St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church
The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
2 Kings 5: 1-14
Galatians 6: (1-6) 7-16
Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20
Outside the Ramparts
Merriam-Webster defines the word “rampart” as a tall, thick stone or dirt wall that is built around a castle, town, etc. to protect it from attacks. The ramparts with which we are probably most familiar are those referred to in Francis Scott Key’s poem written in 1814. Key wrote the poem in response to an attack on Fort McHenry by British ships during the war of 1812. He was inspired by the American flag, the Star-Spangled Banner, which flew in triumph during the Americans’ victorious battle. Ironically, the poem was then set to a British tune, as was a later de facto national anthem, My Country Tis of Thee, set of course to the music of the British national anthem, God Save the Queen. As a Brit, I’m still trying to work my head around that one. There are others, for instance, “America the Beautiful,” which asks God to shed God’s grace on us. It might have been a better choice.
Although the words of the Star-Spangled Banner has four stanzas, we usually sing only the first. It’s the verse with the ramparts and the rockets and the bombs bursting in air. We can only assume, that just as it was for Francis Scott Key, we too, are singing from behind a rampart, watching the rocket’s red blare and hearing bombs bursting in air from a distance.
What separates us from then and now, however, is the speed with which we are bound to view or hear them. Each day we wake up to new violence, carried out by one against another who sees, thinks, lives differently than the way in which one thinks they should.
Since the beginnings of humankind, violence has been a part of daily living…always lurking just beyond the ramparts but well within sight of them. The ramparts can be a physical means of separation from engaging with rage run rampant in the world, but they can also stand as a metaphor for the walls we build around our expectations of the world and of each other, and as a metaphorical wall around humankind’s beliefs and faith.
We see this played out on the world stage. Innocent people are killed due to another’s jealousy, misguided sense of justice or need to simply lash out at a world that they think hasn’t listened to them closely enough…and maybe it hasn’t. Innocent people are killed in Orlando because they are gay, innocent people are killed in Turkey because of clashing ideologies, the list goes on.
Who would ever want to come out from behind the ramparts!
Or perhaps, we are missing something here. Could it be that behind the bombs bursting in air, the gun fire and the mean-spirited rhetoric, that there are hearts and minds who really just want to be found…who really just want to find a home…..a place to belong…..a place that is free of anxiety of about what one believes and in what way one exercises that belief?
When Jesus turned beyond his original twelve disciples to the seventy, and a lot more possible peace makers, to send them out in the name of God’s grace and peace, he commissioned them to come out from behind the ramparts and into a perilous, uncertain and skeptical world as it was then and is now. Jesus warned his followers that he would be sending them out, like lambs to the wolves, but he did not tell them to kill one regardless of the reception they experienced.
He told them to move on ahead of him, teaching that….. whatever peace they offered to the world which was not accepted by the world, would simply return to them and they, by moving only in the name of peace, would be assured a place in the Kingdom of God.
So off they went, probably men, women and their children just like us, out into the unknowns of the world, ready to spread a message of peace……. a new way of thinking. Jesus has shown them how through his own life of ministry….it was now their turn……just as it is now ours.
Jesus’ call to his faithful followers has not changed. The call echoes down through the centuries from that time when the seventy-plus disciples heard it straight from Jesus himself….. to all the faithful Christians responding to His words today
Knowing he would have to leave us, he prepares us to carry on his work. He will not do it for us. Rather, we are empowered by him every time we recall his word, his actions and his Divine Presence. So we are strengthened to walk out from behind the ramparts to set about accomplishing the mission Christ has laid out for us. We don’t have a clear map which shows in which direction we are supposed to go. We don’t have written instructions for what we are to say or to whom. We don’t have an instructional DVD which shows actors dressed up as disciples…. talking to disinterested folks in the middle of the road to Jerusalem or at a bus stop in downtown Portland. But we do have a sense of how each of us, in our own way and within our own circumstances, can continue the mission that Jesus started. We can, each in our own way, become one with the twelve and then the seventy and then the millions also called to spread the Good News of the saving love of God.
Jesus tells us that “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Yet, even as we sit behind the safety of our ramparts, and we wring our hands about the dwindling numbers of faithful in the world and the dwindling numbers of faithful coming to our churches, Jesus reminds us that the world we live in today, just as it was 2,000, is abundant with possibility. We just need more laborers willing to leave the ramparts.
We have a few hints from Jesus about how we might find and be found. Jesus has confidence and faith in God’s ability to grow our faithful communities, whether here in this church or across the Christian faithful of the world, if we can work together with God to grow God’s Kingdom, It is ours to climb down from the ramparts and throw open the doors of possibility wide….up close and personally….or far out in the fields beyond ourselves. We are to think creatively, strategically and plan accordingly about how we can open the doors even wider so that more of the harvest can be gathered in. We are to work with enthusiasm and anticipation to open those doors rather than allow ourselves to simply sit behind the ramparts in order to keep our fears at bay, hoping the doors don’t open wide enough to let those fears in.
We all have fears. Fear is a human emotion, but how we allow fear to control us correlates with our degree of faith in God’s way as the way we want to live. Jesus said, see, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of a sarcastic, unyielding, arrogant, self-righteous, hungry bunch of wolves, ready to lash out and devour you and your peace-loving ways as they persuade you to enter into their game of survival.
We are all vulnerable. There are those with sharp fangs….and there are those with guns….and there are those waiting to find whatever ways they can to shut down the voices of those who have accepted Jesus’ mission to spread an alternate way, a peaceful, unarmed message of peace, with no defense but the power to bless all those who will receive them.
As messengers of peace, our strength is our faith. Regardless of our encounters, if we are not received, we do not unleash the fire of our words upon them or aim the fire of our guns at them. No road rage allowed, no nasty emails, no threats and no weapons except a powerfully strong visible message of love and peaceful understanding held for one’s neighbor. Jesus assures us that the love stays with us, regardless of how it’s received.
We are not paid for our work in a material sense and indeed…..we seek no reward. We seek no glory, no prize, no accolade for all our effort, but we do reap a rich sense of fulfillment when we are welcomed and when we, ourselves welcome. In a sense, we are called by Jesus to embrace our vulnerability. To embrace our dependence. It is not an easy concept for us to understand. We are so used to being part of the pack of wolves…holding on to our turf, not venturing too far from our own known survival tactics, being ready to show our fangs if we have to. For us to leave that identity and to take on the identity of the lamb….the vulnerable one, is to begin to understand the vulnerable who already live among us.
What does it feel like to be the outsider? What does it feel like to belong to the minority, the marginalized, the scorned and neglected? To be the David to, not just one, but to an unending line of Goliaths without even a stone to throw? As a counter-cultural people, we can begin to understand how it feels.
Jesus understands how it feels very well and perhaps it is why he longs for us to be a united people rather than thinking we must each go it alone.
Our mission is to be successful in a world where success is measured by different standards than a heart converted to peace. Every time we show kindness rather than anger, show understanding rather than judgement, react with humor rather than with outrage, we are planting seeds of mercy among the thorny challenges of the world.
And each time we do, we have moved into a deeper relationship with God. We are both givers and receivers of God’s grace and mercy in our lives. We are called to testify to that grace and mercy, through our actions and way of living that we make visible in the world…..through generosity of spirit and trust in God’s guidance as we venture farther and farther afield…..away from the protection of the ramparts.
Our world is very different than the lonely roads of Galilee filled with dust 2,000 years ago. But the message and the messenger has not changed. The possibilities we have to change hearts, to lift hearts and to make peace are still made possible in the name of God. It is ours to fashion the message in a way it can be heard just as it was heard along the dusty road to Jerusalem.
Rashanda works at Fred Meyers as a cashier. I met her there some time ago when I was shopping. Over time, I have come to watch for her so that I can go through her line. I notice others who do the same. They come because she is a beacon of joyful acceptance. No matter who we are….how we present ourselves….our needs and demands….Rashanda simply makes each of us feel as if we are the most important person in the world….and that she is thrilled to see us. She is consistent and she is sincere with a ready smile…revealng only a positive view off the world. And I know that if she were to invite us all into her world, we would willingly go… knowing that we would be welcome and we would be loved. Rashanda is my teacher and my inspiration for what Jesus was about in the world.
As Christians in a world that is as troubled today as it has ever been, we must, each of us, like Rashanda, build the kind of perspective that allows us to become more aware of our own peaceful approach to living, to interacting and to building God’s Kingdom, taking with us nothing that can distract us from that purpose. We take nothing with us but the gifts of God to all God’s people, and that means we leave our earthly perspectives by the wayside in the dust.
In his heartfelt message to the Galatians, Paul instructs us too, as community, to move forward in the Spirit of Jesus. The gifts we carry with us into the world are faithful service, gratitude and humility, leaving our arrogance and our emphases on differences between us far behind. The story of Naaman, the main character of the scripture from Kings, reveals how he allowed his arrogance to almost negate his own healing. Naaman is a big guy in the army but he has a debilitating disease. A marginalized girl gives him a solution, help is offered by the prophet, Elisha, his own servants risk his wrath by suggesting that he might want to consider taking somebody’s word as true, even if that means he may be wrong. All these people who are perceived by the world to be among the least of these, recognize and understand the movement of God’s hand, but Naaman cannot until it is almost too late. Like Naaman, we are all too often stuck in our own assumptions about what is our own version of the high road and his story reminds us to consider how we respond to people we encounter inside and outside the realm of our personal perspectives. The truth is that, as we saw in Naaman’s story, we don’t always know everything. We can’t.
We cannot allow ourselves to believe that our expectations of others are a reflection of God’s work in the world. Nor can we allow ourselves to think that we can order God to meet our expectations, wanting God to meet our needs according to our preferences and within our time frame. Naaman was not healed in the way he expected……according to his own expectations, but according to God’s way and in God’s time using God’s people.
Naaman’s story underscores the scope of God’s call to God’s people. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your circumstances may be, all can be the bearers of the good news of God’s healing grace.
Any of us who dare to venture out from behind the ramparts of our own making, to move God’s message of peace into the world, can begin to discern how the meaning of God in our own lives and in our own circumstances can affect our involvement with others wherever we find them.
The challenge Jesus gave us is to continually look at the world we live in through a different lens than the world expects us to. To look at the world through God’s perspective.
What are the words you will use to evangelize to each other? What will the emails say that shift a punitive perspective to a supportive one? What ramparts, built by earthly standards, will you tear down in your urgency to weigh in on opening the doors to a welcome peace?
As we enter into this secular celebration of national identity of freedom and equality, let us discern the nature of the work we are called to undertake in the name of God. It is a powerful call with a powerful agenda to be called by God to do God’s work as attested to by the seventy who returned from their own work as they exclaimed with great exultation , “Lord, in your name, even the demons submit to us.”
It’s not about us…not about who we are, how much money we have, how much education we have, how much we know, or are in the know….it is all about God and we are merely the messengers. And the challenge for us to evangelize to an unchurched world is still the same as it has always been. In a way, Elisha gives us hints of how to meet the challenge in his response to Naaman. Elisha heals Naaman, no questions asked, no expectation that Naaman will be in church next Sunday. Naaman is healed, even in his skepticism. Nevertheless, Elisha has done the work he is called to accomplish. Healing has taken place, a seed for peace has been planted.
Let us open wide our doors and allow the other in, no matter the degree of their knowledge of God or lack of it, no matter the degree to which their perspectives match our own, no matter their status, their color, race, personal identity. Let us open wide the doors of our hearts and of this church and welcome them and let us leave the ramparts far behind.
The first verse of the Star-Spangled Banner has us viewing the world from behind the ramparts, and perhaps some of us might sing along with the national anthem when we hear it on this Fourth of July weekend, but maybe we might also pay attention to the last stanza which reads…
Oh, thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust”:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
What kind of victory and what are we called to conquer. Jesus calls us to the victory for peace outside of the comfortable safety of the ramparts to face whatever it is we may encounter there. It will never be easy, but that is what Jesus is asking of us…..to be brave enough to leave the ramparts behind…….to be joyous in the leaving…..to make peace our victory and to trust in God.
Written to the Glory of God
E.J. R. Culver+
July 3, 2016