Sunday, September 10, 2017

Our Heritage of Love

Scripture Lessons: Ezekiel 33: 7-11 and Romans 13: 8-14 Sermon Title: Our Heritage of Love Preached on September 10, 2017 Today is really something, isn’t it? Never in my life have I worn a kilt. Never in my life have I had the opportunity to wear a kilt. This is a new experience, and up until this point, the most I had ever done to celebrate my Scotts-Irish Heritage was to occasionally use Irish Spring Soap; eat at a little dining establishment founded by a couple of Scottish brothers called McDonalds. This is a special day. A day like this is a gift, because celebrating who we are, where we came from, can be joyful and life giving, but, celebrating heritage in this day and age can also get a little dicey. Just this word: Heritage. Considering headlines in the past few months, that word has been and will continue to be contentious, especially if you are a white-southerner, so for me, this has been another year of wondering how to celebrate heritage. When it comes to heritage, I am often wondering, how can we, without offending our neighbor, be proud of who we are and where we came from? That’s a question I’ve been asking for a long time. I remember being on the 8th Grade trip to Washington D.C. when I was a student at Marietta Middle School – a group of us were gathered around a display case full of Rebel Flag patches. I bought one, used the hotel sowing kit to sloppily attach it to my jacket, which seemed like a pretty cool way to celebrate my southern roots, until some of my African-American classmates noticed it. The look on their face is something I’ll never forget. What do we do with heritage? Some say, especially in reference to the Rebel Flag, that it’s “heritage, not hate,” but if it feels like hate to my neighbor I’m a little reluctant to celebrate it. Simply put, that’s Paul’s message to us today – we worry over heritage wanting to celebrate what is near and dear to our hearts – but it must not be only our hearts that we are mindful of, for any commandment is summed up in this word: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Still, there are particular genes that make up my body, that I long to celebrate in a loving way. There is a particular blood flowing through my veins. I am from a particular place which makes up my heritage. There’s no denying that – I face it every time we go to the beach because I turn bright red in five minutes while my wife and children turn a gorgeous shade of brown. I also feel something when watching a movie like Braveheart – that these people are my people. This is some of where I came from, and today, what’s special about today, is that today I’m invited to wear a kilt and to be proud, and isn’t that wonderful? It’s so wonderful, that I understand the Episcopalians are wanting to have their own Kirkin' of the Tartan, even though that wouldn’t make any sense. In fact, thinking of how their tradition emerged from England just as ours has strong roots in Scotland, what should really happen is next year we should all paint our faces blue and stand in their parking lot: “You may take our lives, but you’ll never take our freedom!” And maybe that’s back to the problem with Heritage: - you can’t talk about bagpipes without thinking about how they were once outlawed, and who outlawed them. -you can’t think about Scotts-Irish immigrants without thinking about how they faced such hardship, fled to escape it, only to find it again once they set foot on these shores. -you can’t talk about being from the South without thinking about slavery and war and discrimination, for as we go back in history, as we talk about heritage, we have to be careful because when we go back into history it takes about five minutes to find something that one group did to another, the scars of which are still all around us. Here we are in Cobb County, where the Cherokee People were removed. Where a Jewish man was falsely accused of a crime and was lynched. Where a war was fought and people died as the institution of slavery hung in the balance. When it comes to heritage, looking back on the past, it’s hard not to keep score. It’s hard not to keep track of who has been wronged, who has a debt to pay, who has blood on their hands, for in so many ways the story of human history is an account of one group of people, one culture, doing their best to lift themselves up while pushing the others down – so heritage gets tricky. However, as Christians, our heritage is not just a story of what was done or not done by our ancestors. Ours is not just a story of who is best and brightest, who’s family has been here the longest and who’s blood is the bluest for on a day like today, the point is not that Tartans were brought into this Great Hall in a grand procession, but that here at the chancel those tartans were blessed by God. So, yes – we have some trouble when it comes to celebrating heritage, but let us grateful for a day like today, when we are invited, all of us, to celebrate who we are, while claiming the truth of the Gospel – that truly, while we cannot be proud of all that our forefathers and foremothers have done, today we bow before the who God who loves us and calls us his children still. Therefore, what we must celebrate today, is not only the legacy of greatness, struggle, hardship, and glory nor only a heritage of prejudice, racism, genocide, and slavery. Instead, what we celebrate today is that despite our sinfulness, we are all the children of God. That’s what we remember at Pentecost too. I’m sure you remember how after the Lord ascended into heaven the disciples gathered in Jerusalem and the Holy Spirit came to them like a mighty wind, giving each of them the gifts of tongues, so that every inhabitant of the Holy City heard God speaking to them in their own native languages. These weren’t perfect people – among them was Thomas who doubted, Peter who denied him – in some way or another, like us they had all done things that they were ashamed of, but still, God worked through them, and it’s not that the inhabitants of Jerusalem were all able to speak the same language – no – they all heard God speak to them in their Mother Tongue, and that’s different. You remember that great quote from the first female governor of Texas, Miriam Ferguson: “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for Texas school children.” Now, there’s a problem with that statement. The problem is that Jesus, while we all like to make him look like us, was a Palestinian Jew. He spoke a particular language. His hair and his skin reflected the particularities of his native people, and when he traveled around people made fun of how he talked and what he ate, just as people up in Tennessee thought it was funny that I consider boiled peanuts a delicacy. And they are, but as we consider heritage, let me tell you something interesting about peanuts – the peanut was first domesticated in South America, and when the Spanish arrived there 500 years ago they took it worldwide, but where it truly flourished was in West Africa – and some have claimed that the ancestor of the peanut that makes up the contents of your jar of JIFF at home was smuggled over here in the pocket of a West African Slave. But not only that, it was not until former slave, George Washington Carver developed new growing techniques as well as hundreds of recipes for it that there was much agricultural production of the peanut in the South by white farmers, so therefore, without the South Americans, the Spanish, the West Africans, and a former slave, there is no peanut farming President Jimmy Carter, and there is no redneck boiling peanuts on the side of the North Georgia highway. We get so torn up about race and culture – heritage – but are we not indebted to each other? Are we not far more entwined than we are separate? And are we not above all, not vindicated nor condemned for our part, but rather, indebted to God who works through us despite our imperfections. Our history books are full of great deeds and tragic mistakes, a mixed bag of heroes and villains, and we Christians who pray, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” must be careful with heritage – for we all stand before God condemned, but we have received a grace that we cannot deserve. How then can we withhold such grace from our neighbors – that’s what Paul asks. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” Still, there are those of us who are tempted to keep score and to puff themselves up just as we read in Ezekiel – the prophet has been given a message to preach to the people, but he only wants some of them to hear it and be saved. So, God had to correct him just as God must correct us: “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live.” As I look at our world today, I worry that too few are ready for that kind of message. Are we ready for a God who wants to save everybody regardless of native language, skin color, or nationality? Are we ready for the God that Paul testifies to? In whose sight there is “no Jew, nor Greek, no slave nor free, no male and female”? The Gospel lays it on our culture pretty heavy. So many of us are ready to celebrate who we are and where we came from regardless of how it makes their neighbors feel. So many of us are only willing to treat the people who look like us and talk like us as equals, while pushing those who act a little different to the margins. That’s why Paul has to remind us of those radical words of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And that’s a hard thing to do…especially during college football season. You watch the crowds and listen to what they say, you have to wonder, if Georgia fans hate Florida fans this much, then how are we ever going to get along with people who really are different? How are we ever going to get along with those who we have done harm to and those who have done harm to us? Tomorrow we remember that horrible day when airplanes were used as weapons by men who called us infidels, and we’ll remember all the blood shed in the wars that have followed. But may the blood shed on our sanctuary floor so many years ago help us to remember something else – that while the war raged on Kennesaw Mountain, in this place there was healing. And we have been called on to be a place of healing again. Last week a Nursing Home in Savanna, GA called the church looking for a place of refuge during the hurricane. They needed us to be their plan B, for they had a place to go in Augusta, GA, but if the hurricane went that way they’d need a safe place to be. The Session met. Rev. Joe Brice, Martie Moore, and Andy Tattnall led the charge, all believing that what Joe Brice said was true: “That if this church has already been a hospital, then we can be a Nursing Home.” Of course, now, it may be us who are evacuating to them, but the Session amazed me in discussing all this, because opening up our doors this way to a bunch of people we don’t even know is a radical thing to do. There’s a part of our heritage that makes us suspicious of people who don’t look like us or talk like us, who aren’t from around here, but we, who know that we are sinners, know that we stand as debtors before the God of grace who has redeemed us. What is required then, is that we see our neighbors, not in light of what might be gained from them or what they might take away, not in light of what they’ve done to deserve our help or not deserve it, but to see them only in light of what we might give them, acknowledging the truth – that by God we have been given far more than we deserve, so we must pass our blessings on. “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness [or any of the other ways that we humans have for treating our neighbors like objects of physical pleasure], not in quarreling and jealousy [for are we not all God’s children?].” Instead of rivalry and war, let us love on another. For it is in loving one another that we so truly celebrate our heritage, not our heritage of hate, but our heritage of love. Amen.

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