Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Independence Day Celebration
Deuteronomy 1o:17-21; Psalm 145; Hebrews 11:8-16; Matthew 5:43-48
I find these readings designed for the celebration of Independence Day an interesting collection. Of special interest is Psalm 145, one of the last of the psalms, a psalm of joyful thanksgiving to God. I think in the parades, the speeches, the fireworks, and the flyovers and flag-waving, the giving thanks to God is overshadowed or even forgotten or ignored. I sincerely believe God has been at work among us as these United States of America continue our journey through history together.
The passage from Hebrews reminds us that our current homeland is not our final home, as we look forward to our heavenly home, a place prepared for us by our God.
Our reading from Deuteronomy reminds us that our God is the God of all, near and far, neighbor and stranger and that our ancestry can be traced back to our being strangers wandering in a foreign land.
However, it is the Gospel reading that caught my heart’s attention this week. It is perhaps one of the most difficult verses to live into. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Be perfect.” It draws me to another passage using the same word, “perfect”.
We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, to establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, 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.
This is the Preamble to our Constitution, ratified on 21 June 1788 when nine of the thirteen colonies approved it. North Carolina and Rhode Island did not sign on until after George Washington was our first President. The Preamble reminds us that the people established the government, courts, Congress, President, and the executive branch, to form a “more perfect union”. We, the people, are responsible for all three branches of government.
Now let’s get back to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The Greek word for “perfect” is teleios. For example, a fully grown person is teleios, is perfect, just a student who completely masters a subject is perfect. The Greek perfect refers to a function, such as a tool that is just right for a task. Therefore, we are perfect as we fulfill the mission, the task, for which we were created. That takes us back to Genesis 1:26—God said, “let us make humankind [woman and man] in our image and after our likeness”. Matthew’s preceding verses in chapter five help us understand our purpose, our task.
God is good to saint and sinner; God sends rain on the good and the evil; God sends the sun to shine or the righteous and the unrighteous; God loves neighbor and enemy; God loves those who love God, and also the Gentiles and the tax collectors( who do not love God).
So, to be in the image of God, to be in the likeness of God, we know how we are to strive. We are to love saint and sinner. We are to be generous to folks who do good and to those who do not. We are to love neighbor, and enemy, even those who oppose God like the Gentiles and the Tax collectors of our own day. That is what perfect is for the people of God. To be like God we are to love like God.
I cannot speak for you, but I have a ways to go. And since we live in these United States of America, and since we are responsible for our courts, our congress, our president, and the executive branch, we all have a ways to go in “forming a more perfect union” that more accurately reflects who we are challenged to be by our God.
My friends, we cannot retire or resign from our pursuit of perfection, individually, as a church, or as a nation. To paraphrase the poet Robert Frost – We have promises to keep. And miles to go before we sleep, and miles to go before we sleep.
As people of faith, let us keep on walking toward perfection.
As citizens of the United States of America, let us keep on walking toward perfection.
And remember, we never, ever, walk alone. Our God is with us.
Let us conclude by reciting together verse six of Hymn 370, always replacing “me” with “us”.
Christ be with us, Christ within us, Christ behind us, Christ before us, Christ beside us, Christ to win us, Christ to comfort and restore us,
Christ beneath us, Christ above us, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love us, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
Rejoice and Be Safe.