Megan M Ramer
3 July 2016
We gather to worship God
on the brink of our nation gathering to worship “independence.”
It’s difficult to be a peace-loving, Jesus-following, globally-minded Mennonite
and fail to acknowledge the celebration of the 4th of July.
Here at SMC, I’m inviting us to regularly celebrate “Inter-dependence Day”
on the Sunday closest to the 4th
as a witness to another way…
a sacred third way, apart from the ways of nation-adoring and nation-loathing.
It is that third way that I invite you to seek with me this morning.
Our national ideas of “independence” are linked with complete freedom,
with total autonomy from other nations,
and with self-governed self-sufficiency.
All of which is bogus, of course.
Our American lifestyle, our economy, and even our “freedom”
are completely dependent on other nations and peoples of the world.
This isn’t news to any of you.
We are completely dependent on immigrant labor within the borders of this country,
many of those new immigrants, of course, are undocumented
and subject to injustices of all kinds, including harassment and deportation.
We are dependent on the outsourcing of jobs to countries with cheaper labor markets,
not only production jobs, but even service jobs.
We are dependent on lands and resources that belonged to native peoples and nations
long before our current nation
formed on a foundation of massacre, genocide, and mass robbery.
We are utterly dependent on global conflicts, wars, and oppression
for our own U.S. American sense of national unity,
as well as for greasing the wheels of our war-machine economy.
It is under the banner of “fear” that our national leaders can unite us as ONE
and our pundits declare us to be FREE.
I think it’s safe to report that the days of cheap gasoline are all behind us.
The supposed “independence” of this nation has been a farce…since day one.
We have always needed others.
Yet the mythology endures as our country decks itself out in the colors of our flag,
or even more hideously, in actual representations of our flag,
in order to parade, celebrate, cheer, and pyrotechnically extol our “independence.”
Ask the Duwamish people—
who first inhabited this land where we gather—
what sort of independence and freedom they received on July 4, 1776.
I don’t quite know what to do with all that gets stirred up within me this time of year.
It feels painful to bear witness to, and at times to silently participate in,
our collective national blindness about our fundamental dependence on others…
other nations, other peoples, others’ resources and labors.
It is almost unbearable to be part of this ONE nation, under God,
unified by our shadenfreude,
living our “freedom”
at the expense of another’s suffering,
celebrating our “independence”
on the backs of those who will never be adequately compensated
for the high cost they’ve paid to hold us up.
Christ, have mercy on us.
We hear Jesus lambasting a slew of cities in the gospel reading for today.
In many versions, it’s Chorazin, Bethsaida, Tyre, Sidon and Capurnaum.
In the Cotton Patch Gospel, a retelling of the gospels, set in rural Georgia,
by Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farm,
it’s Columbus, Albany, Dalton, Calhoun and Savannah.
It could be any cities…
Woe to you, Seattle!
Woe to you, Everett, Edmonds, Bothell, and Issaquah!
Woe to you, Mercer Island, Bellevue, Shoreline, and Woodinville!
Woe to you, Lake Forest Park, Kirkland, North Bend, and Seabeck!
Jesus pronounces these woes because the cities are unrepentant,
or as the Cotton Patch version reads, “because they refused to re-order their lives,”
even after bearing witness to the person and healing ministry of Jesus.
After praying to God, Jesus then issues this invitation:
“Come to me, all you who labor and carry heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon your shoulders, and learn from me;
for I am gentle and humble of heart.
Here you will find rest for your souls,
for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Growing up, my family used to eat at the “Super Steer Restaurant” in Goshen.
I know, hard to imagine me—
a 20+ year vegetarian—
dining at a place called “Super Steer,” isn’t it?
On the sign was an old fashioned, wooden yoke.
Ready for a team of two oxen.
Though it’s outdated imagery, I have a clear picture thanks to Super Steer.
I’m struck by Jesus’ call to take on a yoke…
to be bound to him,
or to another in whom we see and experience and know Christ.
Jesus calls us to be harnessed to him, and to one another,
and in that dependence to know truer, deeper, and more genuine freedom.
Christ calls us to be bound to one another,
to be entirely self-unreliant,
to be dependent…
mutually dependent on one another.
We need one another.
At the personal level—yes.
At the local level—absolutely.
At the global level—without a doubt.
We deny this at our own peril.
And so, just right in the thick of our nation’s celebration of “independence,”
I’m glad to come to church,
to hear a word from the one we call Lord and Teacher and Friend,
I’m glad to come to church and hear a word on “inter-dependence.”
I’m glad to come to church and gather with you all
to worship the God who calls us to reliance on one another,
the God who loves and cares for the whole world…no exceptions,
the God who sent Jesus to teach that his yoke is easy,
and the burden a bit lighter whenever we manage to share in its bearing.
What is the re-ordering that Jesus is calling his cities to,
and by extension, might be calling our cities—any cities—to?
Perhaps #1: acknowledging the ways in which we are dependent.
And then #2: having swallowed the collective lump in our U.S. American throat,
actually getting around to celebrating the ways in which
we are dependent on one another.
And finally, #3: more justly ordering those relationship of inter-dependence…
for the sake of a better balance of power,
and for honoring the truth of the matter: we need one another; this is mutual.
The prophet Zechariah calls his listeners “prisoners of hope.”
It’s an image I love!
“Return to your stronghold,” he declares, “O prisoners of hope.”
It’s the kind of prisoner I’d like to be.
And it’s the kind of prison I’d like to share with you all…a prison of hope.
I’m not holding my breath for the redemption of this city or this nation,
but I am holding my breath for the church.
May we, having born witness to the person and healing ministry of Jesus,
have the courage to re-order our lives.
May we, having heard the invitation from Jesus,
have the wisdom to take his yoke upon us.
May we, having been convicted of our complicity in structures of oppression,
have the courage to dismantle those structures,
to repudiate false myths like the Doctrine of Discovery and national independence.
May we, having gathered to worship,
have the faith to celebrate our sacred inter-dependence with one another
and herald our sacred inter-dependence with our neighbors,
and with our sisters and brothers, siblings and kin, the globe over.
May we celebrate the ways in which we are blessedly bound one to another,
May it be so.
Then [Jesus] began to denounce the cities where most of the miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles worked in you had been worked in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But the truth is, it will go easier for Tyre and Sidon than for you on the Judgment Day.
As for you, Capernaum, do you intend to ascend to the heavens? No, you will go down to the underworld! If the miracles worked for you had taken place in Sodom, it would be standing today. But the truth is, it will go easier for Sodom than for you on the Judgment Day.’
Then Jesus prayed, ‘Abba God, Creator of heaven and earth, to you I offer praise; for what you have hidden from the learned and the clever, you have revealed to the youngest children. Yes, Abba, everything is as you want it to be.’
Jesus continued, ‘Everything has been handed over to me by Abba God. No one knows the Only Begotten except Abba God, and no one knows Abba God except the Only Begotten—and those to whom the Only Begotten wants to give that revelation.
‘Come to me, all you who labor and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon your shoulders, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart. Here you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’