In a moment, as time goes, our nation came under a new form of government and new management upon the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America.
When Benjamin Franklin was returning from the last meeting of the Continental Congress after the drafting of the Constitution, a passing woman called out, “Mr. Franklin, what sort of a government have you given us?” “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”
If you can keep it. And that has been the challenge lo these past many years. If you can keep it.
Our young nation, from the beginning was beset by errors, stupidity and evil. The new nation was created out of land stolen from numerous native peoples. Even within a generation, those who shared that mythical first Thanksgiving feast were massacring their Indian neighbors.
Can any nation long endure founded on the premise that some humans only counted as three-fifths of a man, and some didn’t count at all if they were female. It wasn’t long after that the infamous Dread Scott Decision settled it – some humans will never have any rights at all, for what rights does property have?
Our nation is exceptional in the way that every nation is exceptional. Each has its own history and particular cultural flavoring. You speak French, I speak English. You like piroshkies, I like hot dogs – with mustard, if you please. You worship in a mosque and pray to one called Allah, I pray in a church whose heritage is drenched in the English culture and pray to one Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a unique ethos to every land and its people.
What I find unique in this place we call America is that our identity is not based on the defining particularities that shape most nations. We are a people based solely upon a solemn agreement we made with one another at our founding. We are a people based on the simple premise that all are created equal and all are of infinite worth. To sum it up – everybody counts and everybody gets a chance. For the most part, with maybe a little help from Mr. Putin, we also get to choose those who will represent and lead us -- though this part of our common life needs some fixing up.
We speak many languages and are of many different hues. Some of us are gay and some are straight. Young or old, we are all bound in a single destiny, that we alone have the responsibility of fashioning. Though, due to our present national dysfunction and dyspepsia, I have at times entertained the notion that maybe Queen Elizabeth might take us back. We seem so incapable at the present of governing ourselves.
Historically, we are here but a moment. A twinkling of the divine eye. Like every people, the rain falls on everyone and likewise shines the sun. Just and unjust. Though our national story tells us that we are a nation of immigrants, and our biblical heritage enjoins us to befriend the foreigner, for we were foreigners ourselves in the land of Egypt, we have disgraced that heritage.
One speaker at our Pomona Valley #Indivisible rally, Families Belong Together, reminded us of our sad history of the Japanese Internment camps. She said that as bad as those camps were, what is happening now is far worse. In those camps, at least, children were not ripped away from their parents. Family ties were not violated, as they had been during slavery. Folks, slavery no less. That is where we presently are as little toddlers cry out for mothers they may never see again.
I can only say that it is fortunate that Joseph and Mary fled with Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath. Had they come here, Jesus would have surely been snatched from Mary’s breast and locked up somewhere in a wire cage, never to be found again.
That’s exactly what is happening to many of these youngsters. And there is no plan for reunification of these immigrant families. Our government has no idea where many of these children or parents presently are. No plan B, no plan Z. Incompetency compounds incompetency.
This Fourth we need to give thanks for our capacity for self-correction. When we muster the political will, we have made many mid-course corrections to our national destiny. We and Americans all across the land this Fourth of July will sing a prayer, a beloved hymn: “And mend thine every flaw,” it says in part. O God, let the mending, let the stitching up begin, now. We are but a moment. Our legacy has everything to do with what we and this generation makes of our moment. Now, there are some here who know thatI can’t just go on a vacation. I’ve flunked vacation more than once, just like I flunked retirement. Well, when we headed off across the country this past June, our younger son Christopher, told me that I needed to see what might be done where our
family farm is in West Virginia – Bethany in Brooke County, to be specific. “Dad,” he said. “The opioid crisis is destroying families. It’s out of control.
See where we might put some of the money we get from the farm to help.” He was absolutely right, paying it forward is a solemn obligation of having these funds.
I looked about Brooke County, the home of Bethany College, the school my dad attended and where my grandfather, Jonathan Buchannan Forney had taught. And where the Forney House is, at the end of the street as it runs east out of town from Bethany and into Pennsylvania, the state line being just a few miles down the road.
See what you can do. Unfortunately, I could only locate one, small, grossly underfunded halfway house completely overwhelmed by the scope of the need. But, low and behold, Christopher’s ask took wings when I shared our desire to confront this problem with some folks around the farm. By the time I had left for home, Bethany College was willing to part with an unused conference center, some of the Brooke County Clergy Association were on board as was the newly elected county sheriff. Even the McDonaldsfranchise owner, a woman we met in Follansbee, in the northern part of the county, said she could help raise funds. This sort of thing might possibly attract the attention of McDonalds at the corporate level. If it does, I’ll be out there at the Golden Arches Supper Club getting my burger and fries. The Presbyterian pastor, Annie Parker, of Wellsburg said that her church had been given quite a bit of money from natural gas royalties and this might be a place to put it to use. The state senator representing Brooke county said
that he’d do whatever he could to make a treatment center happen.
And you betcha, I’m going to be on these oil and gas companies to belly up to the bar of patriotism to chip in. Yes, we are but a moment, but what a glorious moment it can be. I ran into a whole bunch of seamstresses and seamsters (is there is such a word?) willing to work on one humongous flaw right there in Brooke County, West Virginia.
At yesterday’s Families Belong Together rally, speaker after speaker reminded us, “America is better than this.” It is indeed better than kids and their families locked up in cages. It is indeed better than children sobbing their hearts out for lost parents in the dead of night. It is indeed better than the uber rich stashing all the money and opportunity in their wallets andleaving the rest to rot. America is indeed better than what we are doing to these children, which is nothing less than “federally sanctioned child abuse,” for that is what these separations are. Our congresswoman, Dr. Judy Chu, a professional psychologist, testified to the lasting damage we are doing to these children, for that is what she witnessed on the border. “This is trauma,” she said, “that will last a lifetime.” If anyone knows what neglect looks like, she would be the one.
God bless her, for she is using her moment most wisely. Would that all our leaders had the ethical center and courage to be as outraged as she in these outrageous times. Judy, indeed, has her needle and thread and, by God, she’s mending up a storm.
On returning home, I texted Christopher in Morocco that his idea for an opioid recovery center was another fine mess he’d gotten me into. Ah, but what a glorious mess, a wondrous gospel-mess it is turning out to be. Prayer can be dangerous to your wallet and date book, yet, brothers and sisters, pray without ceasing. Pray for but one thing, another God-sent, very fine mess.
Weal and woe fall to all and we are here but a moment to shine forth with all the glory of God. Yes, God has done great things for us, has put into our hearts what is right and just. God has given us also the power and will to do the right. And it’s always the right time to pay it forward. When we join our neighbors in singing this Fourth, let the petition, to “mend thine every flaw” be our prayer and our marching orders. In November, let us vote our values, not our fears. Let us be so loud that our voice rings from sea to shining sea. In every town and hamlet. In city and on farm. In barrio and in suburb. Yes, in Bethany, West Virginia and in San Bernardino, California.
Might we sing lustily that God, through us and in us, mend up what needs mending up. And let’s also enjoy barbecue and potato salad. Amen.
Year B, Independence Day
A Sermon Preached 7-1-18, The Rev. John C. Forney
St. Francis Episcopal Mission, San Bernardino
Deuteronomy 10:17-21; Psalm 145;
Letter from a Birmingham Jail by M.L. King; Matthew 5:43-48