Jesus First

By Rev. Chris Jorgensen

July 4, 2021

Video of Entire Service: https://www.facebook.com/hanscomparkchurch/videos/247984903800043

Scripture: Matthew 6:9-13

If aliens were watching Channel 6 this past Friday morning from 8 AM – 9 AM, they would have come away with some very interesting impressions of what Americans are celebrating when they celebrate the 4th of July. First, they would have learned about the need for a weigh-in before the annual July 4th Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest…which I believe is televised on ESPN if you are looking for something to do today. Second, they would have learned about the way Pabst Blue Ribbon is honoring the founding of our country with its 1776 Case of Beer. Now, make sure you bring your pickup truck if you go searching for this very patriotic case of beer…because it literally has seventeen hundred and seventy-six cans of beer in it.

Finally, the aliens would have had to endure a 20-minute report on the unveiling of a statue of Princess Diana and the drama between her sons, and then, like me, they would be totally confused on why we are so interested in the royal family of the country from which we declared our independence over 200 years ago.

So these are definitely things about our country. They are not great things, but they are things about America. Now I want to thank Pastor Peter and the children for reminding us about some of the actually great things about the United States.

When I think about the great things about our country, I often think of the amazing beauty of nature. I think of the sunrises and sunsets we are blessed with here under the spacious skies of the Great Plains. I think of my luck in having been able to travel around our country and walk the beaches and dip my toes in both of our shining seas. I think of the first time I was driving across Kansas and saw the aptly-named amber waves of grain. I love the diverse, natural beauty of America.

photo of pastors chris bryan and peter outdoors at worship in the garden event

I also love that we are such a culturally and ethnically diverse country. If you attended Worship in the Garden this Thursday, you would know that we had this awesome opportunity to hear the Lord’s Prayer – the one that Jesus taught the disciples in today’s scripture. We heard it and prayed along in three different languages: English, Spanish, and Swahili. I know if we put folks on the spot and invited them forward today, we could hear it in even more languages. [But I won’t to that.] 

As we heard this prayer in these three different languages, we expanded our imagination even further than Mexico (where our former intern Brayan is from) and Kenya (where Pastor Peter is from). We imagined Christians all over the world praying this prayer in their mother tongue. We imagined the expanse of Christians from here in the United States to all of Latin America to Kenya and the rest of Africa to places like Russia and China and Korea. We remembered that our God is the God who created and loves all people. 

Our God is the God who created this land and all the people in it. Our God is the God who loves every person who has immigrated here to the United States through history and every descendent from those immigrants. Our God is the God who loves of every person who was brought here in bondage and who loves every descendant who is now free. Our God is the God who loves every Native American person on whose land we all reside. 

We the people, beloved of God, are all here living in the United States together, and we know that, while our country is good, things are not perfect yet. We know that there are things that are broken in this country yet. We have not yet achieved equality among people of every race. We have not yet fully rooted out the white supremacy that was written into our constitution and re-written into our laws after slavery was ended. We have not yet fully atoned for the sins against our Native American siblings when we seized their lands and abused their human rights. We have not yet fully achieved equality among the sexes. We are moving in the right direction, but we are not there yet.

Perhaps it is controversial to acknowledge these shortcomings on our Independence Day, but on this matter, the Founders and our faith seem to align. They wrote, in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, that they were seeking to form a “more perfect” union. They knew it was not a fully formed, already perfect union. It was a “more perfect” union than what they had before. They left room for us to get better. 

As Christians, our model for making anything better is Jesus. Our model for making our individual lives better is Jesus. Our model for making this church community better is Jesus. Our model for making our country better is Jesus. 

Friends, I would argue that the greatest thing about the United States is our freedom to choose who and what we put first in our lives, and for Christians, that has to be Jesus.

In today’s scripture, in the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray – the one that we pray every week in church – Jesus tells us some things about the perfection we should be moving toward. First, as the author Fr. James Martin brought to my attention, there is no “I” in this prayer. There is no “my.” There is no “me.” The God, the Father, who Jesus addresses is “our Father.” As we explored in the garden this Thursday, we know that “our Father” is the God of over 2 billion Christians…and only about 205 million of them live in the United States. That means 90% of our Christian siblings live in countries that are not this one. 

And we believe that every person – even if they are not a Christian – is made in the image and likeness of God. So for Christians, a more perfect union would be one that seeks the welfare of our global siblings as much as our own.

Secondly, the kingdom of God (or the kingdom of heaven) that Jesus tells us to pray for is not some escape for us from this broken world at the end of our lives. Jesus teaches us to pray “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” He does not teach us to pray, “God, let us get into heaven after we die.” He prays, “thy kingdom come.” On this earth. 

Jesus taught us to pray that the entire earth would become a place like heaven: a place without suffering, a place of peace, a place of compassion and justice. Certainly, we can start where we are at – as individuals. We can be people who sow peace in our personal relationships and our daily lives. We can be people who treat others with compassion and justice. We can love our country and try to make it the most peaceful and just and compassionate country it could possibly be, and we can also advocate for collective action that creates a world of peace and compassion and justice for everyone around the globe. 

Now I’m going to keep this sermon short today because I want you to be able to celebrate. I want you to go forth and celebrate. Celebrate your freedom. Thank your lucky stars that you are here in the United States of America where we have freedom of religion. Can I get an Amen for that? 

So celebrate. Celebrate your freedom to pray the prayer that Jesus taught us whenever and wherever you want to pray it. You can do that. You can’t force anybody else to do it. But you can pray this prayer whenever you want.

Then celebrate that God has given us the responsibility to live this prayer out. Every one of us. Every day…until God’s kingdom of peace and compassion and justice comes for all people on all the earth as it is in heaven. 

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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