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>.

 

Independence in our mutual interdependence.

A sermon for Proper 9: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10, Ezekiel 2:1-5, Psalm 48,  Psalm 123, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13

I hope you enjoyed the Fourth of July Celebration. Did you take advantage of one of the many red, white and blue sales? Perhaps you shared hot dogs with family or neighbors. Maybe you fought off the mosquitoes and watched fireworks. Or perhaps you drove to Conway to visit Trey and Benjamin Luke Hauptmann … direct descendants of Samuel Wilson, the upstate New York butcher known locally as Uncle Sam and considered the inspiration for the national symbol. (Roberts)

Whatever, you chose, I hope your celebrations included a commemoration of our Declaration of Independence and the re-founding of our nation in the Constitution.

After David’s lament over Saul and Jonathan, he is anointed as King of Judah, the tribes of the southern half of the promised lands. Saul’s son Ishbaal is made King over Israel, the northern tribes. Immediately they battle at Gibeon; where David’s forces are victorious. It was the first of many battles, with David gaining strength. Ishbaal and his military commander Abner quarrel leading Abner to make a deal with David. However, David’s commander Joab kills him in revenge for his brothers’ death at Abner’s hand at Gibeon. His death rattles Israel, and two military officers assassinate Ishbaal.

The elders of Israel realize they are in a mess. All Saul’s heirs are dead, and there is no obvious successor in Israel. Abner is dead, and there is no obvious military commander to replace him. The Philistines continue to be a threat. So, they approach David about being King of Israel. They appeal to their previous experiences when David led them while Saul was king; that they share bone and flesh, share strength and weakness, ands kinship. (Brueggemann) (Birch) The elders see God’s hand in David’s ascent and seek a mutually beneficial relationship. David agrees and is anointed king over Israel.

To be King, you need a capital city. David seems to know that if he stays where he is, Israel will always be suspicious he favors Judah. If he moves to Israel’s capital, Judah will always be suspicious he favors Israel. It is hard to build mutual interdependence from mutual suspicion. So, David turns to nearby Salem, or Jebus, a Jebusite city (BIRCH) conquers it, makes it his home, his capital, and named it the city of David. Later it will become Jerusalem.

Many years later, Jesus has been round about casting out demons, healing the sick and raising the dead. He decides to visit his hometown. They do not seem to be aware of all his activities. There was no such thing as social media in those days. Perhaps that contributes to his family and friends being so taken aback by his wisdom and teaching.

They know him as Joseph’s son, a carpenter, a mid-level craftsman. They know who he is; and who he is not, an educated elite scholar. They experience him as being uppity. (Perkins) Unlike the hemorrhaging woman, or Jarius whose beliefs lead to healing, Jesus’ hometown folks’ unbelief hampered his efforts, dampened the flow of divine power, divine desire. (Williams), (Ellingsen), (Epperly)

Now I’d likely get all bothered by that and set about reevaluating things. Jesus doubles down, pairs the twelve off, and sends them into the surrounding villages to proclaim repentance, cast out demons and heal the sick. They did. Some observations. Jesus sending them out with so little reminds me of God paring Gideon’s 22 thousand soldiers down to 300 so they will know it is God at work in their victory, and not their prowess. (Judges 7) The stripping away clutter of stuff, (Williams) is perhaps a nudge to also leave behind our spiritual and emotional baggage (Epperly) as we go about God’s work. Jesus instructions, about how to behave when they are not welcome, are grounded in the ancient emphasis on hospitality. Welcoming the stranger, especially holy visitors, is valued. To not offer hospitality is tantamount to refusing to listen to the message. (Harrelson) It is Jesus’ subtle way of telling them, and us, what we are not responsible or, like other’s decisions. We should also be aware, the disciples are not independent of Jesus; they are an extension of Jesus’ ministry. (Perkins) The same is true for us today.

These two stories reveal the social consequences of belief and unbelief. (Black) Our faith affects God’s work. The faith of those we share Jesus’ story with affects God’s work. We should also have more faith in God’s persistence. Time is powerful, the unbelieving members of Jesus family come to believe; his brother James is a leader in the early church in Jerusalem, and Jude is responsible for at least part of an Epistle.  (Perkins)

There is a dynamic within this story of mutual interdependence. The disciples are dependent on Jesus to do the work he has sent them to do. The same is true for us. Jesus and the disciples are dependent on the belief on those in their presence. Unbelief can impede God’s desire. Belief leads to knowing God’s presence. In times of contentious religious debates, it is important to remember we are mutually responsible for and interdependent to each other. All of us are sent to each other. All of us need each other.

I believe our founding fathers were well aware of mutual responsibility and interdependence. They captured it in the preamble to the Constitution,

We the People … justice … common defense … general welfare … liberty for ourselves and our prosperity

All of these phrases are communal, both in beneficiaries and responsibilities. Thus, as preambles are intended to do, all the constitution, including amendments, must reflect our mutual responsibility and interdependence. Whether the founding fathers intended it or not, God’s ways are mysterious, it is of divine intent.

David established his capital such that Judah and Israel can develop mutual responsibility and interdependence. Jesus’ hometown cannot see their mutual responsibility and interdependence with Jesus, and who knows what they missed. Jesus’ disciples’ first mission trip is defined by an ideal of mutual responsibility and interdependence. Our Constitution reflects the virtues of mutual responsibility and interdependence. As we, as individuals, as the church, as a community, and as a county discern our way forward we will find a clearer path and divine powers in mutual responsibility and interdependence. We will know the full grace independence in our mutual interdependence.


References

BIRCH, BRUCE C. New Interpreters’ Bible; THE FIRST AND SECOND BOOKS OF SAMUEL. Abingdon Press, 2001. CD.

Black, C. Clifton. Commentary on Mark 6:113. 5 7 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2316&gt;.

Brueggemann, Walter. Interpretation; FIRST AND SECOND SAMUEL. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990. CD.

Ellingsen, Mark. Proper 9 | OT 14, Cycle B. 5 7 2015. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 5 7 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Garber Jr., David G. Commentary on 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10. 5 7 2015.

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

Hoezee, Scott. “Old Testament Lectionary 2 Samuel 5:1-10.” 5 7 2015. Working Preacher.

—. “The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Mark 6:1-13.” 5 7 2015. Center for Excellence in Preaching.

PERKINS, PHEME. THE GOSPEL OF MARK, INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS. Ed. Jr., Patrick D Miller and Paul J. Achtemeier. Vol. 8. Louisville: John Know Press, 1991. 12 vols. disk.

Petersen, David and Roberts Gaventa Beverly. New Interpreters’ Bible, One-Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press, 2010. ebook.

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

Williams, Lamar Jr. Interpretation: A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING: Mark. Ed. James Luther Mays, Patrick D. Miler and Paul J Achtemeier. Nashville: John Knox Press, 1983.

A spurious drop of ink and the wooing of Rebekah

A Sermon for Proper 9 – A, 4th after Pentecost

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67, Psalm 45: 11-18, Romans 7:15-25a,
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

The wooing of Rebekah (Fretheim) seems to be a story about signs, Abraham’s servant is always looking for one sign or another. That’s not always a good idea.
There was a person who wanted to know God’s will and so he flipped open the Bible, blindly jabbed his finger at the text, and then read the verse, “And Judas went out and hanged himself.” Since that didn’t seem to provide quite the direction he was looking for, he tried again, this time plunking down on the verse, “Go and do likewise”! (Hozee)

And while there is plenty to be learned about preparing for, praying for and waiting (Schifferdecker) for divine guidance, it’s the interplay of hesed (kindness)and ʾemet (faithfulness) (Strong’s) where we will begin our journey this morning.

The unnamed servant makes a very intimate pledge to Abraham to get a wife for Isaac from Abraham’s home country. The servant goes to Abrahams’ home town, and settles in by the well. There he asks God to show hesed, steadfast love, for Abraham, describes the sign he will look for, and waits. Rebekah shows up and offers him and his camels water. That’s the sign. The servant immediately gives thanks God has shown hesed. As the servant recounts his mission from Abraham, to Rebekah’s family he mentions God’s hesed again.
He is always giving The Lord credit. We have also developed a habit of giving God all the credit in bible stories, such as this.

And while the author of this tale makes it clear that without God’s steadfast love there would be no success (Fretheim), the ’emet faithfulness of the servant also plays an important role. Although success may well depend on God, the activity of human beings may bring about the failure or success of God’s intention. Fretheim) The servant’s faithfulness is apparent in two ways: one – his insistence on offering prayers for guidance and thanksgiving; and that he does not take the easy out Abraham’s gives him, if he cannot find a willing bride among his people. (Genesis 24:8) Without divine hesed Abraham’s vision is thwarted. Without the servant’s ʾemet Abraham’s vision is thwarted. It’s the interaction between the two by which Rebekah follow Abraham and leaves her family for unknown lands that bears fruit, ensuring the covenant continues for future generations. So when we set about mission and ministry let’s prepare for, pray for and wait for divine guidance, a form of hesed; and be prepared to act or not as we perceive a sign, or not.

All of this has curiously relevant timing. Friday we celebrated July 4th, and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We all know the phrase:
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

There are many who fear for these rights. So, it may be coincidence or divine guidance that Thursday’s New York Times ran an article about the question of a period. (Schuessler) Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. believes there is an error in the typical punctuation, of the Declaration, caused by an errant ink spot, that’s been interpreted as a period.
Allen, cites many sources that do not include the period. Unfortunately the original Document is so faded to make an exact determination isn’t possible. (Schifferdecker) What’s the big deal? The phrase that follows is:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

Allen says:
The logic of the sentence moves from the value of individual rights to the importance of government as a tool for protecting those rights … You lose that connection when the period gets added. (Schuessler)

At this point the ancient wisdom of Genesis sheds light on the implementation of the divine insight given our fore fathers in the Declaration of Independence. Yes, we have been endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among [them] … Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness (no period) … However, we also have a divine sign to secure these rights by governments [that] are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, … Just as it took hesed and ʾemet for Abraham’s vision to bear fruit; it takes unalienable Rights and Governments … instituted among Men for the vision of The Declaration of Independence to bear fruit. Without both hesed and ʾemet we cannot glean the fullness of divine revelation in the story Rebekah’s wooing. Without both unalienable rights and governments we cannot glean the fullness of independence revealed in our Declaration.

I fully recognize the difficulty of holding both unalienable rights and governments in dynamic tension. That is one reason I pray for all our elected leaders, by name in my daily prayers. I fervently believe if those elected and charged with the responsibility of governance begin every day with prayer, not for their position to win out but for:
thy Kingdom come,
thy will [to be] done
on earth as it is in heaven.
and waiting for hesed and ʾemet, then relationships among them will change and governance of the people for the people will be a vision fulfilled.
The results is the same as in the story of Rebekah’s wooing the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness for generations to come will be secured.
Amen


Works Cited
Fretheim, Terence. The New Interpreters’ Bible. Vol. Volume 1 General Articles on the Bible; General Articles on the Old Testament; Genesis; Exodus; Leviticus. Abingdon, 1995. 12 vols. CD.
Hozee, Scott. Genesis 24:34-67. 6 July 2014. .
Schifferdecker, Kathryn. Commentary on Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67. 6 7 2012. .
Schuessler, Jennifer. “A Period Is Questioned in the Declaration of Independence.” New York Times 3 7 2014. web. .
Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. n.d.

Nudges

I have long enjoyed the story of Naaman being cured of leprosy. It is rich in setting, in plot, and personalities.  Two personalities that contrast with each other are the King of Israel, (who is not even named) and Naaman the Commander of the Aram’s army.  The King of Israel appears to be paranoid; his immediate response to receiving the letter introducing Naaman and seeking cure for his leprosy is to believe the King of Aram is trying to pick a fight. (By the way the King of Aram is not named either.) He never even considers what God might be up to. Naaman, on the other hand is a narcissist, he is offended Elisha does not come out and make a big show.  Both are surrounded with wise advisors. Someone from the King of Israel’s court talked how else does Elisha learn what’s going on. And Naaman’s servants show him the folly of his response.

How often have you been blessed by a gentle nudge from friend, family, colleague, which set you back on course. I cannot count the times; but they are enough for me to realize the presence of the Kingdom is more often than not revealed quietly than complex schemes or fancy shows.