A red, white, and blue sermon

A sermon for July 4, 2021, at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid. The Gospel lesson is from Mark 6:1-13

Red, white, and blue. There was a day not long before we left the UK to move to these United States when the children’s primary school was celebrating the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, and everyone was encouraged to wear red, white, and blue. On that historic occasion, my youngest child presented herself between the foot of the stairs and the front door, book bag in hand, dressed in her favourite velour sweatsuit, which was a lovely pale purple.[i]

“Isn’t it red, white, and blue day?” I asked her. “Yes,” she said, “and I’m wearing them all mixed together.”

Ezekiel received a word from God, who told him, “Whether they hear or refuse to hear…, they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.”

But Jesus returned to Nazareth, as a teacher and as a prophet, and the people were unimpressed, and he was amazed at their unbelief. 

William Barclay, commenting on this passage, notes that, “There is laid on us the tremendous responsibility that we can either help or hinder the work of Jesus Christ.”[ii]

We can hold ourselves a little apart if we want to, reserving our judgement as to how much he tells us, of God, of life, of mercy really applies in our current circumstances, how much Jesus of Nazareth knows of modern-day America, its unique problems and its preferred solutions; but then we will be like the people of Nazareth, among whom he was amazed and not a little disappointed that only a little healing could happen, and no great deeds of power.

The gospel, with its emphasis on repentance of sins, its insistence on that the love of God means loving our neighbours and even our enemies; this gospel can seem hopelessly naïve in such a world as this, that runs on leverage instead of love. The problem with pride, our stiff-necked and rebellious pride, that keeps Jesus in his place and resists the repentance of the prophets, that insists that we already have the more perfect way – the problem with that, if we choose it, is that we are doing ourselves out of great deeds of power.

Now clearly, since we are gathered here, we are not like those who refuse outright to receive his teaching. We are in little danger of having foot-dust shaken at us – surely?

But might we be just a little afraid of what might happen if we allow ourselves truly to be changed, converted, transformed by the grace of our Saviour, Jesus Christ? Are we just a little concerned about going against the flow of popular culture, painting with a different brush, suggesting that mercy is greater than might and love more lasting than power; that even the great and the wise need repentance? Are we afraid to trade in our red, and blue, and whiteness for something in a soft velour?

After his own rebuff at Nazareth, Jesus sent his disciples out to risk rejection and ridicule, but their reward was to cast out demons and to raise the sick from their deathbeds. Can you imagine how that would feel, to be able to bring life to the most desperate and sorry situations? 

If we were to allow ourselves to be transformed by Jesus and his gospel, what would we do? Who would we heal, if we weren’t counting the cost? Which demons of destruction and division, of hatred and harm would we cast out? What comfort would we bring to the grieving, what confoundments to the proud, what compassion and celebration to the meek, the inheritors of God’s earth?

If we could let ourselves live fully converted lives, as obedient to the gospel and as uncluttered by other claims – possessions, politics, profit, popularity – as his chosen disciples, what could we not accomplish?

A little later, “the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said , ‘Truly, I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this children is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’.” (Matthew 18:1-4)

Red, white, and blue. A quick survey of world flags finds that countries as diverse as Chile, Cape Verde, the Czech Republic, Iceland, Liberia, Australia, Mordovia, the Faroe Islands, and more – even Russia and North Korea – fly flags of red, white, and blue, in different configurations, of course.

We are in no danger of dissolving, of losing our identity; we lose nothing if we lean a little further into love, into the understanding of another’s life, into the love of a different neighbour, into the heart of God, who created all people in her image. But we will be transformed, if we allow Christ to lead us and to send us; we will be made new.

And isn’t that something to celebrate?

[i] Permission was sought and granted to tell this story.

[ii] William Barclay, The Gospel according to Mark, The Daily Study Bible, 2nd edition (Westminster Press, 1956) 

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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