Saturday, July 05, 2014

Patriotism takes Everyone!

“Come to Me All who labor and are heavy laden 
 and I will give you rest”

“In the good old summertime” as Nat King Cole used to sing it, and all across the land folks are enjoying time off from their labors and laying down their heavy burdens. Church attendance often is part of the vacation schedule. Thankfully you and I are here this morning to set forth the praise of Almighty God, and take our rest here, and lay down whatever heavy burdens we carry at the altar of God.

I don’t see why we have to wait for summer to lay those burdens down. Nor do we need to schedule in a vacation to enjoy a break from the drudgery of work. What Jesus is getting at in the Gospel message of today as he is every day, is this; “lay down your burdens on me, let me take them on and carry them for you.” 

He goes on to say; “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

You will notice that the clergy wear stoles over their vestments when it comes to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The stole represents the yoke of Christ. That yoke is indeed easy and its burden is light. By the way, the alb is a vestment that represents our baptism. We put on Christ as we would a garment; this garment; the alb. The word alb in Latin means “white” and represents the fact that our sins are washed away in our baptism. In many places in the early church, everyone who attended the Eucharist wore a garment as a sign that we are all one in Christ and that there are no distinctions among us. The cincture we wear represents the fact that we are girded about with the strength of Christ. And so we are; for the more we live into the life of Christ the more we find our lives strengthened and girded about with his love.

But back to the yoke of Christ. We know that oxen are beasts of burden and carry heavy weights and their yokes themselves are heavy and built to carry those loads. I suppose that there are those who might think I have some ox like qualities, but I am hopeful that will fade away over time. 

So what does Jesus ask us to carry? It begins with his forgiveness of us. This in turn allows us to repent and thus we learn to become new beings made in the likeness of God. Having been forgiven, we learn to forgive. The burden of our sin is lighter and we are asked by Jesus to remember to lay aside the heavy weight of guilt. 

Or what happens when we get ourselves in a peck of trouble? Years ago I remember going out on the rocks in Gloucester. I didn’t know how slick the seaweed could be as I ventured out further and further. My mother called me to return, but of course, I ignored her and went out as far as I could. My mother’s calls to return now carried a tone mixed with urgency and irritation. It was becoming clearer that she would have to risk herself by coming out on the rocks to bring me back. Then in an instant my feet met a slick of seaweed that was as slippery as a viscous oil. I landed on my back with my wind knocked out of me. As I stared up into the blue sky above and struggled to regain my breath, I also saw my mother come into view above me and she pulled me up by both arms with a few noteworthy epithets. My mother was capable of expressing herself with colorful language. 

I think of God calling to us to be careful as we venture forth into danger. We know what is right and wrong but still we dare and tempt fate. God calls us again and again. His prophets and Jesus call out repeatedly, but many ignore the urgency and even the irritation of their dire warnings. When I speak of these things I speak not only of our individual struggles but our national and international ethic and political self will. Often we find our ethics compromised by greed, self indulgence and violence. And when we fall, great indeed is the fall thereof. And talk about the wind getting knocked out of our lungs, we find ourselves laying there helpless looking up to the heaven. And as we do we will see the kindly face of God looking down upon us and being gracious unto us. God reaches out and takes us by both arms and lifts us up. The economic failure of 2008 has taken the better part of six years to recover from, such was the total moral bankruptcy of many of our largest banks and financial institutions. Somehow, by the grace of God and with some human intelligence we found our way through the financial morass.

It is the good old summer time; the Fourth of July weekend. I’m old enough to remember the nation’s bicentennial. A group of us met on the Esplanade early that day, spread out blankets, had a picnic and played with the then ubiquitous frisbee. By the time Arthur Fiedler appeared for the evening concert, the place was packed. There wasn’t a square inch to spare. It was a wonderful concert. That year we did hear Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, and the fireworks that followed accompanied by the Howitzers on the Charles and the Bells from the Church of the Advent heightened the sense of history and excitement that makes being there in Boston the special gift that this weekend is for anyone who loves this city, this state; and indeed this country.

That year, I drove across the country in honor of the Bicentennial. I drove up through Canada to see some of my friends in Toronto, Sioux St Marie, and Vancouver. Canada’s centennial was in 1967, so I enjoyed seeing vast portions of Canada’s prairies, west and Rocky Mountains. I then drove back following Interstate 90. I got off the main highway to see so many things like Devil’s Tower, the Badlands of South Dakota, and Mount Rushmore. By the time I made it back to Minneapolis, I saw more friends, as I did in Chicago, Indianapolis, Winchester, Virginia and then made my way home via the Nation’s Capitol. 

I have served the church in New York City, Massachusetts, Ohio, South Carolina, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Like most Americans I love my country. I also love Canada, Ireland, Britain, France and would love to see India. A patriot is not so much a citizen of these United States alone, but also of the World. As we learned in both World Wars there needs to be a way for the nations of the earth to talk rather than to fight. And while the League of Nations was a failure, and the United Nations is very imperfect, it is better for us to come and reason together as grown ups than it is to engage in the madness of war. 

Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Here on the Fourth of July Weekend in 2014, I find myself living in a nation unable to govern itself because it is divided against itself. I could point fingers but that serves no purpose. Most of you know that I am an outspoken advocate of the poor and the outcast, and few could mistake where I come down on the political spectrum. But rather than engage in simple partisanship on this Fourth of July, I think we need to hold up a vision of hope.

The vision I see is of one of the great symbols of this country; The American Bald Eagle. You will notice that an Eagle, as with any bird, has a left wing and a right wing. So too when we talk of liberals and conservatives we speak of folks on the left wing and on the right wing. Many folk on either wing feel we do not need or want folks on the other. This is absolutely antithetical to the health of the body politic. Just as the Apostle Paul said it; “The eye cannot say to the hand, I do not need you.” ~I Corinthians 12:21

A bird obviously cannot fly without both wings. We have shut down the government. We have been unable to pass any jobs bill since the depression of 2008. Important infrastructure improvements languish because of our failure to pass a highway bill. The left wing and the right wing cancel each other out in our present political climate. This is an error of critical importance. How can a bird fly without both wings. And yet this is exactly what is happening to this nation. We’re stranded. We are grounded. We are wasting valuable time as the rest of the world moves along. 

It needn’t be so. If for instance, we could bury our partisanship and come together to negotiate our differences, we could find ourselves borne aloft on Eagle’s wings. The prophet Isaiah tells us; “Come let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:18) Imagine if we could do that? We’re losing valuable time. We are losing ground. 

I do have a vision of a nation coming together like we did during World War II. They were called “the greatest generation”. And so they were. True patriots, who endured the hardships of depression and war, set aside their differences to work on a common goal. Imagine if we ever figured out that we are all on the same side? Imagine if we were like an Eagle with all of its constituent parts working together. We could soar!

It is just a fanciful vision. But we have seen it before. We could see it again. And on this Fourth of July, this is how I choose to listen to Jesus. Because his burden is light, because his yoke is easy, we, my friends may soar like and eagle.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Fr Paul

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