14th sunday in ordinary time
Sunday's Readings: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 | Romans 7:15-25a | Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
My friends and I have this running joke, a kind of ritual almost. It’s been running for about 10 years now. It develops and changes over time. It looks different with different friends, but it emerges from the same basic thing. It’s based, this joke, this ritual, in the fact that we are from different places. We are shaped in particular ways by countries that have a particular but related history.
I am Scot, born in raised in Scotland – part of Great Britain. I am British. And almost all of my very dearest friends are from these United States. When I have the happy occasion to spend any length of time with these friends that I love invariably I, or one of them, will notice something that speaks to our differences. Something I say – like poor or schedule, aluminium or controversy…..or something I do – like eat with a knife in my right hand (the proper way) or brew tea in a pot…..will be called out - called out with a twinkle in their eye. Or something they do like call football soccer or eat their fish and chips on a plate and not from a newspaper…….will cause me to scoff… and just like that we are off and running.
I will take the stance of the misunderstood outsider. I’ll get defensive and become a little embattled – hopefully comically so. But there is a flavor to my speech that says clearly – my country was first, it is older than yours and therefor better – can’t help it – just is. They will band together playfully to tell me that aw…..the things to you say are so fun, so cute, kind of strange, kind of familiar, really of no use in this country, this new place – get over it. But there is a flavor to their speech of how much what I say and do as a Scot, a Brit, is in fact endearing to them, kind of fascinating because so much of what happens here has a link to that old country.
And believe me I am all in. I like people to remember that I am not from here, that I have a heritage and a people elsewhere that matter to me and make me who I am. It’s important, at least to me, this bantering, this ritual with my friends – it keeps alive our particularities, it honors in its own funny way my own story and it also tells the story of the ways that we as friends and the ways that these countries of ours are actually deeply connected. There is a big history in this running joke.
There is the history of the division of our countries – a history that we remembered this weekend. There is sometimes the history of my friend’s ancestors who decided to come to this country from Britain. And there is certainly always the history of my own choice to come here.
You see us Brits can take a loftier stance if we like and it can be fun – can also be a little dangerous sometimes. But there is no doubt in my mind that there is an ideal, a beauty that undergirds the point of this nation to which many in my country, myself included, wish we could personally and as part of the global community find a way to live out.
“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, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness……..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.”
As much as I might tease my dear, dear American friends, as much as the we might each of us question all the ways this vision is yet to be attained, this principle, this beautiful ideal, on which you are founded, on which you took a stand, is one of the reasons that I, and I think I can safely say, so many other have come here.
But we do what we don’t want to do don’t we? We quarrel and fight, we misinterpret and come with our agendas, even when the beauty, the reality of the thing is right there in front of our very eyes. And no single nation has a corner on this, do they? All of us no matter our history, no matter our origin, do what in our better moments we really know will never bring us to peace and justice.
All are created equal. Isn’t this the message of our creation story. Isn’t it the message that God incarnate in Jesus brought to us. All are created equal. Not the same for sure – we are a diverse creation – thank God. Not the same but equal – equal in value, equal in dignity. Each one of us equal in our right to healthy, nurturing space on the planet. Each one of us equal in our right to offer the gifts we have inside of us. Each one of us equal in our right to find a way to be whole.
Jesus was this truth amongst but just as we ignore expressions of this truth when they come to us in prophetic people or prophetic documents so we ignore Jesus himself and his invitation to know this truth and rest in it, to follow it where it will take us. Instead of trusting it, trusting him, we find fault and pick holes and resist the beauty in front of us. We refuse to see that in this creation we have been given all we need for all to flourish. We hoard and we hurt each other. God and the prophets play a tune of beauty and truth and we do not dance, God’s beloved call to us in pain and need and we do not mourn.
Dianne Allen, in her book “Our Declaration”, describes the declaration of Independence as a declaration and an actualization of divorce and then a remarriage. Independence in this declaration is independence from the oppression and lack of goodwill shown towards the colonies by their previous partner Britain and the intent to not stand for oppression and lack of goodwill from future partners. The writers declared their country’s independence from these things and then they called the country into a new marriage. Independence was declared from Britain on the basis of the colonies equality and Britain’s bad behavior but independence was not declared from each other. The declaration of independence according to Allen declared a marriage of the people to each other, because we need each other, those with whom we live and, and we need to wed ourselves to each other and to certain principles if we are to have a life that hopes to be free of inequality and injustice.
Now we know that “all men are created equal” had a very particular meaning in the 18th century world. Men were most definitely men - and they had property and they were white. We have pushed back these boundaries some but still power is held pretty tightly by the monied, and male and white class and still those outside these classes and are oppressed and vilified. But yet – even despite the way its own truth was limited before the ink was even dry – this document contains and make clear for us a powerful principle - the principle of equality, equality for all. It displayed it so powerfully that it called a new nation into being and then fuelled and continues to fuel that nation’s struggle against laws that tell sections they are not good enough to be allowed what they need to be whole, to be well. And it is so powerful that it really does cause the world to sit up and take notice. It really does – we notice - and many place their hope in the promise of this country even as with the rest of the world we do what we don’t want to do.
God’s call to equality is reflected through this declaration, and don’t tell my friends, but some of us Brits, see a promise and a love for justice that we want to give ourselves too as well. But God’s call to equality is certainly not contained by it. God’s call goes beyond this statement to say that all nations, all parts of this creation are equal – not the same but equal. Equal in dignity and worth – equal in their right and claim to the space and the resources they need to be safe and well. And here is the real good news - thankfully we are not responsible to make this so. Equality is is already the case – we really don’t have to convince anyone of its truth – it’s something that just is – God’s work done and dusted as they say in my country. Our job is to rest in this equalizing work God that has done, to trust it, to believe it and to follow Jesus into God’s vision of equality and then with God’s never-failing help to simply treat others in ways that reflect this truth. To this way we are to pledge very selves: our lives, our resources and our sacred honor. Thanks be to God.
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