Independence or Interdependence

The sermon from Sunday, July 2, 2017 on Romans 6:12-23

This passage from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman church is layered.  

That’s good because I sat down to write one sermon and ended up writing another. The Holy Spirit will do that to you.

Let’s start with this line from the middle – I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations.

That sounds a little obnoxious, but I’d argue what Paul is saying here is that he’s trying to put things in terms that his audience will understand. He’s speaking their language.

Since our language and our context is different than Paul’s, we end up needing a little translating.

It’s always important when slavery comes up in Scripture to note that Paul is not endorsing slavery or saying anyone should be a slave.

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

The point is this, I would argue: we choose whom we follow. We devote ourselves to many things – and that can be to all that is good and loving and compassionate and just – or not.

We can make ourselves slaves of consumerism and fear and oppression and meanness.

Or we can fill ourselves with the goodness of God.

Paul says – Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.

According to Paul, we who follow Jesus reclaim ourselves from the forces of wickedness in this world, so that we might live in righteousness, live as if God is working through us.  

Here’s where this sermon took a turn. I was going to explain why I wasn’t going to preach about Independence Day. Then I realized that in explaining why I wasn’t preaching about Independence Day, I was ending up preaching about Independence Day. So we’re just going with it . . .  

Other churches do.  I’m not looking to argue with any given church or pastor about the practice.

However, it’s tied into the same reason you won’t find an American flag here in the church – and why I tend to stay away from discussion of secular holidays in general.

It’s not because I don’t love this country. As a citizen, I love this country and I believe in the ideals to which it professes – even as I understand that it often fails to live up to them. I believe that we together continue the journey of making it better.  I was born in this country and I choose to remain here because it’s my home.

I vote. I turn up for jury duty when I’m called. I give blood. I call my elected officials about things that matter to me.  I am grateful for those who serve in the armed forces and respect how we need a professional military. I try to be dutiful.

Yet this is not supposed to be a church holiday. We as Christians don’t worship the flag. We  don’t worship the United States of America – or at least we’re not supposed to.

That would be idolatry.

We can respect the flag, but we ought not confuse it with God. We respect our civil society, our shared life together as a country, but we also remember who we, as Christians, are called to follow.

Some people make of themselves a slave to so-called patriotism. This is not about Republicans or Democrats. We can all fall victim to this.  It does not make sense to attempt be a slave to patriotism and a liberated, devoted follower of Jesus at the same time.

Jesus was a critic of state power used badly, a challenger of Empire. Then and now and all through the centuries, religion has been used as an instrument of state power. That is deeply problematic because the church is supposed to be an instrument of God’s love.

And God loves us all. We believe in a God who loves all.

We can say God bless America, but if we do, it might rightly be followed by God bless Belgium and God bless Nicaragua and God bless Madagascar and Japan. God doesn’t love just us, nor are we due the sole measure of God’s blessing. We humans are the ones in competition for everything.

God’s love is vast enough for all of us. That is the vastness of God. Because we all dwell within the vastness of God and God’s love, this isn’t just about us.

It makes for a complicated narrative because we also have these truths.

We celebrate freedom and independence on Independence Day and yet on July 4, 1776 and for more than 80 years after, chattel slavery – the actual enslavement of black people bodily ripped from Africa – remained the law of the land.

There were churches who walked lock-step with the existence of slavery in this country. And there were those who resisted it, who worked tirelessly for abolition and human freedom.

So whose Independence does this day celebrate? And how do we as Christians relate to that?

We celebrate freedom and Independence on Independence Day – and yet on July 4, 1776 and for decades hence, this country slaughtered indigenous people, seized their lands for settler colonizers, and destroyed the living vestiges of their culture.

There were churches who justified that genocide in this country. And there were those who resisted it.

So whose Independence does this day celebrate? And how do we as Christians relate to that?

We celebrate freedom and independence on Independence Day – and yet believe that we have the right to bomb sovereign nations at (our) will, prop up brutal dictatorships, and impose the hegemony of capitalism to the ends of the planet.

There are churches that prop up state power and those that critique it.

So whose Independence does this day celebrate? And how do we as Christians relate to that?

We celebrate freedom and independence on Independence Day – and yet we consume and destroy the living Earth.

So I ask: whose independence? whose freedom? who benefits from these masks of ideology and our full plates of nationalism?

There are many ways in which the path of being an American and the path of being a Christian can be the same. But a nationalism that fails to see the harm that we’ve caused and that we continue to cause – even and perhaps especially when it’s wrapped in the flag – is not Christian. It’s an idolatrous worship of militarism, vain superiority, and the accumulation of power.

So you can have Independence Day.

I believe in the vastness of God and the vastness of God’s love.

As all living people and creatures are connected in our being and our well-being, I will celebrate Interdependence Day.

It too comes with good friends and good meals and celebrations and risks.  It’s got no problem with a day off by the lake or fireworks or cook-outs.

An acknowledgement of our interdependence means we have to look at the cost of our rhetoric and the sins of our history – and after we have faced up to that we have to do something about it.  That is how we might become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.

That is Interdependence Day.

You can find that on your calendar on any day that ends in a “y”.


Image credit to  Be Freedom: Movement Strategy for Activists and Organizers


Share This: