July 3, 2011 Third Sunday after Pentecost RCL Proper 9A/Track #2
Zechariah 9: 9-12
Baptism of Arden Marie Bursick
Grace and peace to you on this summer morning, and in the midst of a holiday weekend. And to express my hope that it is a “safe and sane” weekend for you, as the fireworks advertisements used to say, and with much fun all around us, Pittsburgh Regatta and Independence Day and Fourth of July Weekend. And of course with that major holiday and festival next Tuesday. The joke I’ve made in our family, how all over the country people gather for band concerts in the park and picnics and then with glorious fireworks to fill the night sky, all in celebration of the Fourth of July, otherwise known as “Brucemas Eve.” Number 58 for me this year, and time certainly scooting along.
So we have the flag out in front of our house this weekend. Not to celebrate my birthday, of course, but with a sense of enjoyment and pride to acknowledge Independence Day. I don’t personally have anything against the British, of course. (Trust me on this, Phil!)
Actually very much the opposite. And especially here as Anglicans and Episcopalians, as we have received these great traditions of Church architecture and music and of course the Prayer Book and the very meaningful inheritance of sacramental life and apostolic community. I loved watching the recent Royal Wedding, and Susy and I continue with much pleasure from time to time to share memories of the wonderful trip to England that we had back in 2004 as such a generous and unexpected gift from you all in observance of my tenth anniversary as your rector. And we do enjoy spending a bit of time on Sunday evenings when we can with Masterpiece Mystery and are looking forward to the next season of Downtown Abbey. And to the last chapter of the Harry Potter . . . . So on the Fourth of July I don’t get too worked up about terrible old King George III, who in many ways as I’ve read history I’ve come to like, and you won’t find around me really any anti-Tory feeling at all.
In saying that, though, I would also say that I enjoy this weekend and holiday as a time to express what I do feel as a strong sense of patriotism. I’m not blind to the problems, and certainly we have always more to do generation by generation to preserve the great gift of our heritage of a society founded not to protect the powerful but to establish the greatest possible sphere of liberty for the individual. And of course to celebrate the great heroes of our national life, the defining events, from Washington and Adams and Jefferson to Lincoln and right on to our own day. Andrew Jackson and Alexander Graham Bell, Amelia Earhardt and Babe Ruth, Mark Twain and Warren Buffett. It’s a great country. And a culture that has not without some stress, obviously, including a horrific Civil War and all kinds of political and social polarization and distress in pretty much every generation-- but probably even so more successfully here than anywhere else figured out how to expand, grow, and yet also remain distinctive in the context of our more integrated global reality.
So, to all, Happy Fourth of July. Hot Dogs, Yankee Doodle brass bands, Baseball of course, picnics, fireworks. The whole package, and in the great traditions of our Church this a day of offering prayers of thanksgiving and remembrance and of praying for our leaders and for the role our nation plays so importantly among all the nations of the world. The Collect for Independence Day in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, composed by Bishop Edward Lambe Parsons of California: O Eternal God, through whose mighty power our fathers won their liberties of old; Grant, we beseech thee, that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain these liberties in righteousness and peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So I’m thinking all this, this week, in the context and with these readings for this Sunday, Proper 9A, Track Two, in our new lectionary, and on the special festival occasion of the baptism of Arden Marie this morning, and I found myself especially coming back again and again to this reading from the Prophet Zechariah in the ninth chapter—a passage we are most familiar with in reference to the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. “Humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Zechariah was a prophet writing in those very early moments, actually like the prophet Ezekiel and the second part of the Prophet Isaiah, the very beginning of the time of return from exile, as a new empire and Persian administration begins to allow the refugees from the Babylonian wars of the previous generation to return to their homelands. And of course we would imagine that there must have been among those returning and those who were beginning to think about joining in the journey back to Jerusalem a real mixed bag of thoughts and feelings.
Memories, perhaps romanticized and airbrushed, of the glories of earlier days, hopes for the future, plans and even plots and political schemes. What we’re going to do when we get back, how we’ll start things over again. And after all those years in the refugee camps and the general post-war diaspora, a renewal of nationalism. A yearning for the restoration of king and high priest, palace and temple, all the great signs and symbols of the City and the Nation.
And in the midst of this, the Prophet sounds a welcome and gives voice to praise a different kind of King, and a different kind of nation.
It is, and I think we all know this, so tempting at times to experience our hopes and aspirations as they would be focused on political leaders, those at the head of social movements, the great men and great women of charisma and power, influence, holding the levers of control of governments and institutions. I heard a radio news program in 2008 about the phrase, “this is the most important election in our lifetime.” Tracing it as it has been used in one form or another by politicians and candidates in essentially every American election since the early 19th century. The watershed moment. The critical day of decision.
But then to think about disappointments. About how things always turn out to be messier than you thought they would be. You think, if only this candidate could win, if only that party take power. But how even when you may sometimes get the result you want from the election, life goes on in ways you didn’t expect.
But I think this morning, even on a Fourth of July weekend, we hear old Zechariah tapping us on the shoulder. There is a lot of work to do in the neighborhood, the nation, the wide world. Walls to rebuild, cities to reclaim, and of course there will be leaders and institutions and government ahead. Some better than others, I suppose—though it’s always a little problematic to try to make those judgments in real time.
But today at the font with Arden Marie and her family we all of us together celebrate an even more important citizenship. Echoing from the Old Testament prophet: Israel, the Lord’s people, hear the word of the LORD: remember that your true King is coming, remember that God’s plan is bigger than the next election, the next mayor or governor or president: way bigger. Almost to hear Zechariah singing the old hymn: Pride of man and earthly glory, sword and crown betray his trust; what with care and toil he buildeth, tower and temple fall to dust. But God's power,hour by hour,is my temple and my tower.
In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews there is this list of some of the great heroes of the Old Testament, Abel and Norah and Abraham, and these wonderful sentences. “These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
Strangers and exiles on the earth, seeking a homeland. In the 24th chapter of St. John Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you.” And so we look forward. And so we would celebrate appropriately our citizenship in one country, one homeland, this weekend. Flags and brass bands. But as we do, and as we come to the Font and to the Holy Table this morning, we remember that we are also citizens of that “better country,” learning to live, and to hope, as subjects of the King who comes, as Zechariah sings, “ triumphant and victorious. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
And now let us renew the citizenship we know and look for in Christ, as we would invite Arden Marie Bursick and her mom and godparents to come forward, to begin the service of Holy Baptism.