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The following is a poetic reflection on Amos 6:1-7, 9:7-8 and these times in which we live.
(First preached on Sunday, July 1st, 2012.)
The Myth of Independence
What is to become of a nation, a people,
who have come to believe in a strange, self-centered gospel?
What shall happen to those who claim to be God's chosen,
to inhabit a sacred space, a unique place, in the heart of the Creator?
And not only that,
but having expected such divinely pointed election as a guarantee of favor,
have gone on to neglect the desires and dreams of the One whose blessing
they assumed was theirs alone?
So it was for Israel in those days when Jereboam the second, son of Joash, was king.
The prophet exclaims that any divine siding that may have existed
the people have squandered through self-centered living.
They feasted on wealth
and became drunk on fermented comfort and power.
They proclaimed the day of the Lord's favor – for me, mine, and ours,
Without ever pausing to ponder
if the God of the universe might have a heart
so deep and so broad
that the Holy One's blessings should include more than them.
Did they concern themselves with the welfare of their neighbors?
Did they fight for justice and equal opportunity for all?
Not as long as their every desire was met,
not as long as their every dream could come true,
even if through unjust means to an end,
even if you have to suffer for them.
Perhaps it's just God doesn't love you as much.
Perhaps you've done wrong and won't be richly blessed.
Perhaps you deserve to be poor and oppressed,
or enslaved, or abused, or silenced, or ignored.
And dare we start to kid ourselves, thinking far-off Israel was the only nation
that has proclaimed itself God-blessed.
A city on a hill.
A light unto the world.
A land where justice, righteousness, and common good prevail.
Lest we think they're alone in such clever misdirection:
Sweet talking God while swindling their neighbors.
As it was for Israel twenty seven hundred years ago, so it is now today,
in these days of King Corporation,
son of Economy;
beneath our veneer of democracy,
this resurgence of plutocracy
while some still dream of theocracy,
right here, at home, in the U. S. of A.
I can't tell you what ancient Israel's political bloggers had to say,
or the messages of the Foxes and CNNs of their day,
but it seems we've been sold the same myth as they:
That power and privilege and wealth and knowledge
and happiness and freedom and liberty and independence
are the God-given rights of a God-favored nation.
And that things like equality, justice, and opportunity
are really just for those who can inherit or afford them.
But could the One who is Love, Justice, and Shalom
really smile upon this self-focused land we call home?
I'm with Amos on this one.
We'd best not mistake our desires as God's own.
We'd be wise to discern
if the blessings we've received and the independence we celebrate
mean we're truly God-favored
or are simply God-flavored coatings
on a bitter pill of blasphemy.
In the words of my brother Amos:
Who are we to think we're better
than Iraqis or Armenians,
Somalis or Albanians,
Mexicans or Canadians,
the Miami or the Ottawa.
Is God not involved with all nations?
Involved in their loving, their weeping, their struggle,
a presence beside them,
a Spirit to guide them,
to hear them cry out whatever their language,
whatever the faith or belief they confess?
Does God not keep longing to mend what is broken,
to wipe away all our mess?
Who are we to think God would bless America
at the expense of others?
And how can we believe
that God would condone the ways the rich treat our less fortunate sisters and brothers?
If truly we seek Divine blessing,
perhaps we might start with blessing each other.
But we're choked by this myth that's been shoved down our throats:
that in the land of the free and the home of the brave
we look out for ourselves and what's best for us:
independent and freed from the poor folks next door;
from the unemployed, uninsured, single mom next door;
from the undocumented, hardworking family next door;
from those whose skin color isn't the same next door;
from the couple that wants to get married but the voting majority says their love shouldn't be recognized next door.
Are we truly independent from these?
Does our liberty absolve us from concern for their wellbeing?
Will the pursuit of our own happiness come at the detriment of theirs?
I don't think that's what the founders of our great nation would say,
even as we proclaim anew our independence day.
Weren't they in search of a “more perfect union”
of “general welfare”
and “common good”?
But now these are somehow construed as anathema to the American Dream.
Like Israel, we've forgotten what we're all about, it would seem.
What's so perfect anyway about corporate personhood?
How does unbridled campaign spending benefit the common good?
Who in their right mind could think that consolidating power and resources in the coffers of the few could promote the general welfare of the many?
Oh how we have fallen
for this myth that our destinies do not intersect.
We've forgotten the dream,
sung by prophets like Martin,
unafraid to be bold in his prophesying,
well-informed by the Christ he himself knew as king.
Hear his words: As long as there's poverty, I can't be rich;
I can't ever be what I ought to be, until you also are what you ought to be.
Maybe this is what it really means to be free.
Independent from our modern-day captivity,
saying “no” to consumption-focused tyranny
that's driven by our industry
but there is another way,
For what freedom we still have,
and the independence that is proper,
is not freedom from our sister and independence from our brother,
but freedom from self-centered greed,
and independence from the profit-driven corporations
that seek to become the center of influence and control.
Because despite what the TV commercials have to say,
or what the political pundits may portray,
we are still free to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.
As those who follow the carpenter from Galilee
away from selfish gluttony and towards more perfect unity,
we know that our independence is not absolute,
that our autonomy is not sanctified,
that the interests of nations and corporations
and un-Godly conflations of these two
should never be put ahead of the interests of the least of these our sisters and brothers.
For what we have done to the least of these, we have done to Christ.
Lord, have mercy.
For the times that we have forgotten your costly freedom.
For when we have foolishly thought you'd bless us alone.
For abdicating our citizenship in your new kingdom of love.
In our seeking independence from all that might control our ways,
that might limit the ways we use our days,
that might cramp our style or make us seem different,
that might limit our self-centered dreams of success,
we've become blind to the ways we've become what we despise.
Let your tears flow down in rivers of justice, sweeping over us, washing away the scales from our eyes.
As we celebrate soon on the fourth of July,
Beneath the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air,
When the fireworks boom and the anthems blare:
“God bless America” …
Remember the freedom ought to proclaim
and the independence we celebrate,
are not what they first might seem.
May our independence be from self-imposed, self-centered exile,
freed from the bondage of self-focused desire.
For led by Christ we are free to love and to serve,
to care for each other and for those we don't know.
We are free
to be less independent
to be bound to each other
in a new destiny.