Many preachers of the gospel find it challenging to preach when a civil holiday falls on or near a Sunday, as in the case this weekend. If you say nothing, or what someone considers too little about the holiday, then you might be considered un-patriotic. If you say too much, then you can be thought of as flag waving.
Some preachers, especially those who use the lectionary readings, might say, “Just stick with the scriptures and you can’t go wrong.” If this is the case, how do you deal with those who say, “The scripture should give a message for living today” or “the scripture is to be related to the times.”
As this 4th of July holiday approaches, we are a nation getting tired of the wars that drag on in Afghanistan and Iraq. These wars have cost us dearly in American lives. These wars have seriously impacted our economy for decades to come. The debate about the withdrawal schedule — too quickly or too slowly? —is current. The undefined war in Libya is one most people want nothing to do with, but some in Congress say we must do something to help the people of Libya get rid of a tyrant.
The lectionary readings this weekend seem to offer references that beg for application.
Matthew 11:25-30 evokes an image of Jesus from Palm Sunday on this entry into the city on a donkey, “I am meek and humble of heart.”
Zechariah 9:9-10 says, “See your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem: the warrior’s bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.”
To those considered “hawks”, the preacher who tries to make direct application to our times will be considered naive. After all, we live in a world with so many “crazies”, we have to protect ourselves. To appear weak would be an invitation to attack us.
The “doves” will counter by asking how safe are we really? They will ask, has the cost in human lives and the impact on our own country really been worth it? Are we really safer?
What does it mean to be “meek and humble of HEART?” Could it mean that our first effort must ALWAYS be to seek compromise and a peaceful solution? Could it mean that we always listen and that we are always willing to talk? Wouldn’t it mean that we be willing to talk peace with the Taliban if they show they are a trustworthy as we have shown ourselves to be? Couldn’t it mean we forego “pre-emptive war”? St. Paul in the Letter to the Romans (8:9, 11-13) reminds us that if we live according to the flesh, we will die.
Think of human relationships or of family life — when there is constant bickering, when there is bitterness and resentment, when there is no compromise, when there is distrust — who is enjoying living like this? Who is having the proverbial “fun”?
Meek and humble of heart can show strength of character and strength of personality. Such a man or woman knows what they want and has purpose. They will not be deterred. But, neither will they steamroll over another to get what they want. A meek and humble person will not deceive or trick another to get what they want. A meek and humble person will not use another for their gain. A meek and humble person will see another’s needs as important as his/her needs. A meek and humble person will not always presume to know what is better for another and certainly will not show themselves to be arrogant.
We can be proud Americans. We can think we are the best without having to say it or prove it. We can respect and honor the traditions of another and work to have the same respect and honor of others. When one truly believes they are the best at something, they do not have to go around telling others that is so. Jesus teaches that those who have been given much are expected to give/show much without lording it over others.
We are free and independent. We are a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles. There is room in our nation for people of all faith traditions. Historically, the Judeo-Christian teachings found in Zechariah and Matthew are the basis of who we set out to be in 1776.
Our current President seems to be trying a different approach to diplomacy and what it means to live as one nation among many. Being the biggest and the wealthiest nation will not prevent us from coming under attack. We can be strong and humble. We can lead and be meek.
As a pastor I always made sure that the American flag was at the doors of the Church. The sanctuary did not have the flag — it was kingdom space. But, on holiday weekends, the flag was in the sanctuary near the pulpit. The flag and the pulpit — symbols of our nation and God’s word were next to one another. Symbols of faith and nation that interplay with one another.
May we be a people and a nation that God has destined us to be. May our homes and workplaces embody space where the weapons of war have been banished.
May we be a nation of many people, but one people. May we wave the flag proudly while at the same time, walking under God’s banner and command.