A More Perfect Union

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Feast of Independence Day: July 5, 2020
Gospel: Matthew 5:43-48

The Feast of Independence Day (transferred). Celebrant/Preacher: Mother Adrienne Hymes, "A More Perfect Union" (Gospel: Matthew 5:43-48). Lay Ministers: Mr. Pete Soto, Mrs. Sharon Soto, Mr. LeGrand Jones, Mrs. Herfa Roach, Dr. Gerene Thompson, Ms. Karen Bauer, Ms. Chris O’Donnell. Music: Ms. Gina Spano; Vocals: Ms. Katherine Knippel.

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, July 5, 2020

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

In our Gospel passage in the fifth chapter of Matthew, we are brought into this challenging teaching about the law as it is written and understood through the flawed, lenses of humanity, juxtaposed with God’s inclusive divine law of love. What was true for Jesus’ disciples then is true for us now, that Jesus came to show humankind what ought to become a lived reality for all people.

“You have heard that it was said,” said Jesus, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (vv. 43-44).

Jesus as the fulfillment of the Jewish law and the prophets, directed the disciples to not only follow the letter of the law, but to follow it far better than even the Pharisees and Scribes, to surpass the words in order to get to the spirit of the law (5:20). Look beyond the words to seek and fulfill the spirit of the law.
In this context, the neighbor refers to one’s fellow Israelite, their “kin” (Lev. 19:17-18). Anyone outside of the fold, who was not a part of God’s chosen people, and therefore did not follow God’s law was an enemy. Love and hate, as used here, are not descriptors of human emotion. They are verbs—actions that signal a turning toward and a turning away.

In 1776, the United States of America was founded by British colonialists in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Similarly, in 1789, the Episcopal Church was founded in Philadelphia. The infant Episcopal Church grew alongside her 13-year-old sibling.

As with most siblings, the Episcopal Church’s early development was entangled with the newly-formed country, and would grow to mirror its structure and mimic its societal behaviors—behaviors which perpetuated the slave trade and the systemic terror for Africans and African Americans for generations.
The Episcopal church was complicit in the sin of racism, upholding the systemic oppression that is woven into the very fabric of our country. Truly the church, has throughout history, lived into the earthly role of oppressor, and not into her true nature as the body of Christ. In 2006, the church publicly, repented of her compliance in the sin of slavery, making possible the body of Christ in this world to more fully reflect and live into the spirit of God’s law of love.

There is no doubt that you have heard that it was said, that this nation holds self-evident truths that “…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But I say to you, that these inalienable rights—meaning they can’t be taken away—have never been self-evident for the people of this land; they are merely ideals of America; they are not the reality of this nation.

These ideals have never been the reality for native Americans; never been the reality for African Slaves brought here to build the very foundation of this country; never been the reality for women; and they have never been the intended reality for the African Americans who have inherited unjust systems which continue to deny the fullness of life and liberty and systemically obstruct the pursuit of happiness. Our great nation is stuck in the letter of glorified ideals, if you will, unable or unwilling, to seek and fulfill the spirit of those ideals.

In the midst of the frustration of the voiceless now taking to the streets across this nation to explicitly declare that Black Lives Matter, no doubt that you have heard that it was said that “All lives matter.” But, I say to you that just like the aforementioned ideals of the Declaration of Independence, “all lives matter” is merely an ideal—an ideal that this nation so desperately wants and needs to claim as true, but is simply not true. If all human lives—gifts given by God—truly mattered to other human beings—our nation would have no need to repent for the centuries of dead and discarded Black bodies, at the hands of blood-thirsty racists.

Our nation struggles to make sense of its identity as one nation unified under God, and wrestles with that same God who calls all of his children to repent of their disunity; to turn to Him and reflect his unifying, inclusive love that surpasses all human understanding. A love that commands faithful people to love God, love neighbor, and while they’re at it, to love—and pray for—their persecutors.

As Jesus’ followers, we are called not to reflect the ideals of this earthly nation, nor its actions consistently incongruent with the nature of God. Our actions in this world must reflect the nature of the heavenly Father which is love itself. And, that takes courage to look beyond man’s idealistic words, and beyond the idols erected to glorify man, in order to seek the divine Spirit which made those ideals of equality and mutuality conceivable in the first place. In doing so, we may find that sitting in a place of truth, with the Lord may be uncomfortable. But, sit there we must, for it is only in confronting the painful truths of how much we, as individuals, and collectively as a nation, do not reflect the nature of God, becomes self-evident.

When an infant or younger children are baptized into Christ, the priest asks the parents and Godparents, “Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?” And, they respond, “I will, with God’s help.” And, forgive me if it seems self-evident, but in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, this nation can’t do it without God’s help.

We, the 21st Century disciples of Jesus, must continue this nurturing of this nation, across the generations, into the full stature of Christ—as we hold this nation accountable to serving all persons, loving our neighbors and our enemies; as we hold this nation accountable to striving for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being.

The Church, as the body of Christ has the responsibility, just as parents and Godparents have, to hold the child up for examination and to declare that by our witness and prayers, that we will courageously and compassionately nurture our nation into the full nature of Christ. So, that this one nation under God actually reflects the perfection of our heavenly Father. We are not there yet. As with the newly-baptized child, baptism is the initiation into the life in Christ; the nurturing takes a lifetime. In the meantime, we can choose to live into our purpose of becoming divine love in this world—an actionable love that when witnessed, clearly distinguishes Christ’s followers from all opposition to love. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry often says, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”

Will you by your prayers and witness help this nation to grow into the full stature of Christ? Brothers and sisters, you have heard it said, by Jesus, that you are to love God, love your neighbor and love and pray for your enemies. And, I say to you, go forth and do likewise.

Amen.