Monday, August 22, 2016

Sermon: August 21

Help us Lord:
to live in your light, to act in your might, to think in your wisdom, to walk in your kingdom, to abide in your love. Amen. (David Adam)
Last Sunday I was reading the NY Times, and found this paragraph perfect for this morning:

“It’s worth remembering that colonial Rhode Island had attracted so many Jews, Quakers, Baptists and other denominations because non-Puritans were persecuted in neighboring Massachusetts. And that in 1774, the First Continental Congress almost fell apart in its first five minutes because a couple of Episcopalians refused to pray with a bunch of shifty Quakers and Congregationalists.”

Ah yes, shifty Quakers and Congregationalists.

Thanks be to God that times change and such opinions blow away like dust in the wind. I am very happy that Episcopalians and Congregationalists (and any shifty Quakers among us!) can gather in prayer and fellowship without such acrimony anymore.

The days of such hatred among us is well behind us now for Christians, mostly, but today we have a new enemy, one that needs to be controlled, watched, examined, even removed from our shores and blocked from entering. They are those who come from another side of our family tree with Abraham, those who are Muslim.

Sadly, we have allowed terrorists and criminals dictate to us how we need to feel about Muslims, many of whom have been here for a long time. Which has me thinking about that article I mentioned to you, called, “Join the Army and Choose Whichever God You Like” by Sarah Vowell – she looks back to our founding as a nation and what it may say to us today.

She remind us that the oldest synagogue in the USA, Truro, RI reads a letter every year at this time that President George Washington sent to them on August 18, 1790. It is a remarkable letter that everyone needs to hear again in these disquieting days. It reads in part:

“The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support…

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.” (George Washington, “Letter to the Jews of Newport”, 18 August 1790)

Oh I wish some politicians would read it! I love that President Washington brings them greetings and helps the Jewish congregation see that they are indeed part of this beautiful country. Not on the margins, mind you. But full citizens, like everyone else. Worshipping the God in their own ways under their own vine and fig tree where no one should be fearful because of their religion (or today we might add no religion).

When I think of fear and control, instead of freedom and life, I think of the story this morning in the Gospel of Luke, of Jesus healing on the Sabbath. Notice that in the story Jesus as he is teaching, sees her in the synagogue. Has compassion for her. Bent over. He brings her over into the midst of the congregation and declares she has been set free.

Challenged for healing on the Holy Sabbath, Jesus refuses to ignore the hypocrisy of those who use the Sabbath for their own will and have not set others free from their burdens. As the author & theologian Walter Wink writes, “By healing her on the Sabbath, Jesus restored the Sabbath to its original meaning of healing from bondage.”

It is a story of healing, a story of being set free, but there is more.

Wink points out that in this story: “Jesus calls the woman a "daughter of Abraham," giving her full standing on her own as a woman in the synagogue; he places her in the center of the synagogue, a place of male prerogative; and he claims that her illness was not divine punishment for sin but was satanic oppression.”

Jesus is taking on the culture & the religious restrictions of his day.

Wink then concludes: “This tiny drama thus takes on world-historic proportions. In freeing this woman from Satan's power, Jesus simultaneously releases her from the encompassing network of patriarchy, male religious elitism, and the taboos fashioned to disadvantage some in order to preserve the advantage of others. Her physical ailment was symbolic of a system that literally bent women over. For her to stand erect in male religious space represents far more than a healing. It reveals the dawn of a whole new world order.”

That is what Jesus invites us into, a new world order, that puts love & compassion first & foremost in the center of our life. Jesus heals a woman bent over for some 18 years by Satan, and frees her so she can stand in the midst of the congregation and be free. George Washington in his own way, brings the Truro Synagogue and all the people into this new nation, into an understating that we all stand as equal citizens, that no one should feel on the margins because of their religion. It’s not tolerance, its equality & justice.

And our work is not done. Who is bent over in our country today? Who needs to be set free from the ailments and bondage that Satan has wrought through us today? Who are at the margins longing for more than a piece of the great freedom and community of this country?

It is up to us. Episcopalians and shifty Congregationalists together for the works of Satan are alive and well today. Seeking division and hate over love and community.

I think of the words of the slain Archbishop Oscar Romero, ““You cannot reap what you have not sown. How are we going to reap love in our community if we only sow hate?”

We need to sow love and community in a country that is diverse and cries out for harmony. To help everyone, those on the margins, those bent over, those new to our shores and those who have been here a long time, enjoy the freedoms we have and to know they will not be harmed for their faith or any reason.

But this will only happen if we want it to be or we can lock ourselves away into our homes, offering words of hate and suspicion and fear, fretting about what was, when God is already working on what will be.

May our merciful God scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations sufficient for the here and now. Amen.

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