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Monthly Archives: July 2022

Sermon delivered on July 3, 2022

In 2003, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, preached a sermon that shook the nation and almost ended Barak Obama’s 2008 campaign for President.  Entitled, “Confusing God and Government,” Rev. Wright went through a litany of all the ways that the US had failed to do what was just and right. And at the end, he dropped the equivalent of an F-Bomb.  He said, “We’re supposed to sing, “God bless America?” No. No. No. Not God bless America; God damn America.”  

The soundbite went viral, and he was quickly condemned as the leader of a hate group. But he was just telling the truth–truth no one wanted to hear.

From the arrival of the first colonists to this day, our nation has committed unspeakable atrocities and often with the full support of people who claimed to be Bible-believing Christians:  Slavery, forced removal of indigenous peoples from their land, massacres and cultural genocide, the invasion and occupation of sovereign nations–some to this day, interference in democratic elections. support of coups, internment camp, mass incarceration, family separation, expulsions of American citizens of foreign ancestry, and the list goes on and on.  Can God really bless America?

170 years ago, before Rev. Wright, another Black man stood before a large crowd on the occasion of Independence Day. It was July 4, 1852. Former slave, Frederick Douglass, delivered a speech entitled, “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?” Listen to his answer…

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

On this 4th of July, while so many celebrate freedom from the tyranny of English rule, we must acknowledge that not everyone is free.  And so, I ask the questions: What is the 4th of July to women this year? What is this day to immigrants, indigenous tribes and people of color? What is this day to LGBTQ+ folks? It is nothing but the reminder that the ideals of this nation and the inalienable rights outlined in the Declaration are empty promises and hollow platitudes.  It is the reminder that freedoms given can be quickly and decisively taken back.  It is the reminder that liberty and justice, full citizenship and equal participation in society, is reserved and protected by the few for the few. Despite the words, it was never intended to be for ALL.  

But what increases the duplicity of this day is that many people who claim to be followers of Christ are still using their voice and vote to ensure the restoration of bondage, oppression and second-class citizenship, convinced that the church’s call is to protect the nation from the threat of “godless sinners” who are out to destroy the very foundations of our “Christian nation”.  And like the ancestors, they support the acts of injustice with God’s holy word.   As Fredrick Douglass so elegantly pointed out, it is hypocrisy. And because of the hypocrisy, “God’s holy name is slandered among the nations.” (Romans 2:24) 

The nation needs a reckoning.  The nation needs a moral revival. The nation needs reformation. But equally necessary is a reckoning in the church. The church needs a moral revival and a new reformation that ends its deadly alliance with Christian nationalism, paternalism and white supremacy and pledges itself to an authentic Christianity rooted in Jesus’s radical mission of love.

On this 4th of July, the Spirit is calling the church to be the church of Jesus Christ–not the cheerleader of the empire; the Spirit is calling the church to be the church of Jesus Christ to speak and live the truth–not repeat the lies and deceptions of the powers that be; the Spirit is calling the church to be the church of Jesus Christ to defend the rights of the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized—not ignore them—or worse–to blame them for their condition; The Spirit is calling the church to be the church of Jesus Christ to repent from the wicked ways of greed, hate, disenfranchisement, and arrogant supremacy and return to the ways of love for God and love for others—the ways that lead to the justice, mercy and humility. 

The Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”  (Isaiah 29:13) That is an accurate assessment of the current state of the American Church—giving only lip service to the ways of Christ while turning to the ways that serve and preserve its own interests.  

Lord, in your mercy, forgive us and grant us new hearts—hearts of flesh activated by Your Spirit ready to do your will as revealed to us by Christ, who came, not to be served but to serve and to give his life for us. Remove from our hearts every evil and every attitude that denies the full personhood of others.  Create in us clean hearts that seek first the kingdom of God and God’s justice. Fill our hearts with love for God and love for others that results in what the Lord requires—to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. To the glory of your name in the church and throughout the world. Amen.