Rev. Ellen Jennings
~ Deuteronomy 10:17-21, Hebrews 13:1-3 ~
We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense,
promote the general welfare and ensure the blessings of liberty
for ourselves and our posterity do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.
Preamble to the Constitution, Schoolhouse Rock
You know it, right? The Preamble to our Constitution? Whether you learned it in high school civics or from public television’s Schoolhouse Rock, I hope the words are familiar. Basic. Bedrock.
So, what does it mean to be a country that strives for unity, justice, peace and mutual prosperity? Even as many of us fear we’ve strayed dangerously far from these ideals…
Well, yesterday, members of our congregation and thousands of others gathered in Lafayette Square for the Families Belong Together Rally. I was energized by the crowds and felt a power and passion I hadn’t experienced since the Women’s March over a year ago. After a week of ongoing immigrant family separations, a Supreme Court decision blocking entry by refugees from multiple Muslim majority countries, and the resignation of the Supreme Court’s swing vote—the one that made Marriage Equality law of the land—it was good to see so many people who aren’t just not giving up, but are growing more empowered to make a change, to do whatever it takes to create a more perfect union.
I’ll be blunt: I don’t know all it will take. But, on this Fourth of July Weekend 2018, I’ve never been more certain that if we want to preserve our union, to protect the ideals upon which our country was founded, to make them the law and custom of our land, we need to act NOW. We need to speak out, act up, resist, make a ruckus, vote, caucus, canvas, put our money where our mouths are, and decide what it means to live as Christians in this world.
I know, it’s easier said than done. But change never happened because people in this country sat back and waited for it. It happens when people take to the streets or the lunch counters or the courtrooms or the halls of Congress. Change happens because people care enough to make it happen.
This may look different for each of us, but as my poet colleague, Rev. Laura Martin, recently wrote:
If you are angry, let your anger be fire
So it can warm someone chilly.
If you are grieving, let your grieving be a river
So someone thirsty can drink.
If you are numb, let your numbness give you the capacity
To walk in hard places and not feel hurt.
If you are broken, let your brokenness
Be what makes space for new things to enter.
If you are fearful, let your fear be a warning signal
That others may look up.
If you are lost, let your being lost
Make a new place and call it home.
However you are,
However you are,
We have to keep going, because that’s what we’re called to do. Jesus didn’t tell us to chill out and accept the status quo. He told us to help the lost, poor, hungry, sick, imprisoned, widow, orphan, strangers in our midst. Even more, he told us that doing so was indistinguishable from helping him.
So, how do we reconcile this with what we see in our country today? What does it mean to be a Christian patriot in this day and age?
Well, let’s separate the terms. Because they’re not one and the same! A patriot (different from a nationalist) is someone who loves her country enough to stand up and challenge it when things are going wrong. A Christian, a Jesus follower, is someone who doesn’t confuse commitment to the message of Jesus with allegiance to any nation.
Given this, a Christian patriot would be one who follows Jesus and loves her country, while working to further its best and highest ideals. In this equation, commitment to the gospel, summarized by Jesus as Love God, Love Neighbor, is the highest value. Or, as Bishop Curry, who preached at the recent royal wedding, once said: “I love my country. But I love God first.”
And Jesus preached a gospel of love, acceptance and inclusion, which makes these ideals preeminent. If anything, he prioritized the outcast and stranger rather than vilifying (or criminalizing) them. I love the words of Cuban-American Presbyterian minister, Rev. Jose Luis Casal, in his Immigrant Apostles Creed:
I believe in Almighty God,
who guided the people in exile and in exodus,
the God of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon,
the God of foreigners and immigrants.
I believe in Jesus Christ,
a displaced Galilean,
who was born away from his people and his home,
who fled his country with his parents when his life was in danger.
When he returned to his own country
he suffered under the oppression of Pontius Pilate,
the servant of a foreign power.
Jesus was persecuted, beaten, tortured
and unjustly condemned to death.
But on the third day Jesus rose from the dead,
not as a scorned foreigner
but to offer us citizenship in God’s kingdom.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the eternal immigrant from God’s kingdom among us,
who speaks all languages,
lives in all countries,
and reunites all races.
I believe that the communion of saints
begins when we embrace all God’s people in their diversity.
I believe in forgiveness
which makes us all equal before God,
and in reconciliation, which heals our brokenness.
I believe that in the Resurrection God will unite us as one people
in which all are distinct
and all are alike at the same time.
I believe in life eternal,
in which no one will be foreigner
but all will be citizens of the kingdom
where God reigns forever and ever. Amen.
I do believe these things… and that they reflect the teachings of Jesus. We’re not perfect, I know. And we’re far from creating a perfect union. But I believe we are called to keep trying. Not because it means we’re better or greater than anyone else. But because we should be as good as we possibly can— and ideals worth professing are worth striving to achieve.
So, please, this Fourth of July Weekend 2018, I implore you: in the words of Laura’s poem, “keep going.” Do not let the immensity of the country’s or the world’s problems prevent you from acting. Do not let despair over the state of our union keep you from keeping on. I will remind you, as I did last week: we do not work for peace, justice and equality because they are “ends.” We’ll never see the “end.” We work for peace, justice and equality, we act to create God’s Kingdom or Kin-dom in the world, because every step in that direction creates this Kin-dom here and now.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, my friends. I’m sorry, but we’re it. We are the hands and feet of God. We are the change makers. We are the Kin-dom creators. Are we perfect? No. Will we ever be perfect? No. All God asks is that we keep trying (and God will keep forgiving). All our Constitution requests is that we attempt to create a more perfect union. One day, one person, one action, one vote, one vigil, one phone call, one letter, one rally, one conversation, one petition, one donation, one connection, one prayer at a time.