After the Revolution

Speaker: John McLarty

Audio Recording:

Sermon manuscript for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists

For July 9, 2016
Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to die;
save them as they stagger to their death.
Don’t excuse yourself by saying, “Look, we didn’t know.”
For God understands all hearts, and he sees you.
He who guards your soul knows you knew.
He will repay all people as their actions deserve.
Proverbs 24;11-12
The week began innocently enough. On Sunday I flew to Lawrence, Kansas, to spend the week helping my daughter work on the old house she has just bought. We worked until one or two in the morning most nights. It wasn’t all work. Between the two of us we managed to eat a gallon of ice cream. On Tuesday morning I went running. Out through the neighborhood of old houses, down to the river where a levee runs for miles.
It was a perfect Kansas summer day. Temperature in the 80s. Blue sky with puffy white clouds. Cottonwood leaves dancing in the sunlight.
We worked through Wednesday and Thursday and all of Thursday night. Got on a plane early Friday morning and arrived home. There on the kitchen table was the Seattle Times with the headline about the shootings in Dallas. And I caught up with the news from the week.

A bombing in Baghdad killed 200 people.
Twice police shot Black men in acts of apparent gross police misconduct.
Another bombing in Baghdad killed 35 people.
A shooter in Dallas shot police who were providing service at a protest against police violence.

I wanted to go back to Kansa and sanding and painting my daughter’s house.
But here we are, in this house of prayer for all nations, confronting the twin realities of a glorious world and heart-crushing evil.
This past Monday was Fourth of July, the celebration of the American Revolution.
American history celebrates our founding rebellion. There was a wicked king in England who imposed onerous taxes on his far-off subjects in America. The king also interfered with the administration of true justice and the righteous application of law. The taxes and other grievances became so unbearable the Americans went to war to get rid of the evil king. With the help of the French, the Americans won the war. They got rid of the wicked king and his rapacious army. Everyone in America was now free and goodness and justice spread across the land.
That’s the way the story was supposed to go.
The point of rebellion is to replace evil power with a good power. But it seldom works. The rebellion is the easy part. Identify the bad guys and eliminate them. Kill them. Then goodness will blossom everywhere.
It didn’t work in the American Revolution. Slavery was expanded after the revolution. Women were still owned by their husbands. Children were worked to death in factories. Poor men were crushed by rich men. Life was about the same as it was before the Revolution. Getting rid of the King of England simply changed the name of the oppressor.
Creating a good society by killing bad people was attempted in Bible times. The Hebrew people entered Canaan. This was the promised land. It was the land where God’s people were going to live happily ever after. No more enemies. No more false gods. No more false religion. The first step toward this earthly paradise was the eradication of the bad people. The Israelites obliterated whole cities, every man, woman, and child. In places they even killed all the animals, the donkeys and cows, and I suppose the dogs and cats.
We have a name for this horror: genocide.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work. The Israelites discovered that every evil that was out there was also “in here.” As they tried to deal with evil by crusades against whole cities, they ended up attacking Israelite cities where evil had been perpetrated.
Injustice, idolatry, greed, tyranny lived not only out there, but in here. This is still true.
This week’s events highlight the need for a better, higher vision. We cannot build a better world with weapons. Yes, sometimes when egregious evil arises we must use violence to fight it off. But need for that kind of defensive violence is rare. And the act of violence—even defensive, justifiable violence—never builds goodness. We cannot grow tomatoes by pulling weeds. We cannot feed hungry children by killing mosquitoes. We cannot build a happy, prosperous community by killing bad people.
There is a higher path.
In the Bible, the prophets struggle to give voice to this higher, more noble way of life.
In the book of Deuteronomy we find these words:
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.
“Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land.
Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.
Leviticus 19:18; 33-34
The Bible is full of stories and ideas that emphasize the difference between Israel and everyone else. There are commands to be separate, to be different. Israel was not like “other people.” Instead they were the special people of God.
But there is another line of thinking, another vision. When you look at foreigners, remember you were a foreigner.
When you think of Jerusalem as God’s city, instead of thinking, God is here not there. God is with us and not with them, think this city belongs to the world and the whole world has citizenship here.
A song. A psalm of the descendants of Korah. On the holy mountain stands the city founded by the LORD.
He loves the city of Jerusalem more than any other city in Israel.
O city of God, what glorious things are said of you! Interlude
I will count Egypt and Babylon among those who know me–also Philistia and Tyre, and even distant Ethiopia. They have all become citizens of Jerusalem!
Regarding Jerusalem it will be said, “Everyone enjoys the rights of citizenship there.” And the Most High will personally bless this city.
When the LORD registers the nations, he will say, “They have all become citizens of Jerusalem.” Interlude
The people will play flutes and sing, “The source of my life springs from Jerusalem!”
This vision—the vision of a single citizenship for all humanity—will change how we interact with each other. Iraqis and Americans are parts of a single whole.
We appropriately lament the death of 4500 American service personnel in the Iraq War. Let’s enlarge our vision and feel the weight of the Iraqi people killed as a direct consequence of that war—100,000 people.
We who are white must remember that Black people and Hispanic people and Asian people are people. All of us together are the family of God.
As Christians, as people who claim kinship with God, we are not allowed to look away from the injustices suffered by those who are a different color or who have less capable legal representation.
Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to die;
save them as they stagger to their death.
Don’t excuse yourself by saying, “Look, we didn’t know.”
For God understands all hearts, and he sees you.
He who guards your soul knows you knew.
He will repay all people as their actions deserve.
Proverbs 24;11-12
We are Sabbath-keepers. Traditionally, we have reassured ourselves this is our proof that we are indeed law-abiding people. But it is not enough.
The law of God reaches its ultimate test in this challenge: Let us love our neighbors as ourselves. And who is my neighbor? More than anyone else, my neighbor is the one who is suffering, the one who could use some help.
We who find ourselves at home at the Master’s Table demonstrate our true citizenship, our true identity as children of this home, by extending the welcome. We eat the truest bread of heaven when hand it to others.