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.



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>.


Camouflaged Cross


I was walking to a meeting this morning when I walked pass a truck covered with the above  camouflaged crosses. (I hope the link works) I immediately thought how powerful a symbol it is of problems so many churches face. Its a symbol of how we try to hide Jesus, at least how we try to hide Jesus’ cross. 

I’m reminded of Psalm 50 where God decries empty sacrifices of bulls. It reminds me of God’s continual call for justice, equality, righteousness, and mercy.  It reminds me of Luke 14:13ff: But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

Sermon on August 11, Proper 14

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

I’m tired of prophets so bluntly telling the truth; always going on about injustice empty worship, hardhearted ways, the love of greed, money and power, love of self, sometimes to the point of idolatry. I’m tired, of Galatians, Colossians and Hebrews consistent thump of Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! I’m tired of Gospel wrenches messing up a carefully balanced, nuanced life with fear not, be ready, the messiah, Jesus is coming, is here. Today is the perfect day to preach from the Psalms; except that Psalm 50 is a court room scene, a cosmic court room, where God is the prosecutor, the judge, and most of the jury; where all the heavens are witnesses for the prosecution, or jurors, in a predetermined prosecution. I’ve had enough of high court drama, with Private Manning’s guilty verdict, and sentencing proceedings; and Major Hassan’s listless defense, both in military courts. I’m tired of the endless drama of the Edward Snowden affair, of congressional non-legislating, and the presidential two step, all in the court of public opinion. I’m tired of all the moralizing. After all this is the postmodern age. Each of us is free to discern and meld together whatever bit of spiritual truth that allows us to be comfortable with whatever “i”-faith emerges. We can even talk about it, w-e-l-l as long as we stick to little “t” truth; any big “T” truth of your “i”-faith might be offensive to another’s i”-faith. It’s just like a church camp program leader once said, mimicking the campers attitude: It’s all about me!

And it is all about “me:” singular, distant, isolated, alone. In a more and more connected world, where there are more cell phones than land lines, and cell phones have a more and more dazzling array of functions, and are less and less about person to person conversation. In a growing world of avatars and virtual environments are there any real intimate person to person relationships left? And if we are unable to be honestly present to each other, we cannot be in an honest personal relationship with God. And that, above all, is the single profound truth in all today’s scripture readings. Indeed in all of scripture: God wants to be in honest personal relationship with every living person (past, present and future), with the entire cosmos. The divine desire is so strong, deserved harsh justice is dealt out in mercy. The divine desire is so over whelming, God’s self does the necessary work to bridge the gap between the broken cosmos, and her creator God. The divine desire is so complete, there is nothing you can do to gain it; there is nothing you can do to lose it, it is now simply woven into the very fabric of existence. No secret knowledge, no complex rituals, no perfunctory parameters are necessary; God’s love, God’s, mercy, God’s grace, is just there. Have faith.
And faith is such a hard thing to hold on to. Competing big “T” truths assail each other. The “i” world runs smack into the truth that God made “us” in God’s image; us – male and female, diverse, yet one; us – plural many, yet one. And every now and again, we are blessed to see the results of faith; others may call it organization, but those with eyes see, and those with ears hear, differently.

This week, Operation Healthy Delta is such an exemplar. The Delta Regional Commission, the Department of Defense, the City of Blytheville, Mississippi County, Blytheville Public Schools, our hospital, businesses, churches, and lots of individuals: soldiers and ordinary folks have come together to provide medical, dental, eye, and wellness care to anyone who walks in the door, within the capabilities of the 10 hour day. Organized? you bet. An exemplar of God’s love at work transforming lives? no doubt.

And I know this in the endless example of countless little things:
·       The compassion of the soldiers and volunteers
        getting it done.
·       The deep appreciation and patience of those seeking help.
·       The generosity of 15 area churches and organizations who are providing lunch           every day.
·       The hospitality of our community in throwing an end of clinic dinner to                         introduce our southern California guests to true southern cooking.
·       The unsolicited appearance of water, fresh fruit, and baked goods.
·       and so many others things.
This past week, today, and Monday and Tuesday two disparate groups of people have meet each other in an interdependence of divine mutuality in which everyone has been blessed, in which everyone has been a blessing. Therein is radical gospel equality, therein is mercy, therein is justice, therein our lamps are burning bright, therein is our readiness. And with all my heart, in faith, I know Jesus has walked amongst us.

http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/, Proper 14, August 11, 2013

episcopaldigitalnetwork.com http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2013/07/16/12-pentecost-proper-14-c-2013/
By the Rev. Ben E. Helmer, 12 Pentecost, Proper 14 (C) – 2013, Beyond material worth

Center for Excellence in Preaching, August 11, 2013 (Ordinary Time)
      Luke 12:32-40, Scott Hoezee
      Isaiah 1:1, 10-20, Scott Hoezee
      Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Stan Mast
      Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23, Doug Bratt
Working Preacher, Proper 14, August 11, 2013
      Isaiah 1:1, 10-20, David G. Garber Jr.
      Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Erik Heen
      Luke 12:32-40, Karoline Lewis

Jump the ditch.

Sunday August 8, 2013
Proper 13
Hosea 11:1-11
Psalm 107:1-9, 43
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

I have a predilection to continue to use the language in the 1st chapter of Hosea in reference to Gomer, Hosea’s wife. In part because of its shock value, but more because of its apt description of the Israel’s relationship with God. In-spite of the reality that she has sold herself to other powers, ie. Assyria, and other gods, historically the Ba’als, but often whoever current regional power worships, Israel, at least her Kings, prophets, and priests, believes that all is fine with God. It’s not an honest assessment. Also, I’m often concerned it’s an apt parallel for our, the United States’ relationship with God. There are many, among the people, and our leaders who believe with all their hearts God is forever cheering U-S-A; U-S-A. In-spite of continuing struggles with living into the radical equality of the Gospels Paul so avidly proclaims, in-spite of continuing failures to enact principles of mercy into our system of justice, in-spite of abject failure of justice (as defined in scripture, not the vast accumulation of civil and criminal code) within our boarders, many hear God’s voice cheerfully bellowing U-S-A; U-S-A.

Truth is both Israel and the US are much like Gomer. As did Gomer, we have sold ourselves to the functionaries of other gods. Israel perhaps literally, the US may be not so much, but certainly in our behavior relative to equality, mercy and justice. Israel sold out to other gods. We’ve sold out to money and power, in so much that we worship that we value money and power more than each other, more than others, more than God. We’ve sold out, so there’s no longer a reason to listen for what the Spirit is saying to God’s people, and we don’t.

A seminary classmate had an obscure, but noticeable scar below and around her right eye. It seems there is a large ditch in her back yard. It was quite an attractive challenge. All the neighborhood kids challenged each other to jump the ditch. It came to be a rite-of-passage. Her dad repeatedly warned her not to jump the ditch. It was wider than it appears. Its sides were not stable. There were many exposed rocks and roots, that could do real damage when, and it is not if but when, you fall short. For a long time she obeyed. At least she knew she was simply too small, too weak to jump the ditch. But then one day, kids her own age jump the ditch. They challenge her. They encourage her. They taunt her. And sure enough, despite all the warnings, she decides to jump the ditch. Running as fast as she can, when she reaches the near edge she launches herself high, and far … may be high enough, but not quite far enough. She lands chest first on the far side, her face smashes into a cluster of roots and rocks. Everyone screams. Half the kids run. A few reach down to help. Her dad, happens to come around the corner, races to her side (without jumping the ditch, there is a convenient way around). He quickly examines her bleeding face. The initial determination is that she is hurt, but not injured. She prepares herself for the blistering excoriation she knows she deserves. She is surprised when her Dad assures her she will be okay; when he tells her how glad he is she is okay, when he gathers her into a merciful loving hug. 

In many ways, ancient Israel, the US, in fact most of the world’s, most of God’s people continue to try and jump the ditch. We know better. We are aware of the dangers and consequences. We even know we deserved to be punished when we try, whether we clear the far side or not. And there are plenty of preachers who preach about the sin of jumping the ditch, in all its various manifestations. There are plenty of preachers who rail on about the consequences, the punishment that awaits those of even dare think about jumping the ditch. But that’s not where I am today. In part because I know something of jumping ditches, and not quite making it to the far side; of jumping ditches clearing the far side, and discovering it lacking; both scenarios are something of a mess. Maybe that’s why Jesus’s story of the Rich man’s barns resonates so profoundly.

 At first glance, we would hold the rich man in high esteem. [i] He has done what we are told we should do. He planned for the future. His barn’s, are equivalent to modern insurance and 401ks. Quite the opposite of my classmate, he seems to have jumped the ditch often and successfully. He is everything modern financial planners, legislators, political pundits, (well at least some) hold out as the very model of a modern self-made businessman. On closer examination, just as Gilbert and Sullivan’s modern major general is not quite what he seems to be, neither is the modern self-made businessman, nor the ancient farmer. The farmer’s language is absolutely self-centered. He talks and thinks only about himself. In truth ~ he talks only to himself. He takes all the credit, gives no credence to the perversities of numbers, better known as chance, nor God, nor others, who labored on his behalf. He gives no word, no thought to sharing the abundance he can never use, with those to whom the perversities of numbers dealt a very different hand. And recalling that fornication, in its oldest and broadest meaning is forsaking God for idols[ii], in this case himself, the rich farmer is the very manifestation of Paul’s list of unsavory traits: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language; if not plainly then at least by inference.

Actually the rich farmer seems to have successfully completed another jump. He seems to have Jumped the Shark,[iii] he has successfully jumped to a point beyond redemption. That is the apparent story of Gomer, who, like ancient Israel, has sold herself and is beyond redemption. It is the apparent story of my class mate’s leap across the ditch. That is the apparent story revealed in so much of the social, political and religious behavior in the US, and much of the world. But, the surprise in scripture, the surprise in my classmate’s tale, the surprise for us, is not the farmer’s fate ~ the loss of his soul, but undeserved mercy. The surprise is the Kingdom of God is here, perhaps not fully, but most certainly transformationally. The surprise is when we perversely jump the ditch, or the shark, and then discover ourselves, not in eternal nothingness but embraced, by mercy, within the grace of God; to be so transformed, that we are welcome strangers, not only to our neighbors, but to ourselves.



[i] The Working Preacher.com,  Commentary on Luke 12:13-21, Elisabeth Johnson
[ii] Wikipedia; note [3] Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. 2001.
[iii] Wikipedia – an idiom created by Jon Hein that was used to describe the moment in the evolution of television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery,

lectionaryscripturenotes.com http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/
Proper 13 | OT 18 | Pentecost 11, Cycle C

 http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2013/07/15/11-pentecost-pro per-13-c-2013/
By the Rev. Anjel Scarborough
11 Pentecost, Proper 13 (C) – 2013
Center for Excellence in Preaching, Proper 13 August 4, 2013
       Luke 12:13-21,  Scott Hoezee
       Hosea 11:1-11, Scott Hoezee
       Colossians 3:1-11, Stan Mast
       Psalm 107:1-9, 43, Doug Bratt
       Hosea 11:1-11, David G. Garber Jr
       Colossians 3:1-11, Richard Carlson

I’m back. Well almost back. Our oldest daughter ‘s marriage was wonderful, even though ceremony times were changed due to prodigious rains. I was surprised how my view of the world subtlety changed as the moment came closer. I am continuing to be surprised how my world view continues to change in the days following. (Of course it could also be the influence of youngest daughter’s impending marriage.) In any case, my awareness of my changing world view may be contributing to seeing a clarion call for all humanity to change our world view and behavior in this weeks Lectionary.

Hosea continues his teaching about the twin notions of divine mercy and judgment. Colossians 3:1ff does have another of (pseudo) Paul’s lists. It also proclaims that there is no difference between people in God’s eyes; yet again. It is a proclamation of radical equality. Together, radical equality, mercy and justice form a strong biblical moral foundation. Luke’s tale of the rich man who pulls down his barns in order to build bigger ones, to store even more grains and goods is not living from that foundation; and thereby is starkly applicable today. Note, it is not a shelf, nor a pantry, but a barn. IE it’s a lot of stuff. It raises the question of how much is enough. It also points out, as one commentator notes, in storing so much for himself the rich man is denying grain for those without. It is also important to note it is more than his ‘life’ demanded of the rich man, it is his ‘soul’. (Perhaps ironic, since that is the way he refers to himself?)

To be clear, I believe the message is for all of us, not just the 1% or the 25% nor even the top 75%, but the 100%, all of us. The message is for us to change the way we see the world to divine values not any set of worldly values. It’s only through God’s eyes that we can see each other, see our selves as God intends. It is only thorough these divine values that real change in the human condition can come. May be that’s what my daughter and her partner taught me. What a blessing.