Power in Weakness
Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. - Ezekiel 2
Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." - Mark 6
A weekend of flags, hot dogs, parades, memory, and love of this great nation in which we are blessed to live.
So what kind of nerve does Ezekiel have to show up at this party and start haranguing people - in the name of God - about how "impudent and stubborn" they are?
Today, we will enjoy the holiday at our home. My son, his wife and my grandson, as well as other family, will be over later for a cookout. The American flag is fluttering proudly from its new home on the corner of a renovated part of our house. We may make it to the local celebration, but we have a lot of prep work to do for later today. I can taste the hot dogs, grilled chicken, and strawberry shortcake. It will be a generally quiet, heartfelt celebration of love for family and homeland.
Yet my heart has a heaviness to it. Part of the weight living there is the tearful, almost helpless memory of nine people murdered recently - all African-American sisters and brothers - shot to death while they gathered in their sacred church space in Charleston, South Carolina to study and talk about our Holy Scriptures. There is a joy-stealing sorrow to this.
I've just finished re-reading "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro" a speech given by Frederick Douglass in Rochester, New York on July 5, 1852. The ache in my heart can never compare to the ache - astonishingly blended with bright vision - in Douglass's heart as he wrote and delivered that speech; but our aches resonate as brothers - estranged though we may be - in God's Creation.
Today, I will sing, maybe just to myself, or in a soft voice, "America the Beautiful." It should be our National Anthem, not a song about bombs and a flag. I like the flag okay, but I love my country. More than either, I love the vision of "see[ing] beyond the years, thine alabaster cities gleam[ing] undimmed by human tears."
Charleston is not a gleaming alabaster city, and it is profoundly dimmed by human tears. There are countless such tearful places, at home and throughout God's beautiful, broken Creation. And those tears are mine - all of ours - that will continue to pour forth until we deeply embrace the task of "...mend[ing our] every flaw". We have work to do.
In Paul's second letter to the people of Corinth, he speaks of how " power is made perfect in weakness."
We probably won't hear that notion spoken of in today's Independence Day oratory; I'm okay with that. Hot dogs and fireworks are great. Love of country, and national pride, carefully measured out, are sacred in themselves.
But tomorrow is God's day. (Well, today is too, but you know what I mean.) And God has a lot to say that, if we listen and heed the insistent voice of his prophets, challenges us to the time to come when tears do not dim our holy view of the alabaster city. The prophets, like Ezekiel and Jesus himself, call us to better-ness. "Prophets are not without honor..." said Jesus, who knew a thing or two about when and where his teachings would be heard.
Happy Fourth of July. Happy Independence Day.
And Happy Fifth of July. Happy Dependence-on-God-and-Each-Other Day. Worship with us - be one of us - at 10 AM. You already are one of us, along with all who celebrate - and mourn - in Charleston and across Creation.