Being an American Today
When the rulers saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that the disciples were uneducated, common men, the rulers recognized they had been with Jesus. Seeing the man the disciples had healed standing beside them, the rulers had nothing to say in opposition. When the rulers commanded the disciples to go out of the council room, the rulers conferred with one another, saying: “What shall we do with these men? For they performed a notable sign before all the people of Jerusalem. We cannot deny it. To prevent the word from spreading, let us warn them to speak no more in Jesus’ name.” So the rulers charged the disciples not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. Peter and John answered them: “What is right? To listen to you or to God? You must judge; we can only speak what we have seen and heard.” The rulers threatened them further, let them go, but finding no way to punish them because the people praised God for what happened. The man who was healed was more than forty years of age. Amen!
This Sunday before the Fourth of July, Independence Day, I want to speak about what it means to be an American today. No more important subject confronts us when our nation is divided between those who are for or against health care laws, between liberals and conservatives, between gay and heterosexual, between religious and pagan, between fundamentalists and modernists, between Democrats and Republicans, between rich and poor.
Presbyterians hire preachers to speak on spiritual, social, and political issues, and allow congregations to think for themselves. With humanity’s salvation secured by God’s grace in Christ, we respond with God’s fruits of grace to make creation a better place to live so all people can hear the good news of grace given to humanity. We in the pulpit never succumb to threats by authorities when questions need to be asked, and when truths need to be brought to light.
Thus, I speak out, as in our Scripture lesson Peter and John did in the name of the God in Christ. I speak only to help and heal those who want to listen.
First, don’t label people. Labeling individuals by putting a group name on the person only brings about division. This is the mind-set of generalities. I speak of words as liberals and conservatives, fundamentalists and modernists, Democrats and Republicans.
The other day watching PBS (public television), I heard a debate on Congress’ consideration of withholding funds from PBS because as one person said: “Why should the American people pay for liberal broadcasting?” I tried to think what program I last saw on PBS was liberal. Then I realized the man on the broadcast offered no definition. Liberal was a code word for being evil. Yet, I continued to think about my TV viewing habits and was PBS liberal - whatever that is. Maybe it was watching Nature or Nova. No, they seemed apolitical. Perhaps it was watching Kentucky Afield. Yet, hunting ducks and fishing seem fairly tame and non-liberal to me, unless you are a duck or fish. So I concluded my mistake was watching Sesame Street. Big Bird and the Cookie Monster do have radical looks, and Count Dracula definitely is an anti-social personality. Shame on me for watching such dangerous creatures.
Yet, what is the definition of a liberal or conservative. Why are we to consider one group or another terrible, or why are modernists considered to be anti-god compared to fundamentalists? Placing group names on individuals, then putting them in a group is dangerous. Why? Because once they are no longer individuals, once they are not persons but groups, we can dismiss them, then we can demonize them, then we can exterminate them. That is what causes genocides and the Holocaust. The only generalization we can make is this: we are all human beings saved by the grace of God in Christ.
Secondly, we need to speak truth to power. The farther you get from the seats of power, the closer individuals seem to get at the truth because the person is not trying to hold onto power.
In the biblical tradition, individuals were constantly speaking truth to those in seats of power. Such persons as Moses speaking to Pharaoh, the prophet Jeremiah, Nathan, and many others spoke to the kings of Israel. And, in the New Testament, Peter and John in our Scripture lesson spoke to the authorities in Jerusalem, saying: “What is right? To listen to you or to God?
And what are we to say to those in power, those persons who govern us? We are to remind them that their authority comes from the people. And, therefore, remind them that they are only temporary guests in the houses of Congress or the White House, or the state legislatures or governor’s mansion. Elected officials come and go, but the people endure. We are to remind them that the people set true values of our nation and society not party or politics.
Of course, the great danger is that we the people will not speak up. If that happens, then what is to become of our Republic? If your don’t vote, if you don’t speak up, if you don’t speak against injustice or abuse of power, then you don’t matter.
Thirdly, and finally, we need remember on this Sunday before the Fourth of July that our nation will be judged by God according to how we treat the least among us, such as the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the dying, those in prison.
Yet it seems more and more that the poor and the sick are so easily discarded. They become expendable.
Considering the life and teaching of the life of Jesus the Christ, could our money, personnel, and material goods be better used to make America into a model country where every person has a home to live in and then in low interest loans pay for them. Could Americans form a conservation corps to employ people, especially the young, to work at a small but decent wage to their authority strengthen bridges, sidewalks, parks, clean neighborhoods, and then offer them a chance for education or technical schools? Could not people spend time going on mission trips not to evangelize but to build better homes, schools, sanitation, and water facilities? Could our money collect and help all nations dispose of the plutonium and uranium that builds nuclear weapons?
The change will come when we cease to demonize others. We are all human beings with different cultures, religious experiences, and grief. We are also mortal, filled with fears, but left with the only thing that matters, the only thing that lasts - a God in Christ gracious to us and to all humanity. May such grace give you strength and courage, and may it give you joy this day. Amen!
(Copyright by Jack Hughes Robinson, 2017. Use only by permission)