Radical Equality in The Pursuit of Life, Liberty, and Happiness

A sermon for Proper 9: 2 Kings 5:1-14, Psalm 30, Galatians 6:(1-6) 7-16, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Independence Day: Deuteronomy 10:17-21

40 years ago I was at Ft. Gillam near Atlanta with 10 thousand Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and leaders, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence. It was not a surprise that we spent almost entire entertain budget on fireworks; it was quite a show. What was a surprise was that it took every port-a-potty in Atlanta. Late Friday afternoon they were picked up, cleaned, and deliver before 7 pm. On Sunday the reverse happened. In spite of un-forecast thunderstorms, complete with a tornado warning, and an escaped prisoner from the adjoining town it was a great event. Though, I am pretty sure no one was thinking about

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

I’m under no illusion that anyone was thinking about Naaman or Jesus sending 70 disciples ahead to proclaim peace, heal the sick, and reveal the presence of the kingdom, or Moses telling the Hebrews after the debacle with the golden café, what God requires of them, because

The LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deut 10:17)

 which is from the appointed readings for Independence Day. Today we will explore all of them.

Naaman’s story reveals the truest nature of equality. He is the King’s mightiest warrior and is immensely wealthy. He is ill, and he can afford the most talented physicians. He learns that when the mighty and wealthy are diagnosed with incurable “terminal” or chronic illnesses they and lowest of slaves are on equal footing (Epperly). His venture to Israel is similar to the overseas, black market cures jaunts desperate people seek today (Bratt). Yes, he wants to be cured, but I suspect more than anything, he wants to be clean, because he wants to know the gentle caress of human touch. Ever since his diagnosis of leprosy he has been considered unclean and no one will touch him. Naaman’s story also reveals a curious inequality of the powerful. Thanks to the sympathy of a Jewish slave Naaman knows of a prophet who will cure him. But, he rejects it because Elisha sent a messenger with instructions to go wash in the Jordan. Naaman’s see himself as above others; listen to what he says

I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot.

Part of Naaman being cured is to see himself equal to the slave who told him of Elisha and the slaves who convince him to listen to Elisha. And he does. We did not hear it this morning, but one clue to Naaman humbling himself is that he changes gods. Naaman becomes a follower of the God of Israel, the very lowly people Naaman and the Arameans, forbears of the Assyrians, detest (Sakenfeld). Through his experience, Naaman learns something about God’s equality.

Luke tells us that, Jesus, sends messengers to the villages, he is headed to. There are 70 messengers, which is significant because 70 is the number of nations in the world descended from Noah listed in Genesis 10. Since they number all nations, there is the implication their mission includes gentiles, which reveals that Jesus’ ministry is for everyone. This is Luke’s way of sharing Jesus’ teaching that all people are created equal (Hoezee, Luke). Jesus tells them to eat what is set in front of them. They are to accept hospitality, even if it means ignoring the Law, with respect to food, for the sake of sharing the news that the Kingdom of God is here (Hoezee, Luke). Another indicator of the radical equality Jesus tells his messenger to show is that no matter how they are received or treated they are to tell the house / village that the Kingdom of God has come near (Luke 10:11). Perhaps the most difficult bit of what the messengers are to convey; even learn, is that you don’t get to choose. Following God in Jesus is not some sort of divine salad bar, where you choose this and leave that aside (Hoezee, Galatians). You don’t get to choose who to love; everyone is your neighbor; everyone deserves to hear the good news that the Kingdom of God is near; everyone is equal.

Paul puts a very large dot on the dominant “I” of equality today’s lessons reveal. He tells the Galatians; you reap what you so; God will not be mocked. You cannot proclaim this, and behave that-a-way. There is an equality of all to the universe, and it does not bend to our convenience. (Hoezee, Galatians) Paul continues, we are to bear each other burdens, trusting that as we come to aid of the other, yet others will come to our aid as we are burdened and all at the same time (Hoezee, Galatians). This is how shalom, wholeness, the peace of God comes to all of us; comes to any of us.

I am painfully aware not everyone agrees; however, for the most part, we believe that all men are created equal. Oh, our skills and abilities and essence vary tremendously. Nonetheless, all of us, everyone is created in the image of God, and all are called to remind everyone else, by how we treat them, that we can see, and we love the image of God they bear.

Looking back across my six plus decades, I see our struggle with unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness mostly because my life, liberty, and happiness appear to infringe on your life, liberty, and happiness. It is implicit in Deuteronomy, 2 Kings, and Luke, but Paul just makes it blunt: my pursuit, of life, liberty, and happiness, is dependent on your pursuit life, liberty and happiness. More importantly, our pursuit is dependent on their – the foreigners’, the aliens’ pursuit life, liberty, and happiness. It is my considered opinion that this is the most important, perhaps the only true function of governments that are instituted among us, radical equality of the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.

Angie and I are looking forward to a quiet 4th and a joyous and raucous 6th, 7th and 8th as our daughters and their families will be here. It is my hope your 4th may be equally joyous and raucous. I pray that in our joy we will take the time to remember, that as the 70 were, we are also sent to all the nations, all the peoples of the world to share the news that the Kingdom of God is the true home of life, liberty, and happiness.

 


References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 9 C 2 Kings 5:1-14. 3 7 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 3 7 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Lectionary Epistle Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16. 3 7 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

—. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 10:1-11, 16-20. 3 7 2016.

Parsons, Mikeal C. Commentary on Luke 10:1-11, 3 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Reid, Stephen. Commentary on 2 Kings 5:114. 3 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Final Text of the Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776. n.d. 1 7 2016. <http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/1776-1785/the-final-text-of-the-declaration-of-independence-july-4-1776.php&gt;.

Vargas, Alicia. Commentary on Galatians 6: [16]. 3 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

 

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