Sunday, July 02, 2006

July 2 Sermon: Declaration of Dependence

Deuteronomy 6: 4-9
1 Corinthians 12: 12-26

I remember an article I read in my ethics class in seminary. It told of the male and female responses to the word “dependence.” It turned out that most males had negative connotations of the word, and most females had positive connotations. Males typically associated the word with being “dependent upon someone or something,” and females typically associated the word with being able to depend upon someone.
This week we celebrate “Independence Day.” Our shared history of a great nation born amidst the struggle for independence from an Empire is certainly inspiring and worth celebrating, but today I’d like us to consider the other side of the coin. Our culture is one of radical independence. We breathe it, we advertise it worldwide, We become involved in military action to foster it. Independence is unquestionably a “good word,” male or female.
Today I would like to declare our “dependence.” Not our independence, but our “dependence.” A good way to declare our dependence is to read the Shema—the most spoken prayer in our “mother faith,” Judaism. “Hear O Israel, the Lord is your God, the Lord is ONE.” This prayer doesn’t celebrate independence, it celebrates DEPENDENCE. With regards to God, independence is simply darkness—dependence is light. It is a reversal of what we’ll shoot off
fireworks for, what we’ll cook out hamburgers and hot-dogs for. With our relationship with God, we are blessed to be dependent. We are in a covenant. Our dependence is matched by God’s faithfulness.
Another word for dependence is the name of a religion in Arabic, Islam—it means “submission.” From a very early age, we’re taught that “submission” is wrong. That we are never to submit to anyone. That we are never to stoop to submission. Submission means vulnerability. I would like to interrupt myself to affirm the idea that certain kinds of submission are wrong, are unhealthy and life-threatening, just as certain forms of “dependence” are sapping, destructive. Submission based on gender roles defined by millennia of patriarchy is certainly unhealthy and life threatening. Dependence, in the form of addiction, is life-sapping and destructive.
But I’d like us to think about these words in another light. We need not think in black and white, especially when we consider the awesomeness and complexity of God. What does it mean to submit to God? What is another name for God? One could say “Love.” 1 John 4:8 says that “Whosoever does not love does not know God, for God is Love.” Submitting to love means opening our heart and letting someone in. It means becoming vulnerable. God became vulnerable for our sake, so we must become vulnerable for God’s sake.
The Shema, the reading from Deuteronomy that Pete read so beautifully this morning, does not say—“Hear O Israel, your God is whomever you choose, your God is any number of things.” It says, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is your God, your God is ONE!” It does not celebrate INdependenc, it celebrates Dependence—Our dependence upon God! It calls us to submit to an idea that may be beyond our understanding. It calls us to sacrifice our own ideas and join the worship of the One, true, Living God. It addresses a whole nation—a whole people, Israel, and invites this people into a deeper relationship with God through the prayer of dependence. I belong to Yahweh—this God is One God—not whatever I wish God to be.
How do we know such a God? Paul writes beautifully to the Corinthians that we know this God through the earthly person of Jesus Christ. The earthly person of Jesus the Christ is also a spiritual person that is formed by the connection of you and me and everyone else that Paul refers to as the Body of Christ. Just as our earthly bodies have different parts with different functions, the Spiritual Person of Jesus Christ is alive in different ways in you and me and everyone else. In the Body of Christ, the “Declaration of Dependence” known to the people of God in the Shema—in the law and the prophets and the history of God’s people—this dependence upon God can also be known as “interdependence.” Do you know that word? It means that this Body of Christ being real in the world depends on the shared responsibilities of you and me and everyone else who makes up the “Body of Christ.”
This past week, we lost a member of the Body of Christ who was very important to me. He and I were connecting ligaments. We were joined in a way that brought me a great sense of purpose and direction. Paul Bowles was the pastor at Bartlesville FUMC during my two years of youth ministry on his staff. He was a friend, a mentor, and a colleague in ministry. I can preach today about “interdependence” because it is a fact that my ministry is dependent upon his ministry. He showed me the way into the ordained service of God. He, along with my father, guided me to the path of ordained ministry. IN short, if it were not for this man who passed away on Tuesday morning at the age of 62, I would not be standing in this pulpit today. Our dependence upon God is felt in our connection with others in the Body of Christ. One way that I know my dependence upon God is through my interdependence with people like Paul. And the fact that he is no longer living does not break the connection with him. He is alive in the Body of Christ, and his life and influence still informs mine and my ministry.
Just as Paul says, “Now the body is not made up of one part, but of many.” We don’t all exist to do the same things—Christ is present in the collective of all of us, doing what we do best for the glory of Christ. Some of us may come to the pastor’s house and paint their hearts out, some of us may keep a record of attendance and membership so that we can look after those parts of the Body who are missing, some of us may drive to Cookson Hills and deliver things that this Body has together collected for other members of the Body who aren’t as fortunate as we are, some of us may ask our neighbors and friends to church, some of us may sing in the choir, some of us may serve as the liturgist.
There are many parts of the body, and if someone says, “because I’m not doing that particular thing, I’m not part of the body,” they are missing the point. Now, if they are the spiritual equivalent of an appendix or wisdom teeth—if they don’t have any function to the overall health of the body, then perhaps they should question their role, but who am I or anyone else to say what is the equivalence of spiritual uselessness? God uses all of us, regardless of whether we are ready, regardless of whether we value our placement in the body of Christ.
Our dependence upon God is manifested in our interdependence as the Body of Christ. We recognize our dependence upon God when we recognize our interdependence with one another. Notice that our Independence does not really factor into either of these relationships. If we want to think of a way that spiritual Independence can and should be celebrated, it is best dictated by Paul in the letter to the Galatians. He wrote, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”
You see, independence in a spiritual sense does not mean we are set apart. It means that we are free to serve one another. We are free to be yoked and bound together.
Through this dependence upon God—through this interdependence within the Body of Christ, we are freed from our slavery to Sin and Death. The Empire of Sin and Death no longer has any hold on our life. We don’t have to pay taxes to that institution, we don’t have to salute that flag. The ways of this world are trampled by the beautiful feet of the one who brings good news. We aren’t defined by our economic status, by our race, by our age, by our gender, by our nationality, by anything! We may have sung “America the Beautiful” this morning—and this country is indeed something to celebrate—but ultimately we are as American as we are Earthling. If we fall into the trap of over-identifying with our national heritage, we are falling victim to short-sightedness. We are Christian. We are defined by our relationship to God through Christ. We are defined by our relationship with one another as the Body of that Christ.
This table that we gather around is a symbol of that relatedness—it is a symbol of our identity in Christ. In the thanksgiving of the Table, I say the words, “may we be the body of Christ for the world, redeemed by his blood.” I hold up the loaf of bread, and if I say anything, I say, “Though we are many, we share in one loaf!”
These words are symbols of our relatedness. They are symbols of our interdependence within the Body of Christ. They are symbols of our independence and freedom from the yoke of slavery through Christ. They are symbols of our dependence upon God. Through this meal that we share together, we are brothers and sisters in faith. Through this meal, we submit to God’s power in our lives and lift up our prayer for God to “Have thine own way, though art the potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me, after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.” Amen

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