Sermon, 7/4/21: The Ultimate Ambassadorship

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6 Pentecost

Psalm 48; II Samuel 5:1–5, 9–10; II Corinthian 12:2–10; Mark 6:1–13

“And he called to him the twelve and began to send them out two by two.”  Mark 6:7

For those who keep score, it is appropriate to remember that, according to the canons of the Church and the Book of Common Prayer, clergy have the authority to replace the lectionary of the day with other readings.  This is to allow clergy to address and to give scriptural background for reflections on urgent matters of the day.  Although in my own mind, there are urgent matters of the day that I believe need addressing, I see no reason to supplant the lectionary appointed for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost with another.  In fact, I can think of no better scriptural background for my meditation today than that which has been appointed.

I state the obvious.  Today is Sunday, 4 July 2021, the sixth Sunday after Pentecost.  Two important concepts meet.  On this date, 245 years ago, a group of men proclaimed that all men are created equal—which would appear to state what the God of Creation declared at the time of creation—and that it was inappropriate and unacceptable for another group of men to impose upon them dues, taxes, and royalties, and to demand their fealty, their loyalty, without first engaging in dialogue with them.  They proclaimed that they had every right to determine who should lead them.  Their document was given the title “Declaration of independence.”

Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, ‘Behold, we are your bone and flesh…’ And the Lord said to you, ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel…’ So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.  II Samuel 5:1ff.

Countries vary in the method by which they select a leader.  In the instance of biblical Israel, theirs was not an hereditary monarchy, nor were there voting machines, poll watchers, nor an electoral college to ensure the selection of the appropriate leader.  Nor is there recorded an insurrection against their choice.  In fact, there is no mention whatsoever regarding how the elders chose David, other than their belief that their God had chosen David, as evidenced by his prowess at beating back Israel’s enemies and securing Israel’s borders.  No lots were cast or straws drawn, as was the case with Matthias following Judas Iscariot’s betrayal and his subsequent death.  David, according to biblical sources, was a mere 30 years old—perhaps old by biblical standards, when he was chosen to be king.  He ruled thereafter 40 years.  We know that his reign was fraught with mistakes, huge mistakes; but with appropriated repentance, he remained on the throne.  No mention was made of fluctuating poll numbers.  What was mentioned, however, is that David kept his focus on what was ultimately best for the people of biblical Israel, and that the prophets of God held him accountable. 

As we listen, now in the year 2021, to utterances of our current political leaders and to the interpretations of their words and actions by the media, we become anxious for ourselves and our offspring.  For we know that words and actions have consequences, thus making us aware of the difficulty in choosing the leaders for our country.  I fear that too often people of faith overlook what is in plain sight if we would but recall history and remind ourselves whose we are. 

Since the beginning of the human era, tension between opposing aims and ambitions has been present.  I give you only several names and let you reflect on them: Cain and Abel; Jacob and Esau; Joseph and his brothers.  Even among the disciples of Jesus, we observe individuals jockeying for positions of power and influence, enlisting their mother, in one instance.  And the question most often forgotten (indeed, too often forgotten by our leaders) is “Whose are we and why should I be the one to lead?’  Or, in other words, ‘whom am I to serve?’  And I dare think, even dare voice my observation, that we in these United States of America are not diligent enough in searching out—I believe the current word is “vetting”—those whom we would choose to lead us.  Good looks and popularity should not be our criteria.  Rather, a truthful and serious response to the question “Whose are we?’ should be the deciding answer.  The Elders of Israel did their due diligence and thereby set examples for us.

The importance in selecting, electing, choosing, hiring the correct leader was important to the biblical Hebrews, because the elders were concerned not only for their immediate needs, but for the future of their nation, beyond their own time on this orb.  However, an equally important reason for appointing or choosing the right leader gets all too easily overlooked; it depends not only on whom he or she might choose for the immediate cabinet posts, i.e. for his or her lieutenants.  Rather, I am bold: We need to do due diligence because a leader chooses AMBASSADORS.  The ambassador, often given faint significance by many of our contemporaries, is in fact of the highest importance.  The ambassador has power to affect life-changing circumstances.

And [Jesus] called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits…. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.  Mark 6:7ff.

Many things interested me when I was still a young boy, then a teenager, and then a graduate student.  How nations communicated in eras long before the advent of electronic technology stood high on my list.  The Middle Ages, especially, held my fancy.  Kings would send ambassadors to other kings.  Safe transit was guaranteed.  The knight-ambassador represented the king.  That is to say, when a knight-ambassador traversed foreign soil and arrived at court, he was afforded almost the same dignity that the sending king himself would have and should have received, had the kings himself come to the foreign court.  And this tradition in our modern world has not changed.  Ambassadors are guaranteed free and safe passage, even under the most difficult and hostile circumstance.

The ambassador is chosen, or should be chosen, with the utmost care; for when she or he speaks or engages in any action, official or unofficial, that action carries significance, as if the king or president or chancellor or prime minister had engaged in that activity.  That official or unofficial action reflects the philosophy or policy of the one who sent him or her.  They are empowered to act on behalf of and with the power of the one who sent him or her.  “And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.” 

As we people of faith struggle to understand our own place in living out our faith, we do well to recall the following: Those whom Jesus sent out, as our Book of Records has recorded, were not flawless, were not perfect.  Indeed, another gospel records that they were jealous of their powers and reported back to Jesus upon their return, that they had encountered another group of ambassadors who were casting out demons in Jesus’ name and that they insisted that the upstarts cease and desist, as they were not members of the inner circle. 

Likewise, in his second letter to the Church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul clearly acknowledges his imperfection, his humanness.  “… a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated…” (II Cor. 12:7)

You may well ask why I bring this to our attention, an observation that might be construed as negative.  I rush to assure you that for me, this is anything but negative.  Rather, I discern in David’s selection, Paul’s confession that he has a socially unacceptable imperfection, the narrowness of thoughts by the disciple –I discern something great, something good.  I am persuaded that throughout history our Creator God has done and can in you and me do great things if we but ask the question “and whose am I?” and its corollary “whom am I to serve?”  How do I participate in the creative intentions of God?”

On this day of national celebration, we do well to give thanks for those men, aided most assuredly behind the scenes by their wives, and who, as history has shown, were themselves as flawed as are we, but who yet dared look into the future.  In an almost un-Episcopal manner, I confess that I smile and imagine good things, possibilities beyond my individual self, almost each time I enter our campus, even when you are not present.  You see, I image each of you, people whose names I know, as people of faith, as ambassadors. 

And as ambassadors, we have been afforded the privilege of speaking on behalf of Jesus of Nazareth, whose actions were grounded solidly in this world, but who refused to allow his environment to be circumscribed, who refused to be limited by human flaws, frailties, anxieties, and enmities, induced by self-centeredness.  Hence, he declared his beliefs not of this world.  I see, I imagine, a world in which all men and women, girls and boys are created equal, for that is, so I believe, what our Creator God intended with the creation.  How that is to be interpreted and actualized relies on our individual talents and abilities, but primarily, as St. Paul has written, on our willingness to accept and rely ‘on the power of Christ…that dwells in us.’  And for that grace, we cease not to pray.   Amen