Every Sunday, before we hear the scripture lessons appointed for the day, we pray what is called the “Collect of the Day.” This prayer is written to summarize the themes found in the readings. I like to think of the collect as a preview of what is to come in the readings, almost a decoder I can use to understand the lessons.
That is why today’s collect is so confusing to me. If you remember, we prayed, “O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord…”[i] Even though this collect is not the appointed one for the Fourth of July, the collect’s themes are already heading in the right direction. What other message might we want to hear on this Independence Day but to love our neighbor, be devoted to God with our whole heart, and be united to one another with pure affection?
But our collect today is a bit of red herring. Instead of lessons about loving neighbors and being united in affection, we get the prophet Ezekiel being sent out to the stubborn, rebellious people of God who refuse to listen to God’s word. Meanwhile, Jesus and his teaching is being so rejected in his hometown he cannot even perform the same wonders he has just performed in other towns. Into that rejection, Jesus sends out his disciples, warning them of similar potential experiences as they go out to preach repentance, cast out demons, and heal those who are sick. They too will face rejection, and they are to keep going as Jesus does, shaking the dust off their feet as a testimony against the rejection.
Our temptation in reading these texts today is to place ourselves in the shoes of Ezekiel or the disciples who will be rejected by many and will have to righteously carry on with the work of discipleship. But today, our seemingly counterintuitive collect is pointing us another way. Perhaps, as scholar Rolf Jacobson suggests, we are not the disciples today – perhaps we are those rejecting the disciples and the prophets.[ii] We are the ones rebelling against God, refusing to hear God’s prophets even though we are fully aware of their prophet status. We are the ones hearing a new message from Jesus and rejecting the word because we do not trust the legitimacy of the messenger – either because of his questionable parentage or because we are just suspicious of new things in general. And we are especially the ones who are getting dust shaken on our welcome mat because we do not accept the preaching of strangers, even if they are healing our neighbors.
Any of us who has walked around Colonial Williamsburg and found the men standing on step stools and shouting about condemnation and judgment is feeling a little leery about the implications of today’s readings. I know I steer clear of them and usually whisper to my children about why their words are not words we believe about Jesus. If I am the one of those rejecting God’s word in scripture today, does that mean I need to stop and engage the street preachers? Maybe. But more importantly, I need to be asking the question, where am I being stubborn, judgmental, and dismissive to the new things God is doing among us? Where am I so stuck in my ways that I am unable to love my neighbor and be united with my neighbor in pure affection – especially my neighbor who is trying to get me to think in new ways about the love of God or the movement of the Spirit?
On this Independence Day, we remember how our beloved Hickory Neck refused to see a new way and closed our doors once the British lost the Revolutionary War. On this Independence Day, we recall the over one hundred years we could not imagine a new way and had our buildings used as a school or a hospital instead of hearing a prophetic word about how we could be the church in the New World. On this Independence Day, we honor what this last year has taught us about our complicity with institutional racism and the invitation to be the Church in the new digital world. This time around, we have been a bit less stubborn and dismissive and have been willing to hear the words of people with whom we disagree or who are different from us. We have embraced the work of loving God and our neighbor and being united to one another in pure affection – even when the outside world would try to divide us. Our invitation this Independence Day is to keep accepting the invitation to be a people of love, united in pure affection, as our witness to a celebrating nation. Amen.
[i] BCP, 230.
[ii] This idea proposed by Rolf Jacobson in the podcast, “Sermon Brainwave #791: 6th Sunday after Pentecost (Ord. 14B) – July 4, 2021,” as found at https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/791-6th-sunday-after-pentecost-ord-14b-july-4-2021 on July 3, 2021.