A sermon preached at Grace Episcopal Church, San Antonio, Texas.
The Lectionary Readings for the sixth Sunday after Pentecost are found here.
What do you consider to be your ‘hometown’? Where are your roots?
When I’m asked where I’m from, I always hesitate about how to answer because it isn’t a simple answer. In fact, I’ll confess, my citizenship is a bit sketchy.
I was born in Nuremberg Germany, in a German hospital, and I have a German birth certificate. My parents were US born, US citizens, living abroad. They did what they were supposed to at the time and filed my birth with the US consulate in Munich. When I was 2 we returned to the states but I didn’t have my own passport just an ‘infant stamp’ on my mom’s passport.
With the paperwork provided to my parents by the consulate, I got a social security number and my first job when I was 13 and I’ve worked and paid taxes ever since. Prior to 9/11 I traveled to Mexico and Canada needing only my driver’s license. In my mid-30s I was going to travel to Europe and for the first time needed my own passport so I gathered the paperwork I had and sent in the application and a few weeks later I got a letter from the state department saying they had no record of my existence.
Thanks be to God my mom still had her old expired passport that had my infant stamp in it so I sent that in and the good folks at the passport office went hunting for answers. They discovered all of the original paperwork that my parents had filed in Munich thirty plus years earlier in a dusty basement corner. It had never been sent to the State Department for proper processing.
Eventually, I received an envelope with my citizenship papers dated 1967 and signed by Secretary of State Colin Powell. Some day, some one is going to do that math and realize there is a 35 year discrepancy between the date and the signature and who knows what will happen then.
In my life, I’ve been a citizen of 2 countries, lived in three different countries and 5 different states, and because of the mission work I do there I call Guatemala my ‘other’ country.
In our mobile world, many of us aren’t living in the town we were born in or even where we spent our childhood. And yet, we all have a deep-seated need for ‘roots’ (pun intended). We are created in the image of the Trinitarian God to be most fully human in community.
And when our circumstances don’t allow that connection through a geographic location, our ‘hometown’ becomes that community, institution, or organization we choose to belong to because it aligns with who we want to be or who we think we should be or even who we think others expect us to be. We tend to choose to set our roots with those who share our worldview.
And, like Jesus, if we begin to shift and change our way of seeing and responding to the events around us in a way that is different from that of our ‘hometown’ our credibility is questioned and even challenged.
“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t this the one who learned from us to be just like us? How dare he change or voice something different! Who does he think he is?!”
What drives this questioning isn’t Jesus ability to teach and heal but the fear that if one of their hometown changes they will all have to change, because that’s how community works. So, instead of being a community that grew bigger with inclusion they chose to shrink their border to be one of exclusion.
But a prophet’s job is to disrupt the norm. And in general we don’t respond well when our ‘norms’ are disrupted because our identity is rooted in these norms. So when someone begins to call into question the worldview of the group, the easiest way to maintain the status quo is to discredit the one causing the disruption, even if what they are saying is right and true.
Those who know us best and the longest generally have the greatest challenge when we choose to change and grow. We’ve disrupted who they have become accustomed to us being or who they think we should be.
When we are the one who calls into question the norms of a community, we are not only changing our individual identity but the very identity and existence of the whole group.
Jesus teaches that our roots, our foundation, our citizenship if you will, aren’t to be planted in the institutions of this world but in God’s Kingdom on earth, the Kingdom that Jesus tells us is at hand, right here among us because the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven IS us.
My citizenship situation honestly caused quite an identity crisis for me. I’d been living and working and paying taxes in this country I love, that my dad and brother served, for decades and was told I didn’t exist. If I wasn’t a US citizen, what was I? Who was I?
I wasn’t the prophetic voice speaking out but still my credibility as a citizen had been brought into question. And so I began to discover my created identity as God’s beloved child and citizen of God’s Kingdom. I found the foundation that can never be shaken.
Through my personal experience, I have discovered how important it is for each of us to examine where we’ve put our roots, to ask ourselves if our identity is defined by who and whose we are as God’s beloved or defined by who we exclude.
Do we let our faith inform and shape our worldview or let our hometown worldview govern how we live our faith?
In God’s Kingdom, we don’t have to wonder if we belong. We don’t have to worry that others don’t accept us as we are. We don’t have to wonder if our citizenship is sketchy or not.
Jesus teaches us to live in the here and now, as Kingdom People. Our identity as Kingdom People is formed by who we follow not by who we exclude. Our Kingdom worldview is shaped by the Love of God that enables us to love as Jesus loves so we see through a lens of compassion, not judgement.
Kingdom People don’t lean left or right, we walk the Way of Jesus’ Love and The Way is big enough for everyone. God’s Kingdom isn’t defined by who we exclude but by who God includes.
Today we celebrate the birth of our amazing and yet not perfect country. And I don’t want anyone to hear me saying we shouldn’t do that. I love this country. I just try to let my words and actions show that I love Jesus more. I try my best with God’s help to let my love of Jesus teach me how to be a good citizen of God’s Kingdom and this country.
When we choose to remain static in our “hometown,” never willing to grow, the inevitable changes of life can shake our foundation when we ground our belonging and identity in anything other than God’s Kingdom.
Sometimes, as Kingdom People, when we follow Jesus our hometown will call our credibility into question. We will offer others the peace of God’s Kingdom sometimes they will refuse. And together, we continue to follow Jesus, in the confidence that our identity, our foundation is solid.
How would it change each of us when we decide to be first and foremost a citizen of God’s Kingdom?
How would that affect our view of our country that we celebrate today?
How would it change our community and our country if we really claimed and lived our Kingdom citizenship?
When we choose to live as Kingdom people first and foremost, to align ourselves with Jesus and be more faithful to God than any human created institution, we live on an unshakeable foundation. When things begin to change, whether we initiated the change or it happened to us we can stand firm, knowing that we grow best when well planted.
We are all God’s beloved. We live in a great and imperfect country, established and instituted by human hands. To live primarily as a citizen of God’s Kingdom doesn’t mean we have to give up or deny our love for this country. It does mean that we walk with Jesus in the Way of Love as we live in our human established ‘hometowns’, proclaiming the good news of Jesus with all that we do and all that we have because we know without a doubt who and whose we are. Amen.