Happy Independence Day Weekend!
Gotta hand it to those Founding Fathers. They were some pretty smart dudes (Especially if you compare them to the myopic Lilliputians in our current government!). Now granted, Jefferson and Hamilton and Jay and Madison and all the rest of those powdered wig cats weren’t exactly Trinitarian Christians*. Nevertheless, they had a vision for a republic which can only be described as divinely inspired. If nothing else, they imagined a system with checks and balances, which means, for whatever their personal theologies might have been, they had a functioning concept of sin and the possibilities of corruption.
The FF’s started from the basic idea that all people are created by God to be of equal worth (although they were more than a little fuzzy on this concept where their African slaves were concerned!), and they believed in basic human rights. That is to say that everyone in the society—if that society is to make any claim to civilization at all—is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To me, this means that qualified legal representation, education, and healthcare are not commodities to be purchased only by those who can afford them, but rights the society must provide for all. Whether you agree with my interpretation or not, you have to admit that, as jacked-up as our government may be, we are all pretty freakin’ lucky to be living in America. So Happy Birthday, USA, and hats off to those eighteenth century guys who kept their heads in the midst of crisis and laid the groundwork for our republic.
In the First Lesson from the Revised Common Lectionary for Pentecost 4 Year A (Jeremiah 28:5-9) we learn about some folks who didn’t keep their heads in a time of crisis. The backstory on this passage goes like this: the nation of Babylon had become the overlord of Judah. After a pretty unsuccessful attempt at revolution, the Judeans got the crap kicked out of them. The Babylonians looted their temple and kidnapped their king, their royal court, and all of their military officers and administrators. The prophet Jeremiah—who had a flair for the theatrical—put a wooden slave’s yoke on his shoulders and announced to King Zedekiah and the rest of the puppet government that they were all slaves of Babylon, that further resistance would be suicidal at the present time, and that they’d better figure out how to deal with the situation. Oh, and by the way, God says so.
A rival prophet, a guy named Hananiah, claimed that God told him everything would be peachy because God likes Judeans better than Babylonians, and Judean exceptionalism meant that everything would magically turn out okay. He then ripped the yoke off Jeremiah’s shoulders and smashed it.
King Zedekiah, of course, believed what he wanted to believe—that God was on his side. The poor slob should have listened to Jeremiah, because the result was that Jerusalem was utterly destroyed by the Babylonians and Zedekiah and his family were caught while trying to escape. The Babylonians killed Zed’s sons in front of him and then put his eyes out. The Jewish exiles remained captives to Babylon for another seventy years.
Zedekiah and Hananiah are like a lot of us. We want to believe what we want to believe. That makes us easy marks for a lot of false prophecy in both government and the church. I think we’ve recently been given a lot of simple answers to complex questions. Our politicians are telling us just to blame it on someone else. Just break the yoke of taxation, roll back the regulations, and increase military spending. Then everything will be swell. Forget income inequality, racial tension, global climate change, and the international community. God likes us best, so everything will work out.
We also have some TV preachers who promise we’ll receive the desires of our hearts because God wants to bless us. If we just stay faithful we will be rewarded with riches. Forget the crucifixion, just shoot straight for the Heavenly glory.
My own personal prophecy is this: Things will suck. They will continue to suck with a pernicious suckiness as long as we are citizens of this sinful world. Anyone who tells you that things will get better without all of us embracing a sense of sacrificial discipleship is selling you snake oil.
There’s a fine line between pessimism and realism. Realism tells us that we, like Jeremiah, are called to take a long and painful look at how things are and where they’re headed, and then seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We’re called to speak truth to power (just as America’s Founding Fathers intended we should) and call for solutions which might end up costing us our personal time and resources. We are called to be patient and faithful participants, not just wishful thinkers.
But here’s the good news from our gospel lesson (Matthew 10:40-42): what we do matters. When we find the welcome in our hearts for the stranger, the poor, the forgotten, or the under-represented, we push the Kingdom of God forward. When my congregation makes room in the church basement to house homeless families, we are pushing back against the darkness, offering that cup of cool water to the “little ones” in the name of discipleship, claiming the reward of the righteous. Our small actions may not look like much, but many small actions can turn into one big action. Our reward may not be in worldly recognition or in wealth, but it will be in finding peace with God and peace with ourselves.
Thanks for dropping by, my friends. Enjoy your Fourth of July Weekend!
*For a really good look at what the Founding Fathers believed, I recommend you read Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David L. Holmes (Oxford University Press, 2006).