Rev. Tony Romaine
Let me begin by reading some names:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry, Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery, Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott, William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris, Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark, Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross, Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean, Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll, George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton, William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn, Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward Jr., Thomas Lynch Jr., Arthur Middleton, Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton…
John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson
Perhaps you did not know until you read the more familiar names, but these are the original signers on the Declaration of Independence. The very people who wrote:
“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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.”
If we may re-write this for our context, we might say that all persons are created equal , but other than that, we would not change a thing from this preamble to our Declaration of Independence. Because, we truly do believe that we are guaranteed rights by God to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Furthermore, we would agree that it is not mankind that endows these rights upon us, but God. Not a soul here would dispute this. Now, we can parse words and argue about what life is, what liberty is, and what happiness is; but we cannot parse that all people are given these rights by God and no one should be allowed to hinder what God has created.
When our fore-fathers were drafting these arguments to present as a Declaration of Independence to the most powerful military, navy, and government in all the world. They were doing so as a tiny group of colonists. They were doing so as a secret organization working through back channels and barrooms, churches and people’s homes. And they were doing this because they could no longer live under the conditions which kept them from truly living their lives.
But little did they know that their declaration would echo throughout history as not just a document that would affect the course of American history but the course of humanity. To be certain, our fore-fathers were not the first in time to consider what natural laws handed out by God were unalienable and protected by natural powers and not destructible or deniable by humanity.
But, to place it in a document and deliver it to the world, to stand up against royalty, and to write it down is what makes it a lasting and memorable event.
It makes me think of a small group of people huddled together and awaiting instructions by their teacher about what to do and where to go. I am reminded from our Gospel today of the words, “See I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” For the disciples that would be what it would feel like. I can only imagine them listening to Jesus in a small tent gathered around and hearing that they must go out and spread and share the Good News. That they must declare to the world, to a Judaic world, that the world must change. That the ways of humanity are detrimental to humanity, that there is one called Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life, and that Jesus came as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets…and that what this all means is that we are to love God and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. No matter the day, no matter the person, no matter the sickness or ailment, no matter what…just as Jesus teaches.
In other words, these disciples were going to be telling the powers of their day, the Jewish rulers and the Romans, that there is one God, that God has come in the form of Jesus, and their current world is going to be turned upside down. Just as our creators of our declaration of independence, the disciples would be declaring to the status quo that it is not the way things should be and times were in need of change, that God created all people to be loved as Jesus loves and it is up to us to proclaim and live this way.
Fast-forward to today…do we live in a world that protects life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
When you read the news or watch tv, do people seem happy?
Does our current state of affairs in the United States offer people the freedom of liberty?
Are people allowed to live a life they wish to free from persecution, entrapment, or unjust laws?
Are we loving God?
Are we loving our neighbor?
Abraham Lincoln called the Declaration of Independence “a rebuke and a stumbling-block to tyranny and oppression.” I think this could also describe our Gospel, the Good News we are called to share with the world. Jesus’ message of love for God and neighbor guarantees all people the created Spirit, that God-spark inside us all, to be recognized and loved. That all people are not just created equal and free, but that we are all indeed created by God to be who we are, loved for who God made us to be, and are guaranteed not by man, but by God, those rights there within.
Furthermore, we are called by Jesus to share this News with this world and to change our world for the better. We are called to be the lambs led amidst the wolves, we are called to declare to the world that we will no longer live under the tyranny of hate or the oppression of fear. And we are called by God to be the hands and feet of love which this world needs now more than ever.
And if you think that you cannot do anything about the current climate, if you think you cannot affect change, remember the handful of disciples Jesus sent out to change the world, remember the names I read at the beginning of this sermon today and look around you…for amongst you God has placed the people who will change the world. Because without the efforts and actions of the few; the many; the status quo, will not change. Before there ever was John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson as we know them, there were the fifty-some other people working right along side of them. And to think that they were not afraid of the effects that might happen to them at the hands of their enemies would be false. Which is why the final statement in the Declaration is this: “— And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
And so let our lives be committed to each other in service of God. Our fortunes given to benefit our neighbor. Our sacred honor, that above all else, we declare God’s love of all people to all people; let this be our declaration to the world, Amen!
“It Is How We React”
Monday, July 1, 2019
Rev. Tony Romaine
“It Is How We React”
My grandfather, whom I call Poppy, has always been my hero. And one story that I carry with me always is of one day when we were playing catch. I was pitching the baseball to him and for whatever reason that day I was really off; I could not throw a strike to save my life. After many pitches, he called “Time,” just like a catcher would during a game and started walking toward me. I was bummed, I thought to myself, “I am disappointing my hero, I am letting him down, I am letting myself down, and now I am going to get told all the things I did wrong.”
But when he got to me he said, “So after the game should we get pepperoni or sausage pizza?” I was taken aback and said, “What?!” He said, “Yeah, I always wondered what they talked about when they got to the mound during baseball games, so I just thought perhaps they really didn’t talk about anything but what they were going to do after the game! Stop worrying so much and just throw it to the glove like you know you can…you’ll get it!”
It Is How We React
See, it is how we react that defines how people will see us. In our short pericope, our short Gospel narrative today, Jesus has literally, according to the Greek, set his face upon Jerusalem and is so focused that he wants to get straight there as quickly as possible. To do this, Jesus needs to travel through Samaria and so James and John envoy ahead and hope to make preparations for Jesus to journey through a Samaritan village.
However, things being as they are, the Samaritan village knows he is headed to Jerusalem and that means he is not a Samaritan, and so, they do not allow Jesus and his entourage to travel through the village. James and John being angered by this want to pray to God to bring fire from heaven and destroy the village for their refusal. But Jesus rebukes them and they move onto another village. In some ancient versions of this Gospel passage, when Jesus rebukes James and John he also says, “You do not know what spirit you are of, for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them.”
Either way, Jesus does not allow the disciples to bring fire down upon a village and destroy them, even if they refused to welcome him, even if they were Samaritans, even if they were not kind in their response…Jesus’ response was forgiveness and let’s move on.
It is how we react that makes the difference, that demonstrates to people how we should live, that reminds people perhaps how they should live, it is how we react that can even save lives. But before we get into the meat of the topic today, it behooves us to take a little side trip to understand our verb for today; react. React comes from the medieval Latin verb reagere which means “to do again,” or something is “done again.” Thus, what comes down to us to be known as a reaction is a literal re-doing of some act or thing.
Perhaps some of you are thinking, “This is great Pastor Tony, we already know what react means.” But I am hyper-focusing us because it is in thinking of reacting as an action done again where the heart of our message for today, the heart of our Gospel passage for today lies. When we respond to an action against us, an action in the world, any type of action; by reacting we are getting a chance to do something again in a different way! We can re-do the action and turn it on its head!
Take our passage from Luke today. According to any standards of the day, according to the idea that Jerusalem and Samaria were enemies, according to basic principles of hospitality, did the disciples and Jesus have a “right” to be angry with the Samaritan village and call down fire upon, sure. But instead, Jesus re-purposes this action against him and does not repay malice with malice, but rather, moves on and carries forward his mission of love.
So now comes the part where we get involved. I hear questions from people all the time about church growth and how can we make our church stronger and why are we losing people in the broader church and our local community. And one of my responses to these questions has directly to do with our message today; this generation of believers who are being quantified as spiritual but not religious, are self-describing themselves this way because they are tired of the hypocrisy that organized religion all too often presents to the world.
In other words, we are losing generations of believers because we have failed to believe ourselves! Let me say that again, because this is important: We are losing people in the pews, because we ourselves have been unfaithful to our Faith. We who preach the Gospel of love on Sundays do not react with love the other six days of the week. We who worship the Lord on Sundays do not love our neighbor the rest of the week. We who come and ask for God to be present in our lives on Sundays, do not respond and react when God tries to work through us for justice in the world. And when the Samaritans of this world see that we do not “practice what we preach,” they will not allow us into their village.
It is How we React!
So how do we re-do this action and allow for the Spirit of God to not destroy human lives but save them? It is only when we think about how we would want to be loved fully as God’s creation that we can begin to understand how we must react to our world. Paul lays this out for us in his letter to Galatia that we heard from Amanda earlier:
See, we are all too often just like this Samaritan village. We refuse Jesus Christ and turn him away. We say to ourselves, “Not on purpose, we would never do that, no.” But when we refuse to help people who are trying to save their families and their lives by crossing into the United States, whether legally or illegally, we are closing our village to Jesus. When we see or hear hate spit at people who are different and we do not speak up or say anything or do anything to respond or prevent it; we are closing our village to Jesus. When we vote for people who will give us more money, more “security,” more of what we want at the cost of other people’s lives we are closing our village to Jesus. And when we sing and pray and preach on Sunday, and then lock ourselves in tight out of perceived fear of our world, we are closing our village to Jesus.
And the more we remained closed…the more people are going to go to another village, until soon, the history books will refer to Christianity as a movement of the past.
It is how we react
So here’s the hope…we have the ability re-do the course of history. We here no matter if we are 1, 10, or 100 can change the world by reacting and doing what Jesus taught us to do; love! Sure, we can react the way the world expects us to, we can walk up to that kid who is hanging his head because he knows he can do better, be better, throw better; we can demonize him and destroy him, make him think he is worthless…or we can react the exact opposite this world thinks we should. We can offer the love and hope of Jesus; for after all, Jesus did this for us. Despite all of our closing of ourselves to Jesus, to God, we are still forgiven, we are still freed, we are still alive today for a purpose!
People in the world are starving for our beloved community. Jesus is coming again and is on his way to our village. The question is, how will we react when he comes? When Jesus comes in the face of an immigrant, in the face of someone who is gay, lesbian, or trans, in the face of someone who is African, Asian, Mexican, in the face of someone who is homeless, or just the face of someone lost and needing a home…how will we react? When we came to this community, needing a home, looking for God, longing for a people who would love us for who we are…what did we receive? How did people react to us?
Jesus is coming and longs to be with us; the question is: Will we receive Jesus into our village? I certainly hope so, Amen