SERMON ~ 07/04/2021 ~ “Freedom and Responsibility”

The video of the complete service is found here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuqcM7oWTeA

Note: the lighting is not good.
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07/04/2021 ~ Proper 9 ~ Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Sixth Sunday after Pentecost ~ 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; Ezekiel 2:1-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13 ~ Fourth of July Holiday on the Secular Calendar ~ Communion.

Freedom and Responsibility

“Then Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs,…” — Mark 6:7a.

I do not remember the exact date the letter arrived. I do know it was the first week of November, 1967. I was 19.

Those of a certain age will be familiar with the opening words in the letter and recognize exactly what they meant. (Slight pause.) “Greetings from the President of the United States.” (Slight pause.)

For those a little younger, I need to state this letter was from President Lyndon Baines Johnson and informed me I was being drafted into the Armed Forces of these United States. This was my draft notice.

The draft letter had one other piece of news. The date set for my induction was December the 5th, my mother’s 44th birthday— Happy Birthday, Mom. (Slight pause.)

At the time I was working at a large corporation as a computer operator. I gave them two weeks notice. Much to my surprise that afternoon my boss told me the company was acting on my behalf to get the draft notice postponed. That would buy them time for me to train someone to do my job.

They had not asked my permission to intervene. They just did it. I went along because I did not want to be inducted on my Mom’s birthday.

Within days I got a second draft notice for January 20th, 1968. That the corporation for which I worked could get my draft postponed without my input was a life lesson in real world power.

And so on January 20th, 1968 I was off to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for Basic Training. Late March landed me in Fort Lee, Virginia, for Advanced Training.

The next significant date in this sequence is hard to forget. 53 years ago today— July 4th, 1968— I arrived in Vietnam— Happy Independence Day. (Slight pause.)

I’ve always said my little brother is the one who got the smart genes in my family. You see, I was drafted because the first time I went to college I dropped out. My brother did not.

By the time he was eligible to be drafted draft numbers were assigned by date of birth. The system used when I was drafted chose individual people at random. It’s the only time I ever won a lottery.

My brother then proved he was also clever. He applied for conscientious objector status and got it. I could have done that. I knew all the clergy who signed letters to support him. So, why did I not do that? (Slight pause.)

Rumor to the contrary, the system of government under which we live in American is not a democracy nor is it a republic. It is a democratic republic. [1] Any competent civics text book will say that. We just don’t pay much attention to the term democratic republic as political commerce seems to prefer the mindless rhetoric which confines us to the words democracy or republic, neither of which is totally accurate.

So, what does it mean to be part of a democratic republic? Perhaps this will help: in the initial draft of the Declaration of Independence the inhabitants of the 13 colonies are referred to as (quote) “subjects.” But then, amazingly, Jefferson wiped the word “subjects” out of the text and changed the word from “subjects” to “citizens.”

As “citizens”— no longer subjects— we became and are a people whose allegiance is to one another, not to some king. [2] I believe from that point forward as a nation we have been bound one another in mutual covenant— citizens not subjects.

So, as a citizen of this democratic republic, as someone designated by chance, by tradition, by law and by age to serve I thought I had a responsibility to others. You may agree or disagree with that. But that I needed to be responsible is where I came down.

Put another way it’s this simple: real freedom can be found only in the collective not in the individual, indeed, not in individuality. Therefore and paradoxically, real freedom depends on the responsibility assumed by each individual to the collective, to each other. (Pause.)

These words are from the work known as Mark: “Then Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs,…” (Slight pause.)

Mark here addresses how the Good News spreads. When I say ‘how the Good News spreads,’ we need to heed not the details but the principles. In this case I think the first principle is mutual responsibility.

The disciples, you see, are sent out in pairs. So perhaps next we need to ask what is it which binds them in this mutual covenant? The message, the Word of God Jesus invites them to proclaim is (quote): “repentance.”

The Biblical meaning of repentance is neither regret nor feeling sorry. Biblical repentance is turning toward God with your whole being, turning one’s life over to God.

So next we need to ask ‘how do the disciples go about turning toward God, turning their lives over to God?’ In this case Jesus invites them to take nothing for their journey except a staff— no bread, no bag, no spare tunic, no money. Here is a different way to put that: focus your life on God and the place to which God calls you— nothing else. In modern language, they simplifed their lives.

But that simplify stuff also comes back to the fact that they go out two by two. To really simplify they needed to rely on one another. Because of that commission of mutual reliance, this seems clear to me: no one individual has the key or is in charge. No one individual has any formula. No individual can fix everything. Put another way, no one is God except God.

And so they go out two by two, embrace the humility found in accepting communal responsibility. They accept one another for who each of them is. They embrace the humility of needing each other. And this embracing of the other can and does form living community. (Slight pause.)

I need to step back for a moment and say one very important thing about the Gospel we know as Mark. While it is not said in this passage in Mark, especially in the parables, Jesus talks about the realm, the reign of God which has drawn near.

That the reign of God has drawn near is an overall theme of the Gospel. I want to suggest this reign of God has something to do with the freedom granted by God.

I also want to suggest this freedom also has something to do with the humility and the repentance found in accepting communal responsibility, responsibility to one another. And that brings us back to this two by two concept. Jesus is focused on the centrality of community in proclaiming the realm of God. (Very long pause.)

Many feel the opening words of the Declaration of Independence about equality, life, liberty, the pursuit are the most important words in the document. And these days we tend to take those words personally, as if they were about an individual, about us.

However, I believe for the ones who signed the document, who lived through those tumultuous times, some words towards the end of the Declaration are equally important. (Quote): “…for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” (Slight pause.) “…we mutually pledge…” The signers of the Declaration accepted, indeed, embraced communal responsibility. (Slight pause.)

No individual is up to the task of forming community. Being a lone ranger works only in the movies. We need to rely on one another, be in covenant with one another to see the full reality of freedom and its gifts.

As Christians who wish to seek the freedom promised by the reign of God we must work toward and in community. And for Christians community does not mean just those you know. For Christians community means everyone, all people who on earth do dwell.

So, perhaps the way we need to think about freedom on this Independence Day is that it is really “Interdependence Day,” a day on which we rely on one another with mutual respect and mutual responsibility. Living in community is sacred. Amen.

07/04/2021
North Yarmouth Congregational Church, U.C.C. [3]

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Benediction. This, then, is an précis of what the pastor said before the blessing:
“Before he won the Nobel Peace Prize I once had the privilege and honor of meeting Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This quote is from Desmond’s vast wealth of theological sensibility. ‘The wave of hate must stop. Politicians who profit from exploiting this hate, from fanning it, must not be tempted by this easy way to profit from fear and misunderstanding. And my fellow clerics, of all faiths, must stand up for the principles of universal dignity and fellowship. Exclusion is never the way forward on our shared paths to freedom and justice.’”

BENEDICTION: Let us place our trust in God. Let us go from this place to share this Good News: by God we are blessed; in Jesus, the Christ, the beloved of God, we are made whole. Let us depart in confidence and joy that the Spirit of God is with us and let us carry Christ in our hearts for God is faithful. Amen.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_republic

[2] The Washington Post; Jefferson Changed ‘Subjects’ to ‘Citizens’ in Declaration of Independence; By Marc Kaufman; 07/03/2010 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/02/AR2010070205525.html?nav=rss_email/components

[3] The video of the service is found here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuqcM7oWTeA

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