July 4, 2021
2 Corinthians 5: 16-21
From time to time I like to pull the curtain aside and speak plainly about what it’s like to preach to a Church community. So – let’s talk about the Fourth of July dilemma. Every year there’s some Sunday that’s close to Independence Day, but every now and again Independence Day lands right smack dab in the middle of a Lord’s Day Sunday service. It hasn’t happened since 2010 actually. We’re due again in 2027.
The dilemma is what do you do with it? On the one hand, it’s not a Christian holiday. It’s a national day of observance. So one might argue that it really doesn’t deserve undo attention in a service of worship directed to the God of all heaven and earth. Heck, I’ve known people to become quite offended when services include American flags and patriotic hymns.
I’ve also served congregations that have a robust community of veterans and active servicemen and servicewomen. I’ve heard stories and even seen with my own eyes the sacrifices that these families make in service to our nation. To make it more personal to UPC, I know that Bob Patton – who passed away a number of years ago – had been a Prisoner of War and so I understand that he had strong feelings about holding his love of God and his love of nation together. And one might argue that we really ought to hold those together – that Patriotism is in fact perfected when it is shaped by the Gospel…when we can join Albert Camus who once longingly said “I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice.”
You see the complexity?
It seems to me that when July 4th falls on a Sunday, the Church feels that tension a bit more acutely than usual. The varying feelings in the congregation can be a bit more pointed than usual.
But when we come to Church, above all what we are longing to hear is good news, and I believe that there is good news for us today. Even while we as a nation struggle so mightily about our identity…even in these times when questions and critiques are called un-patriotic or when a defense of tradition is immediately characterized as racist, bigoted or closed-minded – even here and now there is good, good news to be found in the Gospel.
That good news is that we are in fact capable of reconciling our differences.
Not because we’re so wise or worthy.
Not because we’re naturally growing more magnanimous by the day.
We’re capable of reconciling our differences because we are in Christ.
A reading from Paul’s second recorded letter to the Church in Corinth:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
On a 2019 episode of the “Hidden Brain” podcast, Psychologist Mahzarin Banaji spoke of her 20-year research on Americans and our biases. She studies how our biases shift and change over time and even offered some projections for how long it would take for certain biases to disappear completely.
The episode focuses on the absolute sea-change that has happened in bias against the LGBTQ community. The current data suggests that America would achieve bias neutrality within 9 years.
By contrast, biases about skin tone – the preference for lighter colors – will take 138 years to achieve neutrality. Implicit attitudes about age or disabilities are particularly ingrained and will take over 150 years to be eliminated.
All of this is just a thought experiment and not a predicter of the future, but it was an interesting illustration of how we see one another. Or perhaps I should say how we fail to see one another rightly.
“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view”
The bad news is that Paul wrote those words nearly two thousand years ago and we still haven’t achieved neutrality when it comes to our bias. We still have this stubborn habit of regarding one another from a very human point of view. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that we do not have to live in that world with those tired old spectacles.
The good news is that we are already living in Christ. We have what John Calvin called
“the spectacles of faith.”
I got some glasses a couple years ago. I noticed that my distance vision was degrading a bit – mostly noticed it driving at night. So I went to the eye doctor, got tested, was handed a prescription and then walked right over to pick out some frames and voila – two days later I had my first set of glasses.
I put them on and wow – I could see so much more clearly.
I also felt like I was going to fall on my face going down stairs.
If I wore them for just a few minutes I would get a headache.
I hated those new glasses and accordingly they’ve been in my bathroom drawer untouched for about 1 year and 11 months.
Just because we’re in Christ – just because we’ve been handed these “spectacles of faith” – it does not mean that we like them.
And yet – it is to people like you and me that God has given the ministry of reconciliation.
Prior to the pandemic – and hopefully once more this coming Fall – there was a group of women who met for community, for study and mutual support. It’s called Women to Women.
I understand that one Wednesday morning as the group was gathering in Vance Baron Hall, they could see a commotion brewing across the street on the north quad through the large bay window. This was not long before the University removed the Silent Sam Confederate statue from its pedestal.
While the statue had been critiqued for years, the opposition was mounting to the point that it looked like it was actually going to come down. Naturally, this sparked plenty of counter-protests.
This is how the women in that small group came to see a couple of gentlemen, dressed in full Confederate-grey dress uniform, desperately trying to figure out the new-fangled parking meters out in front of the Church.
Something about this tableau sums up the Church in America for me.
In the background, fierce differences on display that are this close to erupting into open conflict;
In the foreground, a couple of people struggling to keep up with the pace of change – in both technology and in culture;
And then the Church – observing it all, wondering what or how to interject ourselves.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had that experience when somebody says something or does something and you respond one way in the moment but after a few hours you start dreaming about how you wish you had responded.
As far as I know the group wisely stayed away from the escalating tension across the street, but one Church member began to wonder about a different response to these two gentlemen struggling with the parking meter out on Franklin Street.
What if she grabbed her purse and stepped out on to the sidewalk. What if she approached them saying “You know, I had nothing but trouble with those things when they first put them in! Let me see if I can help you. Did you enter your space number? No – do you remember what it is? Yep – the space numbers are right there on that sign…why don’t you walk down there and yell it back to me. Now, I am going to put two hours on the meter for you. Okay – you’re all set there.
If I may say so, I don’t agree with one thing that this uniform you’re wearing represents;
That’s not how I understand God and – whether you mean it or not – I shudder to think what kind of hurtful messages that sends to God’s people…
but it sure does look hot wearing all of that wool.
So – Did you bring any water? No – well here, take this bottle and stay hydrated.”
“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view…All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”
That would be something else. Wouldn’t it.
Reconciliation might just be the hardest thing God asks us to do.
But there’s no denying it – God is asking.
Everything old has passed away.
See, everything has become new.
We ended the service today with the hymn “This is My Song, O God of all the Nations.” I love that hymn – especially for the July 4th Dilemma. It so beautifully affirms love for the land that you call your own and it invites us to remember others feel the same about their own homelands as well. So even as we celebrate what we love about this land that we call our homes,
May the God of heaven and earth bless you and bless all the people of the earth.
Hello children of all ages. First I want to say that if any of you were out at Vacation Bible School this week – I had an incredible time. It was so, so fun – even if you didn’t believe me that I washed my shirt every day.
Long story for the rest of you for another time.
What we’re exploring today is a verse from a book in the Bible called 2 Corinthians.
It’s a letter written by an Apostle of Jesus Christ named Paul and in it he talks about how God has given us a job to do and that job is reconciliation.
That’s a really big word – can you say it with me. Reconciliation.
What is that?
I want you to think about Reconciliation as a tool.
Maybe like a screwdriver.
Do you know what a screwdriver does??
You turn a screw – maybe between two pieces of wood – and they come together.
Sometimes people have a lot of trouble coming together.
Maybe you’ve experienced that before. Maybe you’ve gotten into a fight with a friend or family member and it feels like you are really far apart.
Reconciliation is when you come back together.
When you say “I’m sorry” if you’ve hurt somebody”
When somebody else says “Is there anything I can do to make it better” if they hurt you.
Reconciliation is a really helpful tool that God has given us so that we can forgive one another and come back together.
Will you pray with me?
Thank you for this tool called Reconciliation.
When we are hurting and angry, help us reach for it and use it, God.
Help us come back together no matter how far apart we might feel.