Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Praying for our Nation

This sermon refers to scripture appointed for Independence Day: Deuteronomy 10:17-21; Hebrews 11:8-16; Matthew 5:43-48. Limited reference is made to the readings for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost: II Kings 5:1-14; Galatians 6:1-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

The American Book of Common Prayer declares that July 4th, Independence Day, is a major holy day with its own collect and appointed Bible readings. We can assume that the English Book of Common Prayer does not see this day in that same glorious light.

When a major holy day falls on a Sunday, its observance is moved to the next available weekday. Sunday, being a little Easter, always trumps a major holy day. So to hear the Prayer Book’s message about this day, we’re going to use its collect as our post-Communion prayer. And I’m going to draw on its Bible readings, ones that we have not heard today-- not that we haven’t heard enough already, but because these others may help us answer a question I’m about to ask you: On this Independence Day, what do we pray for our nation?

First, from the Torah, the Book of Deuteronomy, comes this command to welcome immigrants: “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords… 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… Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy persons; and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in heaven.”

There, by the way, is the significance of those seventy disciples sent out by Jesus: they are the fledgling Church. Seventy people in the family of Isaac and Jacob were the seed planted in the sands of Egypt, becoming over many generations the enslaved Hebrew people who would shed their chains and settle in Canaan. Seventy disciples in the circle of Jesus were the seeds planted in the towns and villages of Israel, pioneers of the kingdom of God, curing the sick, breaking the demonic.

And few in number were our colonial patriots in this country who overthrew the tyranny of empire that sucked them dry; but these few became, through wave after wave of immigrants, as numerous as the stars in heaven.

And so, a first prayer for our nation now is that we not become short-sighted, mean-spirited, or fearful in our welcome of the stranger. As we draft immigration law, that we hear God’s command to love the stranger. In our parents or ancestors, we were once strangers. Let’s pray that we don’t forget that now.

Second, from the Letter to the Hebrews, appointed for July 4th, champions of faith are held high, leaders who “died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them,” people of character ready to sacrifice now for the sake of those who would come after them. Just the opposite of our cocaine-brain sucking dry the profits of the present, mortgaging the future for what can be enjoyed now.

And so, a second prayer for our nation is that we continue to choose to be free. A great American philosopher, William James, said that, “Lives based on having are less free than lives based on doing or on being.” Worthy of our freedom to do and be is the New Testament’s motto, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Third, from the portion of Matthew’s Gospel for Independence Day, “you have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, turn that around and win him over, not by disdain and violence, but by love… and so show yourselves children of the Most High.”

A third prayer for our nation is that we learn to stop breeding enemies, to be sparing in our labeling anyone as enemy, to remember that the God to whom we pray is an impartial God whose favor and judgment, just like sunshine and rain, fall equally on both sides of every boundary we draw.