the fourth sunday after pentecost …

reflecting on the Fourth
We are loved … in order to form a more perfect Community!

“The land of the free and the home of the brave .…”

At least, that’s how the song puts it. Especially, on a weekend like this. We beat the drum. Wave the flag. Rave on about what makes us different. And odds are that freedom tops the list! Not simply the “dumbed-down,” chamber-of-commerce version. Freedom of opportunity. But the in-your-face, you-aren’t-the-boss-of-me, I-don’t-have-to-do-anything-I-don’t-want-to kind! You know what I mean. Give me liberty or give me death! Don’t tread on me! Come and take it!

Well, this week, more out of curiosity than anything, I downloaded transcriptions of the Declaration and of the Constitution. Copied. Pasted. Then, I searched for a word. Just one word. ‘Free.’ Of the thirteen-hundred-or-so words that make up the Declaration of Independence, ‘free’ is used just four times. Two of those four, at the very end. “are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.” And of the forty-five hundred words in the constitution (not counting the Bill of Rights), the word ‘free’ appears only once. (For the record, thanks to the first two amendments, the word free occurs two more times.) Needless to say, I was surprised. And more than a little confused. We make such a big deal about it. But when push comes to shove, it’s not there! Not where it counts.

Since I’d already had the constitution pulled up, I re-read the Preamble. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union ….” I stopped there. Read it, again. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union ….”

And I wondered. Wondered if the reason the word ‘free’ is used so sparingly is because it’s not why we’re here? Wondered if the United States exists not so people can be free; but “in Order to form a more perfect Union!” Being free, for us, isn’t the end; it’s the means to the end! Being free isn’t the goal; but it’s how we get there! E Pluribus Unam – Out of Many One’s – not just a motto. It’s the way we live our life … together!

Look at it this way … I’m a BARNDT. Back in the old world, we used to burn Mennonites at the stake as heretics … or throw them in jail … or send them packing … In what eventually became Germany-as-we-know-it, there were only two options. Being Mennonite wasn’t one of them. You could be Lutheran or you could be Catholic. But it wasn’t your choice. It depended on what prince was … or your count … or your duke … That’s how the religious wars were ended. A romanCatholic ruler meant romanCatholic people. A Lutheran ruler, Lutheran people. And groups like the Mennonites? They just didn’t belong … until the States united. Then, BARNDTs married Mennonites, instead! That’s freedom! Becoming a more perfect Union! Freedom! Bringing people together! Keeping people together!

And here, in the church, among god’s own, if not the same, it’s pretty darn close. Only here, freedom’s called forgiveness! But the result is the same! E Pluribus Unam! Out of Many One! When you get down to it, that’s why we’re here. Not to get into heaven. Not to live forever. At least, not foremost, not first. We’re not here to sing more songs or to say more prayers. We’re here to create a more perfect union! Or rather, god’s here to create one! To bring people together and to keep them that way!

As Americans, we’re citizens of a nation of laws. As Christians, we proclaim gospel! We administer love! It’s the goodNews that calls us and gathers us! The goodNews that binds us, one to another! Forgiveness, love’s our freedom! Turning the other! Going the extra! Doing unto! It’s all god’s way of giving us – and our way of giving each other – the space we need to become – to be – us!

The goal’s similar. For church, state. To form a more perfect Union. But the way it’s done is as different as night and day. For the United States, it’s embodied in the constitution. The laws. For the kingdom of god, that way is Jesus. Yes, we’re loved. And yes, we’re forgiven. And yes, we’re saved. But that’s not the end of it. In fact, it’s just the start. God doesn’t love us, simply so we’re loved. And god doesn’t forgive us, so we’re forgiven. And god doesn’t save us, so we’re saved. God does it all – loves and forgives and saves – in Order to form a more perfect Union! And that happens, solely, out of the goodness and the greatness of god’s own heart!

Freedom doesn’t come from strength and self-reliance. At least, not our kind of freedom! And contrary to the bumperStickers, freedom – OUR kind of freedom – is really, is truly, free! A gift! The result of mercy and grace! But freedom, by itself, isn’t enough. Freedom’s what leads us – what moves us – to that more perfect Union! For without the union … that bringing together, that keeping together … freedom serves no purpose! Freedom accomplishes, achieves nothing!

Over the last two-and-a-half years … of quarantine … of isolation … we’ve used the word “community,” a lot. But for us, there’s more to it than simply sitting together. For an hour or two. On a Sunday morning or afternoon. For us, community’s not a quantity. Something we can count or measure or weigh. Community’s a quality. It’s something we are! Something we become! Community doesn’t get bigger or smaller. It becomes more prefect! More and more!

For the country, it’s freedom that forms it. For the church – the kingdom – it’s gospel. Proclaimed. Taught. Administered. In water. In bread. In wine. And maybe, best of all, in each of us. In all of us. Together. Community isn’t something we accomplish. Something we achieve. For us, community is a gift. Not ordained or established. Not legislated or enacted. Not dictated or decreed. For us, community is a manger! For us, community is a cross! For us, community is an empty grave. In gratitude … in awe … we say, “Amen! Amen! This is most certainly true!”

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Midland Lutheran Church