Wow! My last post was here was exactly 7 months ago. So, to prove that I have not been just sitting idly by and ignoring the problems posed by consumerism, ecological devastation, etc., here is the homily I will be preaching this Sunday in connection with a teaching series our community is going through which I also wrote on Creation and Discipleship.
Would everyone please stand? Put your right hand over your heart. Repeat after me, “I pledge allegiance…” Please sit down.
Many of us grew up pledging allegiance, to flags, to states, to nations. Some of us may have even pledged allegiance to a Christian flag. Perhaps we did this without thinking. We did what we were told or what everyone else was doing. Consciously and unconsciously we all make commitments, we all pledge allegiance, whether it’s to the ideas that drive us or belief systems that shape us, whether it’s to specific places or people, to political parties or organizations. We all pledge allegiance.
Last weekend we celebrated the Fourth of July. This is a day when we retell the myths and stories of the United States, consciously or unconsciously, myths and stories about freedom, democracy and even the divine role of this country in the world and through history. This is how the idea of a nation and those in power continue to court and maintain the allegiance of its citizens.
Telling stories is also how we remind ourselves who we are as followers of Jesus and where our allegiance and commitments lie. The Israelites and modern Jews tell the story of the Exodus during Passover to remind themselves that they are a people who have been liberated from oppression by Yahweh in order to follow this God and be God’s people in the world, to bear witness to this God who sets people free.
Later in the Old Testament the people cry out to God to be a nation like the other nations around them. It’s hard to not fit in. It’s hard to be different. We all want to belong. Belonging is part of what it means to be human. But sometimes this need to belong can get us into trouble. It can lead us to belong to the wrong groups or we can belong for the wrong reasons. So, reluctantly, God relents and allows the Israelites to form a nation, like other nations. The Israelites now belong to the group of nations around them, but they have sacrificed something in the process.
We all have competing allegiances and commitments. We must all make choices between these commitments. God asked Abram to leave his homeland and everything he knew based on God’s covenant promise. Jesus asked his followers to leave their commitments to family to form a new family. He asked them to leave others to bury their loved ones and to leave the comfort and stability of their homes and support systems to follow him. The call for us as Christians is radical.
It is also important to distinguish between what God creates and what human beings create with our own creative and destructive impulses. God did not create nations. God did not draw borders in the dirt. God did create diversity. We see the biodiversity in the creation story with plants, animals and all kinds of living creatures. In the story of the tower of Babel, when the people try to achieve god-like power and status by consolidating and centralizing power by forming one people and one language, God reiterates that diversity is the way of creation, not sameness. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit comes, not to make everyone the same, not so that everyone would hear one language, but so that each one would hear the Gospel in their own language. Paul reiterates over and over that the unity of the Body of Christ is in its diversity, not in spite of it.
What happens when we pledge allegiance to nations, parties or ideologies above God’s reign in the world? History tells us disaster ensues. One of the main features of civilizations throughout history that have collapsed is that they have destroyed the creation that supports their growing populations. As citizens of God’s kingdom we belong to a nation that includes all of creation. The president of this “nation” is the Creator, not just of this planet, but the entire cosmos.
So, what allegiances and commitments are required of us as followers of Jesus and citizens of the kingdom of God? Clearly our allegiance crosses borders and transcends nations. Our commitment is to all of creation and all of humanity in all of its diversity, but also to this particular piece of creation we call home and these particular people we call brothers and sisters. So if you would please stand again, and let us pledge allegiance once again…
I pledge allegiance…
To the Creator of all things and the creation which sustains me
To the soil beneath my feet which feeds me and all creatures that make up my home
To all those who the Creator has made including those who speak, look and think different than me
To the plants and creatures that are my roommates in this place
To the Body of Christ and my brothers and sisters who help me fulfill my calling as a child of God.