The Greatest Nation


redcalvarysquare Sermon Video orangecalvarysquare Weekly Scripture greencalvarysquare Sermon Full Text bluecalvarysquare Sermon PDF

In God’s kingdom, every person enjoys full citizenship. God’s nation is Reconciliation: the coming together of all God’s children, praising God for life, for freedom and for the differences that make us interesting. Where is your true home?

Sermon Video

This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.’

Download Sermon as PDF


A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.

Back to Top

Full Text of Sermon

The Rhetoric of Loving Persuasion

On this communion Sunday when we celebrate the borderless love of Jesus, we examine a small passage from a collection of letters Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, a congregation Paul had founded. Some of the cosmopolitan people to whom Paul writes enjoyed generations of bounty[1]rivaling that of Thebes and Athens.

Today’s reading is a study in loving persuasion. Paul says that he’s not demanding anything but suggests strongly that they remember they follow Jesus: the one who dared to demonstrate equality and preached unconditional love to everybody: soldiers and prostituted women, government employees and foreigners. Paul reminds the Corinthians that, not too long ago, they committed to something meaningful with excitement, but now their energy, eagerness, earnestness[2] was wearing off.

That’s what happens to people, especially in groups. We fracture. We don’t pay attention and return to find that decisions were made while we were away. In church, we can be triggered by someone’s choice of words. That’s what is means to follow Jesus. Christianity is a communal religion.

Paul says to waning congregation, “You remember Jesus don’t you?” Jesus showed us that we’re not really alive until we love our neighbors, even those neighbors. This year, I welcome the challenge to preach on the First of July, given how our country is treating our neighbors or, as scripture puts it: the resident alien.[3] So, knowing that even some hearing my words live in fear of detention and deportation and others will disagree with me fundamentally, I invite you, as my mother used to say to her finicky son: eat what you can and leave the rest.

An American song from our country’s most painful chapter:
There’s a man going round taking names,
There’s a man going round taking names.
He has taken my mother’s name, and he left my heart in pain.
There’s a man going round taking names.[4] [5] [6]

A family member. Taken. Separated from us by human hands.

This is the opposite of reconciliation. The opposite of grace. The opposite of love.

The imago Dei, God’s image, is alive in every person that ever will be.[7] That realization —  being already reconciled in  God — is what our spiritual walk is about. We are one. In the church, we are invited to an inclusive banquet where no one is ever left out. If that is disagreeable to your way of thinking, please go make a sandwich and think it over.  Pray about what is separating you from experiencing the miracle of God’s arms wrapped around you, like a proud parent who forgives everything.

PICO California[8] Border Actions

Nine days ago, I was privy to a worldview I thought I already had.  I have never worn these lenses before, but now I see. I joined with upwards of one-thousand other people of faith — pastors, rabbis, imams, tribal elders, spiritualists, nuns, monks, lovers of holy grace — gathered at the Mexican border. Last Sunday, I described what
we encountered at the border walls that jut out into the Pacific Ocean.

Detention Center Social Witness

The next day, we gathered at Otay Mesa in southern San Diego County to march to an Detention Center that bears the name of ICE. “Detention Center” is a euphemism for a prison where children were kept, separated from their families, in chain-link cages. I drove two other ministers in my rental car and, using GPS, parked the car along a road near the sprawling facility. Waiting for the other 900 or so to arrive, we were advised by a kind passerby that, the day before, even though there were no posted parking restrictions posted anywhere, dozens of vehicles had been towed while Sen. Harris held a press conference there. (Subtle, no?) So, having secured permission from a trucking company about a mile away, we all moved our cars to safety. No matter where you go in California, finding parking is the great uniter.

We marched a mile down the road. As we chanted “Whose streets? Our streets! Whose streets? Our streets!” I felt some of my pain and frustration beginning to find purpose. That’s one takeaway for today: get your faith out of the pews and into the streets. As we got closer, we saw more walls, this time topped with razor wire. It’s a prison.[9] There were children in there. There are now 3-year-olds appearing in court before judges![10] Tears flowed freely as we chanted “You are not alone! No estás solo! ”

Lining the ICE detention center’s perimeter were signs reading PRIVATE PROPERTY  with black-background with red letters. You know this style of signs from the hardware store. They usually say something like “for sale by owner.” Can this be the work of a government founded by and for the people? On reflection, I now realize that private prisons do not exist to protect our country from three-year-olds or their parents. They exist to benefit of people that own them and investors. It’s not about protecting the border, it is about making a fortune. The CoreCivic[11] Corporation’s per capita funding comes from we the taxpayers and is used to separate immigrant families for profit.[12]

Hundreds of thousands gathered yesterday in San Francisco and all over the country[13] to say “families belong together.” We live in a time when we have to hold public demonstrations to say families belong together? Our country is losing its soul, and the church, along with every other institution of goodwill, is obligated to stand up and help these people or fling ourselves into the dustbin of history. Yes, it’s that bad.

As the church, we don’t have all the answers. I don’t know how to fix this. But today’s scripture instructs us plainly: following Jesus is not about feeling guilty for what we cannot do. Following Jesus is about doing what you can with what you have—and do not hold back, or will we go the way of Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire?

Now, I realize this is draining. I am not strong enough to focus on it 24/7, I just can’t. Lou demands I turn the channel from the news when it becomes just too much. I begin yelling at the television. Don’t feel guilty over that, urges Paul, you can’t do anything with what you don’t have, but you can do all you can with all you have. Don’t try to work with what you don’t have, but do all the good you can with all you do have. Sounds like practical kitchen table advice from a wise old family member.[14]

Alma’s Tabletop

Since Independence Day celebrates home, I have been thinking about the house where I was raised in very rural Appalachia. Tucked into the hills of NW Georgia, our house was built by the railroad for the village doctor. Our wrap-around porch was once the waiting room. At closing time, story goes, the doctor would have a little whisky with his last patient. Around the time of Civil War, the house was acquired by my family who loved it for another 135 years.

One hot afternoon, when I was about eight years old, while playing in the back yard near the relatively new drainage ditch from our house to the field by the railroad. I was digging around in the dirt when I struck something hard and flat. My young curiosity was sparked.Was a treasure chest? Perhaps a coffin! So, I dug faster, and pretty soon I had unearthed a 3×8 slab of polished marble, no doubt from the nearby quarry in Tate.[15] It was a couple inches thick. What was it? Why was it here? My parents started asking around.

Our working theory goes like this. In 1864, as they heard of the impending destruction[16] that was marching through Georgia, someone, perhaps my great grandmother Alma or her mother, buried their valuables in the back yard, away from Sherman’s grasp. Then, once the danger had passed, they either couldn’t forgot about them or hid them so safely they couldn’t find them.

That marble slab has long haunted me. Why didn’t they claim a valuable polished-marble tabletop? The tabletop’s value was buried along with it. Rather than let those damn yankees get it, my forebears buried it and left it. We decided to give it to my grandmother Annie Dell who had it made into radiator covers.

Many of us, during the past week, have had moments when we wanted to go bury something in our metaphorical backyard: the news, the devices that broadcast the news, our feelings, our money. Some of us even want to bury our heads in the red clay, and let whatever is happening to our country make its way to the sea. There will be a lot of pillaging and destruction along the way.

I met her only as she lay dying, but I like to envision my great grandmother, Alma, whomping some Union marauder over the head with that lovely marble tabletop, rather than letting him hurt someone or burn something else down. Alma. Her name means soul. That’s what we’re talking about. I am speaking metaphorically when I say that sometimes when people are inflicting unspeakable pain on the least of these, a good whomping is in order. That’s what we do when we love one another. If you love someone or something, like a country, you won’t let something horrible just go by. You’ll pour tea in Boston Harbor. You’ll write a declaration. You’ll put it all on the line for the sake of the greater good. Let all those with ears to hear, hear!

Affirmation of Faith: The Immigrants Creed, PC(USA), 2017[17]

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, and returning to his own country suffered the oppression of the tyrant Pontius Pilate, the servant of a foreign power, who then was persecuted, beaten, and finally tortured, accused and condemned to death unjustly. But on the third day, this scorned Jesus rose from the dead, not as a foreigner but to offer us citizenship in heaven. 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 church is the secure home for the foreigner and for all believers who constitute it, who speak the same language and have the same purpose. I believe that the Communion of the Saints begins when we accept the diversity of the saints. I believe in the forgiveness, which makes us all equal, and in the reconciliation, which identifies us more than does race, language or nationality. 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. Beyond this world, I believe in Life Eternal in which no one will be an immigrant but all will be citizens of God’s kingdom, which will never end.

Amen.

[1] perisseuma in Greek: superabundance

[2] proqumia in Greek, eagerness

[3] Exodus 22:21 and many more, accessible online at <http://www.ucc.org/justice_immigration_worship_biblical-references-to> (June 30, 2018)

[4] American Spiritual, one iteration of which is discussed in “Negro Songs” accessed online at < https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0ahUKEwiYhJGflffbAhUorFQKHdz6Ai4QFgg0MAI&url=https%3A%2F%2Fscholarworks.iu.edu%2Fdspace%2Fbitstream%2Fhandle%2F2022%2F1053%2FArchivist_9_1_dorson_list_rosenberg.pdf%3Fsequence%3D1&usg=AOvVaw1Gm8J2LIk_VElMWHnnJFTF> p. 6.

[5] This Spiritual is also collected in Carl Sandburg’s American Songbag of 1927.

[6] Just listen to this. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qz5R1HT8PkM> (June 29, 2018)

[7] Discussed more during last week’s sermon.

[8] Pacific Institute for Community Organizing, an powerful interfaith movement for social justice, more at www.picocalifornia.org/staff/

[9] Otay Mesa Detention Center, http://www.corecivic.com/facilities/otay-mesa-detention-center

[10] “Trump Administration Admits…” accessed online at <https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/child-immigrants-us-court-border-family-migrant-immigration-trump-latest-melania-a8422101.html> (June 29, 2018)

[11] CoreCivic, for profit prison corporation: http://www.corecivic.com

[12] “ICE Needs…Who Might Profit?” CBS News Money Watch, accessed online <https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ice-needs-expanded-detention-centers-who-might-profit/> (June 28, 2018)

[13] “Hundreds of Thousands Protest…” Time Magazine online at <http://time.com/5327533/families-belong-together-protests/> (July 1, 2018)

[14] John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.”

[15] “Georgia Marble” acceded at <http://www.aboutnorthgeorgia.com/ang/Georgia_Marble> (July 2, 2018)

[16] Sherman’s March, History Channel, accessed online at <https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/shermans-march> (July 1, 2018)

[17] http://www.ethnicharvest.org/ideas/creed.htm

 

Back to Top