Year B; Proper 8; 6.30.2018
As this country draws closer to celebrating our 242nd year of Independence on Wednesday, there is some language written in the Declaration of Independence that inspires us all. We declare our independence for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And, that “…all men are created equal.” Surely “all men” means women and children, too!
John Adams initiated the idea of independence and the framers declared liberty against the “absolute tyranny over the states…of the King of Great Britain…” who had been inflicting a “…history of repeated injuries and usurpations…”
Our nation has been delighting in and sacrificing for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for 242 years.
To this day, the people of our United States recoil against tyranny. As recently as last week and this weekend, we saw the rise of this recoiling with some 700 protests around the country organized against our government’s separation of asylum-seeking families at our southern border. We don’t like it when the powerful are being absolute in their power. It reminds us of “kings.” Many have fought and died on our own soil and foreign soil to save us from tyranny over our 242 year history.
At the conclusion of worship today, we will sing the words of Katherine Lee Bates, “O beautiful for spacious skies.” Bob Judd taught me about her and her poem one Independence Day Sunday when we sang it for worship. “The purple mountain majesties” was her poetic rendering of the beauty she observed from Pike’s Peak the year a group of her Wellesley teacher colleagues took a summer trip together in 1893.
The phrase that catches my citizen soul, though, is this, “America! America! God mend thine every flaw.” Though the beauty of the “fruited plain” moved her, Bates decidedly did not idealize her country. To have written about its flaws was to be grounded in reality. She must have been as aware of her country’s flaws in her time as we are now in our time.
“America! America! God mend thine every flaw.” We pray to God to repair, to put right what is wrong in this national plea.
And we also pray to God to repair our every flaw in our own personal lives as well. From our sins “known and unknown” to the difficulty of having to deal with the heartbreaking flaws of sickness and death, we are a people at prayer.
Scripture is full of stories of repentant sinners praying to God for forgiveness. The gospels are full of stories of sick, lame and possessed people being made whole by the power of Jesus. Ours is a faith of forgiveness and healing.
The gospel stories this morning are remarkable healing stories. Chronic sickness in a woman and the death of a little girl have brought heartbreak to their lives. The woman’s body had failed her for 12 years with a chronic, incurable female bleed that rendered her as a most isolated human being. She surely smelled bad. She had no more money to spend on a cure, so she was poor. Religious laws considered her unclean, so she was not allowed to take her place in the community of worship. But she knew that by touching Jesus’ garment, she would be healed.
The gospel story also tells of a little girl being raised from the dead. No one should have to contend with the death of their child. Jesus took her hand and raised her from death. In both stories, Jesus demonstrated God’s reign on earth by these powerful healings.
We long for our Lord Jesus to demonstrate the same power of his reign on earth right here and now in our lives. You can hear this desire in our most intimate and anxious prayers. We want his power to immediately heal those terrible flaws of our nation and of our lives.
Yet we know that sometimes our prayers for healing have gone unanswered. Oh, yes, we do believe, for the most part that God hears our prayers. Doesn’t the psalmist tell us that, “He stoops to me and hears my cry…”? Yes, our prayers are definitely heard, just not heeded from time to time.
But we don’t abandon our prayers. We get on our knees anyway. We touch the hem of his garment anyway. We ask for a raising-from-death-to-life-miracle anyway. We engage the prayers of the St. Paul’s Healing Ministry Team over and over again, anyway. We say, “Lay hands on me and pray for my illness, pray for the illness of my loved one, or pray for the untenable situation I’m in.” We pray for these anyway.
Honestly, we would love to say that our prayers have a utilitarian effect on God to act in exactly the way we want God to act. But God doesn’t always. So we heave a resigned “sigh” and pray…anyway…anyway because it keeps us in the relationship. It keeps us close to the amazing love of God. It keeps us from losing heart.
What our faith does teach us is that at the darkest hour for Jesus, he prayed and prayed. He too wished to have a utilitarian effect on his Father in heaven when, in the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed, “let this cup pass from me.” But that’s not what happened.
He went to his death on the cross. We stand with him at the foot of the cross, helplessly watching an innocent man be executed by the tyrannical government and the jealous religious officials. We lament the gross flaw of his death.
The sinful, broken, flawed power structure was exposed in the bleeding man on the cross who in his own lifetime healed a woman of her chronic bleed and raised a little girl and restored her to her family.
Soon, Keenan Carroll Murphy will be initiated by baptism into the Body of Christ, the Church. In the baptismal prayers we will state our belief that in baptism we all die with Christ and are raised with Christ. We say “…all who are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ your Son…” “Baptized in his death…” There truly is no “candy-coating” about what life in Christ really means: he did die and we die with him in our baptism.
But there is always the Good News, “…all who are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ your Son… may LIVE in the power of his resurrection and look for him to come again in glory…”
The Sacrament of Baptism teaches us that death is not God’s final word. There is good news! Life “…in the power of Christ’s resurrection” is the last word. LIFE in the power of Christ’s resurrection is what baptism means to us and to our darling Keenan Carroll.
Our prayers for “mending every flaw” are answered after all!