village scene in summer with addition of US flag

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

This was one of those church days that gave us A LOT to think about. Everything seemed meaningful.

In class, thinking more about Matthew 18:21-35, someone brought up the likely organizational structure of the king’s household. Maybe slave #2 reported to slave#1, in something like the way slave #1 reported to the king. And maybe the other slaves did, as well. And since the point of the parable didn’t seem to have been that the other slaves shouldn’t have reported on slave #1 … maybe there’s a reminder here that resigning ourselves to an abuse of power, when there’s a higher authority to appeal to, doesn’t seem to be Jesus’ counsel in this particular story.

We gave some thought to the kind of “debts” people owe us. (As opposed to the ones they owe others – because it might be a little too easy to tell other people that they need to forgive those debts. Isn’t “fix the log in your own eye first” in Matthew, too? And “forgiveness is a process,” we know that from experience.) What do we think people owe us? (Right-turn signals spring immediately to mind …)

Someone else brought up the problem of literal debt, too. What happens to young people who owe so much interest on student loans that they are in the same practical position as people in “debtor’s prison,” working to pay off massive debt before they can buy a house, start a family, etc. Who forgives them? Or, how do we? And we thought about Romans 13:8-10, and the real debt we owe one another, the debt of love for the other person, which always remains outstanding (being 10,000 talents worth, at least …)

In church, for children’s message our pastor asked the kids about “prayer in school” – which they pretty much drew a blank on, so they talked about where and when people can pray. “Indoors,” “outdoors” … that “just about covers it.” Pretty much any time. Maybe if there was a test or something. Maybe the only time a person can’t pray is when they are only thinking of themselves. Since if you were thinking of yourself, but also God, you could still pray. [It made me wonder what we mean, precisely, when we say “they have taken prayer out of schools,” assuming we are people who say that. But I didn’t get as far as working that out, because it was time to pray.]

The sermon was on Matthew 22:15-22 and 1 Samuel 8:4-22. What does it mean to be “free,” to have religious freedom? We are always free to serve God; but it is not always easy.

Our pastor will definitely give thanks for having a government that protects our rights, and empowers us to exercise them, in peace. And will thank God for the rights themselves. He quoted the Declaration of independence on that one: “… created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Christian religion did not begin in that kind of friendly environment. Examples: imperial taxation at the whim of the Emperor around the time of Jesus’ birth; King Herod threatens Jesus’ family and others like them, for political reasons; Jesus’ last supper happens on the eve of his arrest and conviction as a public enemy, basically for his religious convictions; the disciples hide out on the first Easter for fear of reprisals from their own community. Then, after Pentecost, still not easy; the apostles and the early Christians are out there sharing their stories, and getting arrested and thrown in jail and beaten up and killed. It’s a harsh environment, but the church grows and flourishes anyway, the way some plants are adapted to extreme environments.

And in the 2,000 years or so since then, there have been a lot of times and places when it was not easy to be Christian. As well as some where it has been easy to be Christian. We live in one of the easy times and places. That comes with lots and lots of “freedom,” in the form of choices: what denomination of Christian we want to be, whether we want to come to worship on any given Sunday, and so on and so forth.

We could ask ourselves how well that kind of ease supports our faith.

Some people don’t feel they have a choice. Some people feel they have to come to worship, they have to be in church, it’s what gives them life in the time and place where they are …

[But I sat there and wondered, just how easy is it for us to “be Christian,” really? When I have a hard time forgiving the guy who forgot to put on his right-turn signal … to say nothing of people I really disagree with … it hasn’t gotten all that easy for me, yet.]

But before that our pastor told a story – to illustrate how fireworks always makes him think of family – about various family gatherings around 4th of July. [Maybe everyone has their memories. I know I did.] And one stood out, when they were on their annual family beach trip, which happened to fall around the 4th, and they had gone to the end of the island and could see the fireworks at the big beach further down. It was time to shepherd the sleepy, restive kids back to the house before the whole display finished, so off they went across the sand, the way these things happen, carrying one, holding another’s hand, trying to keep sight of the one getting ahead in the dark, looking back to keep sight of the one lagging behind, still hearing the boom of explosions, seeing the flash of lights from behind them, children fretting and yelling from time to time.

And then, he said, for whatever reason, maybe because of what was happening in the world that year, though he doesn’t remember what it was now, it hit him: that somewhere, for some people, that trip, across sand, in the dark, with children, with anxiety, accompanied to the sounds of explosions, sudden bright lights – that trip, that experience, was not a celebration, not a vacation, not even much of a choice.

“The war that fireworks are the symbol of always has two sides” – at least, we might say; “someone wins and someone loses; some celebrate, some suffer.”

So if that war is the price we pay for our freedom – our peace, our security, our ease – then we need to remember what it costs, and who it costs, and pay attention to how comfortable we are with all of that: with the size of that debt, and who we owe it to, and how we have repaid it.

We sang “This is My Song.” [Here, in someone else’s version … I wonder whether these singers get through the song without crying.]

But there was more. It was just one of those days where you kind of had to be there.

Summer with US Flag

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