Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sermon: Flag and Font and Feast

Sermon for July 5, 2015
Independence Day (Observed)
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills, Tucson, AZ

Lord, Open our Lips,
that our mouth shall proclaim your praise.  Amen

Listen to this sermon here

Good morning!

The 4th of July
has always been my favorite holiday. 
During my youth,
my mother went all out with hospitality,
inviting friends and neighbors to our home
for a day of play and a special feast. 
We churned homemade ice cream,
snacked on deviled eggs
and enjoyed my mother’s special Paella dish followed by dessert of Baked Alaska FlambĂ©. 

It was a favorite holiday because
we shared it with friends and neighbors.
It was a celebration not of independence,
but interdependence,
marking how we depended on each other
not only for the joy of the day
but the sustenance of our whole lives.
On the 4th of July,
we hold the tension of two messages:

“you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism
and marked as Christ’s own forever”[1]
“I pledge allegiance to the flag
of the United States of America,
and to the republic for which it stands…”[2]

On July 4th, there is a special aura
surrounding the character of “independence,”
fueling the US break up
from the authority of England
and manifesting in the American Revolution’s
permanent chasm
between the colonies and their distant rulers. 

July 4th is the day the Founding Fathers
ratified with pride, our national independence:
statehood, sovereignty and completeness.[3]

However, the Founding Fathers
did not want just to be free from foreign rule,
they also wanted a new way of
being in community.

Which is why they,
“mutually pledged to each other their lives,
their fortunes, their sacred honor.”[4] 
So it is that every 4th of July
we reflect on our dependence upon each other,
of which the readings remind us.

The letter to the Hebrews recalls
those who died in faith of God’s promises,
who, like Abraham,
set out not knowing where they were going,
but trusted in the Lord. 

Like those refugees and immigrants,
we, too, are strangers and foreigners
on the earth, seeking God’s reign,
not our own.
We are not owners of the land,
Hebrews reminds us, we are stewards. 

And as stewards, we are called
(as read in Deuteronomy):
·        to welcome the stranger with love,
·        to feed and clothe the stranger
·        to act with justice to
the weakest and most marginalized
in the community.  

In the gospel reading from Matthew,
Jesus critiques cultural independence
that was found even in his day, when he says,
“you have heard it said
“You shall love your neighbor
and hate your enemy.” 
He goes on to criticize unchecked individualism and self-reliance, rooted in mistrust.

Into this individualistic society,
Jesus said to them, and to us
LIVE with interdependence,
love your enemies, pray for hostile ones,
welcome, feed and clothe the stranger     and act with justice
with those on the margins.

With Jesus’ help, we can love and pray for all
with whom our lives are interwoven –
no matter how strange or weak or hostile
or pained or painful they are. 
Pray for those who persecute you, Jesus says,   
because prayer opens hearts
and weaves us together.
Because being dependent on others
can be a sign of strength. 
Because when we trust another person,
we reflect the Body of Christ:
where we need everyone –
with unique gifts and eccentricities
and quirkiness –
we need everyone in order to be complete.
So who in your life needs prayer and love?
Who needs restoration into
God’s interdependent community? 
Take a moment to hold that person in your heart, or as they say in 12-step program: perhaps you can become willing to become willing
to hold that person in your heart –
just for a moment.

It is in the tension between
our baptism and our pledge of allegiance,
that we enter worship today. 
We enter worshiping and witnessing to the truth
that we are citizens of a community
wider than our nation.
We enter as members of the body of Christ,
Christians without borders.[5] 

In baptism, we pledge allegiance
not to any earthly power
but to the sovereign God of the universe
revealed in Jesus.
In baptism,
we join the ongoing story of salvation & freedom
that marks every day as “dependence day.” 
In baptism,
we acknowledge our reliance on God
and our dependence on community.

And God’s mark on our lives -
as one of the beloved, interwoven community -
transcends all other identities-
whether female or male or trans,
black or white or brown,
gay or straight or questioning. 
God loves us for who we are.

So while we honor “independence” day
of our nation, we also declare our
“dependence” on the triune God.

The triune God into whose name we are baptized
renews and restores
our connection to the whole created order.
The triune God into whose name we are baptized
calls us to live an interdependent life
so that we may become channels
of love, mercy and justice in the world.
The triune God into whose name we are baptized
grants us the true freedom
that we enjoy on the 4th of July
and every day.

How do we celebrate this dependence on God?

Pause – well, here’s a story.

The last scene of the film
“Places in the Heart,” shows
a small church in Texas (in 1935)
that is holding a communion service. 

While the few people in the sanctuary
are eeking out the hymn Blessed Assurance,
something unexpected happens.

As the parishioners pass the bread and wine,
more people appear in the pews –
those whose lives are woven together:
the bank president
who tried to foreclose on a young widow;
the white men
who lynched a black boy
after he mistakenly shot
the town’s beloved sheriff;
the players in the honky-tonk band
and the groupies who followed them
from dance to dance;
the African American laborer
who had helped the young widow
bring in a prizewinning crop of cotton and the Klansmen
who drove him out of town; and, finally,
the sheriff himself
and the boy who had killed him.

‘The peace of Christ,’ the sheriff says to the boy
as he shares the bread and wine.
‘The peace of Christ,’
the boy whispers in return.[6]

Today, in the tension of flag and font,

God transcends the choice
with a sacrament of interdependence:
which we call “Communion” -
the bread of life and the cup of salvation.

God invites us to an eternal feast,
the Feast of Resurrection,
where in communion with all the saints,
past, present, and yet to come
we celebrate our dependence on each other.

The good news today is that
Through the font and the feast,
God’s love binds us together
for the joy of the day and
for the sustenance of our whole lives.


[1] Book of Common Prayer, Baptism, page 308
[2] The Pledge of Allegiance, posted here.
[3] Inspired by The Rev. Nils Chittenden’s sermon, “2013 Interdependence Day” that can be found here.
[4] From the Declaration of Independence cited here on Wikipedia, excerpt of which was read aloud by a Deacon in worship.
[5] Inspired by Debra Dean Murphy’s 2011 sermon, “Flag or Font?” posted here.
[6] Inspired by Kimberly Bracken Long, The Worshiping Body: The Art of Leading Worship, page 8-9