Happy Independence Day! We’re creeping up on 250 years as an independent nation… which is just a middlin’-long time on the world stage. It’s not nearly so long as Israel had been on the world stage when Jesus came along. Israel shared some remarkable characteristics with America, and some significant differences, as well.
Israel looked at itself as the shining city on a hill, which every other nation wished to emulate. They were and are, after all, the chosen people of God. If you don’t believe them, just ask them; they even have it written on a scroll. It was almost sacrilege to think otherwise. We Americans have the same self-assuredness: we are also the city on a hill that every nation wished to emulate. I wonder if the same is still true. We have it carved on buildings. It’s almost sacrilege to think otherwise.
Jesus looked around one day and saw people concerned about the wrong things. He saw people worried about the outward appearances of others, or how much money they had, or how others might be able to help them move up in the world. He saw people worried about drinking the right vintage of wine, or eating the right food, and doing so with the right kind of people.
I think that’s the point of our gospel, and I think the observations Jesus had 2,000 years ago are just as apt today: Some people look at others and see someone trying to watch their weight, or not eating meat, or who don’t drink, and think to themselves, that’s not the right type of person for me. Some people look at others and see someone who eats at McDonald’s 3 or 4 times a week, or hangs out down at the pub, or invites the “wrong type of people” over for dinner, and thinks to themselves, that’s not the right type of people for me. Or maybe the wrong type of people have the wrong color skin. Or fall in love with a person of the wrong sex. Or worship in the wrong manner. And Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”
When I got out of the Army, we spent a lot of time getting ready for a baby. And while we did that, Amy and I applied to college. We went and visited the campus and rented an apartment a few blocks away from the school. And then we looked for a day care. We didn’t have a lot of money, and had to find a place that would accept a newborn. The only place we could afford was literally on the wrong side of the tracks. It was run by an African-American Baptist church, and it was, maybe, our luckiest break in raising Leigh Ann. She was the token white kid at the school. Due to our schedules at school, Leigh Ann spent 8 or 9 hours a day at day care. In truth, her teacher there, Ms. LaDonna, raised Leigh Ann more than we did and maybe better. That little school was her life. She loved being there and she loved her teachers.
And she learned, I suspect, the most valuable lesson of her life there. She had the opportunity to learn the value of people who didn’t look like her. One day when Leigh Ann was 3 or 4 years old, we took her to a local park that had a playground. There were a couple of little girls her age playing in one part of the playground, and a couple of little girls playing in another part. We didn’t know any of them, but Leigh Ann walked up to one of the groups and asked if she could play with them. They looked at her and asked, “Why do you want to play with us? Why don’t you go play with those white girls?” It was kind of a hard lesson for an innocent little kid to learn: that sometimes people judge you before they even get a chance to know you.
That, I think is the lesson God hopes we can learn: that people have value, even if we don’t know them. All people do. People have talents and skills that can complement our own. If you want to be purely cynical about it, people have value in what they can do for you. But people have value even if they can’t do something for you. Because people have value in what they can offer to others; perhaps more importantly, people have value in what they offer to God. You don’t get to decide what that is; nor do I. I don’t know who God finds valuable; only God the Father knows. And no one knows the will of God the Father, except the Son. I only hope that I remember to see what God sees when I look at others, no matter who they are; because my bet is God finds everyone valuable.
What we can do and what is needful now is to continue the work to protect those who need protecting, even if that protecting means only a cup of cool water. Our church and city are pretty good about it. But we can do much more. We can continue to wear masks when out in public to protect others, rather than to menace. We can continue to segregate ourselves to protect others, rather than segregate others to keep them from being lifted up. We can continue to offer others out of our bounty rather than hoarding to buffer our largesse.
We’ve done a great job in the past year; and we need to continue trying new things to see what works today. Because this is the legacy of our country; it’s who we, as a nation, truly aspire to be. These are the homeless, tempest-tost, and we are standing beside a door of shelter to keep one-another free of disease; to provide solace, as we are able. By taking action to support others in positive ways, we will play the flute while others dance and mourn with others when they wail.