learning to read, in educating himself with new-fangled ideas; rather he knew just by looking at the content of the jar which was the much-needed medicine. Pride removed the physical pride of the father’s life, that which he would protect with his own life.

In today’s world, we, too, run into similar walls of resistance, unbelief, and overt opposition, where even in this great nation of ours, we have individuals who would require a litmus test of our faith in God, in their god, and who declare as infidels, to use a term of a bygone era, those who do not believe as they believe. However, on this 4 July 2022, I can imagine a different scenario. That is precisely what our founding fathers railed against and wished to eliminate. You and I have the responsibility never to forget this simple expansive act, a belief in a being whose grace passes all understanding. The God of our handshake tells us not to be discouraged, for as the gospel of Luke assures us, we shall be amply compensated.

In a short time, we shall leave the embracing quiet and calm of this sacred space. And we go out to proclaim with conviction that Jesus is Lord, not so much in our words, but in our deeds. From the time of Elisha, ages prior to the incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth, to the present day, we have benefited from “God’s handshake.” Our proclamation should be: God is with us, not with singular nation-states, but with those in every single nation whom God has created, hoping that we shall reach out and grasp with one hand that Divine Hand, already and always extended to us, and then extend our other hand the Other.

As I began these reflections with a prayer in the form of a hymn, so do I close: Teach me, my God and King, in all things thee to see, and what I do in anything, to do it as for thee. (Hymn 592)