The Fourth of July
Readings—Deuteronomy 10: 17-21; Psalm 145; Hebrews 11: 8-16; Matthew 5: 43-48
What a lectionary for Independence Day! These readings point to the very core of our faith on a day when we celebrate our birth as “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.
From Deuteronomy – “the great God, mighty and awesome… who executes justice for the orphan and the widows, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing”.
From the Psalmist – “The Lord God is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger, and of great kindness. The Lord God is loving to everyone, and his compassion is over all his works”.
From the author of the Hebrews, writing about Sarah and Abraham – “they desire a better city…”
And from Jesus speaking on the mountain top – “Love your enemies and pray for you enemies… [God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends the rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. Be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect”.
This Fourth of July it would be easy to use only the rearview mirror and review the past with pride and pleasure, like Little Jack Horner who sat in the corner eating his pie and crying out “what a good boy am I”. Rather we are to be like Sarah and Abraham who “looked forward to the [country] whose architect and builder is God”.
Our directive is to LOVE.
Now the Greek language has four different words for love.
First is storge love, family love as a parent for a child and a child for a parent.
Second is eros love, passionate human love, one for another.
The third is philia love, warm love, like Philadelphia, tender, affectionate love among true friends.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus talked about agape love, love that is outrageous, an invincible love. It is love that no matter what happens, no matter what the other does, bitterness and revenge-seeking will never enter into the relationship. This is a different kind of love from the other three. Jesus is not inviting us to love enemies or strangers with family love, or passionate love, or brotherly love. Agape love is not loving that comes only from the heart, it is love that comes from the heart and from the will. Agape love is a determination that enables us to strive for outrageous goodwill. Agape is the power to love those we may not even like and who may not like us either.
Now it must be said that we cannot agape love others unconditionally without knowing the unconditional agape love of God for us. We can not live agape love without knowing how God loves us unconditionally, that as St. Paul wrote to the people of Rome, “nothing can separate us from the love of God”. As we know God’s grace-filled agape love, so we can graciously love others. As we know God’s love, we can be like God who causes the sun to rise on the good and the evil, who causes it to rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. As we are the People of God, the daughters, and sons of God, we can be gracious as God is gracious.
And there is more to this guidance from scripture to us on this Independence Day. We are to be PERFECT… as our heavenly Father is perfect”. Let me explain. The Greek word here is “teleios”. Something is perfect if it completely fulfills the purpose for which it was created. Following this understanding of perfect, a person is perfect as she realizes and pursues the purpose for which she was created.
And for what purpose are the People of God created? All the way back in Genesis God said, “let us make humankind in our image”. Therefore, our purpose is to be like God and to be like God is like making it rain on the unrighteous as well as on the righteous, and like making the sunshine of the evil as well as on the good. It is to agape love with outrageous, universal goodness that never ceases to care for others, even for our enemies. We are to be like God and to agape love without delay, without question, without hesitation.
To place these lessons on the day we celebrate our independence is to invite us into the future with the challenge to be more fully the people God has called us to be.
It is being the city on a hill beaming into the darkness while also declaring that we are not yet perfected. We still have miles to go before we rest.
Our God is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger, and of great kindness.
Our God is loving to everyone, and God’s compassion is over all creation.
We are to be like our God.
We are to be gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger, and of great kindness.
We are to be loving to everyone and have compassion for all creation.
And we have miles to go before we rest.