Trinity B: Come, This Way

Trinity (Celtic)OLD TESTAMENT: Isaiah 6: 1-8

To read the Old Testament Lectionary Passage, click here

The year that this was probably written was around 742 BCE (dated by the death of King Uzziah). King Uzziah, also known as Azariah, had ruled for about 45 years and then when he contracted leprosy, it was necessary to appoint a regent to rule in his place. Essentially, the kingdom was in chaos. The air is full of uncertainty. Assyria is expanding its borders and so the northern kingdom, Israel, is trying to coerce Judah into a military alliance against the Assyrian threat. In the midst of this, the prophet Isaiah has a vision of God enthroned in a heavenly court. The vocation of the heavenly court is to continuously sing praises to God. The prophet sees only the hem of God’s robe. (Because remember, it was believed that if one actually saw God, it would mean death.)

God is surrounded by seraphs, part of the heavenly court, hovering over God, guarding. One pair of wings cover their faces in the awesome presence of God (so they won’t see God) and a second pair cover their genitals (feet is a euphemism, since it was wrong to speak of genitalia). This is a sign of commitment to purity. Isaiah feels inadequate in God’s presence. He feels unclean, unfit to stand before God, yet he sees God. But he is made clean by one of the seraphs. This is the technical language of the rite of forgiveness of the temple, symbolized by refinement through fire. Isaiah accepts his calling as prophet to Judah. He has been forgiven and has seen God.

The vision is one of grandeur that lies outside the scope of what we see and know, outside the boundaries of normal human experience. It is believing in the unbelievable. Isaiah is brought to the ultimate realization that he is lacking in the face of this magnificence. He has “unclean lips” and his life is lacking. And yet, he offers himself, presents himself for the cleansing by God that he now sees that he needs. He knows that he cannot do it himself.

And so the nation enters a transition from a time of power and prosperity to one of desolation. But Isaiah knows that God is carrying the people through this time. Once again, one must empty oneself to see and truly experience God. It is his call to ministry. But it was a call that Isaiah could not hear without some preparation. And yet, he goes willingly, almost as if he could not do anything but. But this is not a call to preach comfort and joy. Remember, it is a time of desolation and destruction. Isaiah, then, is called to preach words that will finally convince the people to listen, to turn from the destructive path that they are on. These are people that think they are living out the will of God but who are actually far from that. It is time to hear a different tune.

What the prophet is called to speak will not make their lives easier, their road smoother, or their pathway plainer. In fact, it will actually be more confusing and less certain. It will, instead, be a journey of faith, rather than certainty. (In fact, just a few verses after the ones we read, Isaiah’s “here am I’ turns into “How long, O Lord?”) But maybe God’s wisdom is to choose those who continually question themselves and their mission so that they will look to God for direction. In a commentary on this passage, Dr. John Holbert says:

By all means, call your people to follow the Lord, bid them give their lives for God’s service. It is what we do! But to follow God rightly does not always lead to great congregations, vast religious campuses, and budgets that rival those of small nations. What we are called to say to our world is that the last are first, the least are greatest, and the greatest among us is a servant. Such two thousand year old words have regularly been met by dull ears, sightless eyes, and clouded minds; all of which have led again and again to wasted cities and empty lands, ravaged by wars and famines and hopelessness.

Another hymn rises to mind: “The Voice of God is Calling,” John Haynes Holmes’ 1913 poem. “From ease and plenty save us,” begins the fourth verse, and it ends, “Speak, and behold! we answer; command and we obey!”1  By all means, respond to the call of God. But be careful to know that the call is never easy, never simple to grasp, never designed for ready comfort and success.  Just ask Isaiah(From “Preaching This Week”, by Dr. John Holbert, 06/07/2009, available at,  accessed 30 May, 2012.)


  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What parallels do you see with today?
  3. What do you think Isaiah really saw in this God-experience?
  4. What images of God does this bring about for you?
  5. What calling do you think God has for us in this time?



NEW TESTAMENT: Romans 8: 12-17

To read the Lectionary Epistle passage, click here

Put very simply, Paul is contrasting two ways of living—the way that we are tempted to live in this world and the way that God calls us to live. He plays with notions of slavery and freedom—slavery to the perils of this world or freedom in God through Christ. Slavery meant fear. Slavery meant having no rights of inheritance. Slavery means no hope. In this first century Roman world, unwanted children were frequently sold into slavery. (And, sadly, that practice still exists today in our world.) Freedom, then, means to belong to a family and to have the rights to an inheritance. We have been adopted by Christ and will share in the inheritance that God provides. When we realize we need God, then we also realize that we are children of God.

But this also means that we share in suffering with Christ as well. Faith is not always a perfectly-paved road, as we know. But this, too, is part of God’s promise of the renewal of all of Creation. It is a hope that we cannot see on our own but are rather empowered to see through the Spirit of God. Here, there’s more to being a Christian than just knowing the right stuff and doing the right things. To be Christian, you must open yourself up and invite God’s Spirit to enter your life. That is the way that you will be glorified through Christ in God. That is the way that you truly become a child of God.

Life is not about things going well or about figuring it all out; life is about hope. That’s what moves us beyond where we are. Slavery and fear move us backwards or leaves us standing here glued to our own inventions. But freedom and hope propels us forward. We all hope for a happy ending. It is the stuff that makes great fairy tales. We all look for that vision that God holds. But hope is not just some futuristic condition. Our hope for today manifests in our belief that God is here, pulling us or prodding us or dragging us out of the mire in which we sometimes find ourselves. It’s happened before. It’s called resurrection. Maybe that’s Paul’s whole point. Hope is illumined by both hope itself and a perception of hopelessness. And a life of faith is one that is lived both actively working for change and patiently waiting for the change to emerge. Hope is about balancing both persistence and patience.


  1. How does this passage speak to you?
  2. What does the “adoption” language mean to you?
  3. What images of God does this bring about for you?
  4. How do you depict hope?
  5. What do hope and patience have to do with each other?

GOSPEL: John 3: 1-17

To read the Lectionary Gospel passage, click here

Nicodemus was having trouble getting it, even though he was a leader of the Jews. The passage says that he came to Jesus by night, as if he was trying to hide the fact that he was having trouble understanding it all from the rest of the community. So Nicodemus came looking for answers. He wanted Jesus to get rid of all the doubts that Nicodemus had. He wanted Jesus to make it all perfectly clear for him so that he could go on imparting that knowledge to the rest of the community. Part of the problem may have been semantics. After all, he did believe what Jesus had done, what Jesus had told him. He knew that Jesus had done numerous miracles. He had seen it with his own eyes. So he knew that Jesus was good, he knew that Jesus was worthy as a teacher. And yet, Jesus seemed to talk in circles. He preached that one had to be born from above. But how can one be born unless he or she re-enters the mother’s womb? He preached that one must be born in the Spirit, and yet admitted that the place from which the Spirit blew was unknown and unknowable. How can this be? And he preached that one must believe. Nicodemus believed what Jesus said. What was Jesus talking about, then?

When you read this, you do sense that Nicodemus must have been a good teacher. He was astute and knew what questions to ask. He was diligent as he studied and explored to get to the truth. But how could he believe this circular reasoning that Jesus was espousing?   Part of the problem, it seemed, was that Nicodemus and Jesus had completely different understandings of what “believe” was. Nicodemus had, after all, accepted Jesus’ propositions. He had probably even taught it. But Jesus was not asking for people to believe what he did or believe what he said. There is a difference between believing Christ and believing IN Christ. Believing IN means that you enter into relationship, that you trust with everything that you are, with everything that is your life. It is much more visceral than Nicodemus was really read to accept. Nicodemus wanted to understand it within the intellectual understanding of God that he had. But Jesus was telling him that there was a different way. Jesus was inviting, indeed almost daring, Nicodemus to believe in this new way, to turn his life, his doubts, his heart, and even his very learned mind over to God.

“How can this be?” Those are Nicodemus’ last words in this passage, which sort of makes him a patron saint for all of us who from time to time get stuck at the foot of the mountain, weighed down by our own understandings of who God is, without the faintest idea of how to begin to ascend. But there’s Jesus. “Watch me. Put your hand here. Now your foot. Don’t think about it so hard. Just do as I do. Believe in me. And follow me….this way!


My Take on the Trinity:


In the beginning was God.  God created everything that was and everything that is and laid out a vision for what it would become.  But we didn’t really get it.  So God tried and tried again to explain it.  God sent us Abraham and Moses and Judges and Kings and Prophets.  But we still didn’t get it.  God wove a vision of what Creation was meant to be and what we were meant to be as God’s children through poetry and songs and beautiful writings of wisdom.  But we still didn’t get it.

“So,” God thought, “there is only one thing left to do.  I’ll show you.  I’ll show you the way to who I am and who I desire you to be.  I will walk with you.”  So God came, Emmanuel, God-with-us, and was born just like we were with controversy and labor pains and all those very human conceptions of what life is.  Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, was the Incarnation of a universal truth, a universal path, the embodiment of the way to God and the vision that God holds for all of Creation.  But we still didn’t get it.  We fought and we argued and we held on to our own human-contrived understandings of who God is.  And it didn’t make sense to us.  This image of God did not fit into our carefully-constructed boxes.  And so, as we humans have done so many times before and so many times since, we destroyed that which got in the way of our understanding.  There…it was finished…we could go back to the way it was before.

But God loves us too much to allow us to lose our way.  And so God promised to be with us forever.  Because now you have seen me; now you know what it is I intended; now you know the way.  And so I will always be with you, always inside of you, always surrounding you, always ahead of you, and always behind you.  There will always be a part of me in you.  Come, follow me, this way.

Once upon a time, there was a woman who set out to discover the meaning of life.  She read and studied but she just didn’t get it.  So she set off to search for it.  She went to South America.  She went to India.  And everywhere she went, she heard the same thing.  They didn’t know but they had heard of a man who did, a man deep in the Himalayas in a tiny little hut perched on the side of a mountain.   So she traveled and traveled and then climbed and climbed to reach his door.  She knocked.  When the door opened, she hastily said, “I have come halfway around the world to ask you one question:  What IS the meaning of life?”  “Come in,” the man responded, “and have some tea.”  “No,” she replied, “I didn’t come for tea.  I came for an answer.  What IS the meaning of life?”

“We shall have tea,” the old man said, so she gave up and came inside. While he was brewing the tea she caught her breath and began telling him about all the books she had read, all the people she had met, all the places she had been. The old man listened (which was just as well, since his visitor did not leave any room for him to reply), and as she talked he placed a fragile tea cup in her hand. Then he began to pour the tea. She was so busy talking that she did not notice when the tea cup was full, so the old man just kept pouring until the tea ran over the sides of the cup and spilled to the floor in a steaming waterfall. “What are you doing?!” she yelled when the tea burned her hand. “It’s full, can’t you see that? Stop! There’s no more room!” “Just so,” the old man said to her. “You come here wanting something from me, but what am I to do? There is no more room in your cup. Come back when it is empty and then we will talk.”

You see, God cannot be defined in our terms. We have to somehow let those go. God is God—still immeasurable, unprovable, unsearchable, and unknowable. But for those of us who believe…God is also Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, our Source, our Savior, and our Sustenance of life. And as we come closer to knowing God, closer to approaching the center that is God, we are more and more aware of the vastness and limitlessness that is God. God cannot be defined in human terms; it is we who must redefine ourselves in “God” terms, to place ourselves within that Trinity. The Trinity calls us to a new spirituality, a new humanity, and a new community. The Trinity calls us to become a part of this unlimited God. But we are not alone; God is always present leading us on the journey and when we get a little lost, God will be there to show us, “Come, this way….”


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What does “believing” mean to you?
  3. What does the Trinity mean for you and how does it depict God for you?


Some Quotes for Further Reflection:


I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me–that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.” (Ann Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith)


Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions. (Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926))


To know God is to know one cannot speak adequately about God; it is to know the impossibility of describing God in any compete way; it is to know that every theological statement falls short…We must speak, but not to capture God, not to master God…we speak in response to our having been spoken to. (Thomas Langford)





If you want to understand the body of Christ,

listen to the apostle telling the faithful,

“You though, are the body of Christ and its members.”

So if it’s you that are the body of Christ and its members,

            it’s the mystery meaning you that has been placed

on the Lord’s table;

                                    What you receive is the mystery that means you.

                                    It is to what you are that you reply “Amen”

And by so replying you express your assent.

                                    What you hear is “the Body of Christ”

And you answer, “Amen.”

                                    So be a member of the body of Christ in order to make that

“Amen” true.   (St. Augustine)

Proper 9A: In Dependence

FireworksOLD TESTAMENT:  Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

To read the Old Testament Lectionary text, click here

The story begins with Abraham’s servant introducing himself and telling his story to Rebekah’s family, in an effort to convince them that Rebekah should marry Isaac.  He testifies to all the blessings that Abraham has received from God.  This portrays God as one who has a history of blessing Abraham.  The story understands Abraham’s wealth to result from the blessing of God.  It emphasizes that God gives success as blessing, but that success is a judgment of one’s faith.  The servant asks Laban and Bethuel to give their daughter to become Isaac’s wife.  They respond directly.  The author concludes the story in a brief and direct way.  The servant identifies Isaac as the “master,” an indication of the transition from Abraham to Isaac.  The servant’s retelling the story one more time becomes an occasion for setting the next stage of the story.  Isaac and Rebekah are married, and what might have been just an arranged marriage grows into a love-story.  The veil may be a signal from Rebekah that she accepts Isaac as her husband; her presence in Sarah’s tent signifies her new role as matriarch of this family.

This story highlights the theme of divine guidance, especially in the servant’s prayers and in his rehearsal of earlier events.  The retelling constitutes a public testimony to the presence and activity of God, to which Laban and Bethuel respond with their own witness.  But the servant remains anonymous in the story.  Perhaps that is the mark of true service to God.

Another piece to this story is the indication that Abraham is determined to ensure that his descendents will not intermarry with the Canaanite people.  Isaac’s wife must exhibit the virtues of faith and obedience.  This is the reason that the story goes to great lengths to set out Rebekah’s outstanding character.  So, this is also a story of Rebekah’s response to God’s call.  Rebekah serves as the epitome of God’s servants—strong, compassionate, loving, and faithful.

The focus in this story is not so much what anyone gets but what it means to be a loving and faithful servant toward God.  Rather than looking at the “and they all lived happily ever after” notion where God is depicted as some sort of divine Santa Claus character that gives good little boys and girls what they want, this is the story of God’s involvement in people’s lives.  God is not picking and choosing what will happen in our lives; God is walking with us through life itself.  And when our lives intertwine with the God who loves us and whose only desire is that we love God, our lives will indeed be blessed.  But blessedness is a much larger meaning than just getting what we want; it’s about becoming who God envisions us to be.  It’s about declaring one’s dependence upon God to walk the journey before us.

Below is a “retelling” of this story by Rabbi David Zauderer:

Abraham and Sarah, like all good Jewish parents after them, were getting worried about their son, Isaac. He was already pushing 40 with no good marriage prospects in sight. So they decided to send their trusted servant Eliezer to find them a daughter-in-law from their old hometown. Eliezer travels the distance, and when he approaches the watering hole outside town, he makes the following prayer to the Almighty: “When I approach the well to get a drink, if a young girl shall offer me fresh water from her pitcher, and, without my asking, also offer to draw more water to quench the thirst of all my camels — she is the one who is fitting to marry into the illustrious family of Abraham and Sarah. So, please, God, help me be successful in finding the right girl.” Well, to make a long story short, along comes Rebeccah and offers Eliezer and his camels plenty of water to drink, and she then consents to travel back to Canaan with Eliezer in order to marry Isaac. What an unbelievable story! I mean, would you pick a spouse for a lifetime just because you bumped into her at a bar, and she offered you a drink and even filled up your car with gas??!! Let’s get real! 

The truth is that we are being taught a very valuable lesson here in what it means to be a true friend. You see, in Judaism, it’s not the dog that’s your best friend—it’s your spouse. The Talmud tells us that when the Torah writes, “Love your friend as you love yourself”, it is referring to your spouse, your true best friend.  Who Eliezer was looking for as an appropriate wife for Isaac, was someone who had an exquisite sensitivity to the needs of others, like a true friend should. Because the very core of a good husband/wife relationship is that they be each other’s best friend. Isaac’s wife must be a person who will not only respond to her husband’s request for help, but will anticipate his unspoken needs and respond to them. And when Rebeccah not only gave Eliezer to drink, but anticipated the need he had to water the camels—without his asking—he knew that she possessed the sensitivity that’s so basic to a good relationship. (From “Who is Man’s Best Friend”, by Rabbi David Zauderer, available at, accessed 29 June 2011) 


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What do you think it means that the servant remains anonymous?
  3. How does this story speak to the “Gospel of Success” mentality of today?
  4. What does being “blessed” mean then? 


NEW TESTAMENT:  Romans 7:15-25a

To read the Lectionary Epistle text, click here

This appears to be an unusual passage for Paul.  The way he develops the thoughts even beyond this reading suggests that he is saying something stronger than just being puzzled by his own behavior.  He is referring, instead, to what could be called “sins of ignorance”.  It is a paradox of seeing the right thing to do, delighting in it and wanting to perform it, and yet discovering that what is performed is not it.  It happens to the best of us!

Paul is talking, here, about Israel as a whole.  As a nation, Israel delighted in Torah formally and officially, but was always aware when Torah was not followed.  Paul goes on, assuming that Torah is not at fault but, rather, those who should be following Torah.  The claim that it is no longer “I”, but sin, is interesting.  This concept of the indwelling of sin is new.  This makes even more explicit the dualistic idea of good vs. evil.  The assumption is not that humans are not responsible for their actions (i.e. “sin” made me do it), though.  Every human, though, has a sense of a higher good.  But what Paul is leading up to is that, of course, we are rescued from this sinful state through Jesus Christ.

Essentially, Paul claims that it is a faithful relationship, rather than adherence to the law, that ultimately changes people.  I don’t think that he is ignoring or discounting the law; he’s just saying that it’s not the sole measure of one’s relationship with God.  Our faith cannot be “proven” by right living; Right living is a product of our faith.

This whole passage could be a pretty slippery slope, so to speak, for those who would like to get out of taking responsibility for their actions.  Paul is in no way saying that he is not to be blamed for his own actions.  Perhaps he is just acknowledging that all of us walk that line between good and evil, between light and shadows, between who we know we should be and who we end up being.  It is NOT a “devil made me do it” type of attitude.  First century believers had no notion of some outside entity pulling us away from God.  It is rather a constant and ongoing struggle to be who we are called to be. You can call it evil; you can call it your “shadow side”; you can call it just “messing up royally”.  Whatever it is, it is being less than yourself.  It is being less than human.  In Jesus Christ, we were shown how to be fully human—compassionate, righteous, forgiving, loving.  Anything else is less than ourselves.

Every religion has something like this—the Hindus call it good Karma; the Buddhists refer to it as being “one with the Truth”; we Wesleyans call it “going on to perfection”.  Interestingly enough, Islam identifies the conflict with the human soul as “jihad”.  The Arabic root means to “strive, effort, labor”.  Lesser jihad defines the kind of struggle in defense of oneself (i.e. military struggles).  But greater jihad is the fighting of evil in one’s own heart.  It refers to an inward transformation over one’s ego.  I think Paul referred to it as victory over sin and death.  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! 

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. How do you think this plays out in today’s society?
  3. Does everyone have a sense of a higher good?


GOSPEL:  Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30

To read the Lectionary Gospel passage, click here

This passage begins by referring to a particular “generation”.  The ones to whom Jesus is referring are his contemporaries, probably the well-learned ones of the faith.  But, of course, they just don’t get it.  The reference to children in the market place probably refers to children not getting along with each other.  In Near Eastern customs, this reference is probably referring to gender roles.  There was the custom of a round dance accompanied by a flute that was performed at weddings by men.  Conversely, the act of mourning was considered “women’s work”.

This small parable is used to describe John the Baptist (whose message inaugurating Jesus’ message was riddled with cynicism and judgment) as a funeral dance.  Jesus, on the other hand, was compared to the joy of the wedding dance.  But, regardless, neither is being accepted by this “generation” who thinks they know best.  Jesus then gives thanks to God for “hiding” things from the wise and the intelligent.  It is not that God intentionally hides things but, rather, that these so-called “wise and intelligent” ones are too wrapped up in their other thoughts to be open to realizing who and what Jesus is and what his message means.  No one can know everything about Jesus, but by being open to the wisdom of Jesus, one will gain the freedom of depending upon Christ.

This is perhaps a note of warning to the “religious wise”, those who think that they know everything that God envisions and everything that is God.  The ending of this passage, truly one of the veritable favorites of the Bible (St. Paul’s has a whole window around it…but you have to turn around when you’re sitting in the sanctuary or become a clergy!), is not a calling to worship Jesus as an idol.  It is a calling to learn a whole new way of being even in the midst of the perils and pains that may accompany this life.  It is not a way of rules and demands; it is the Way of Love and Joy even in this life.  It is a release of ourselves that we might rest in the Way that is Christ.  True wisdom is gained through repentance, through turning away from ourselves and toward God.  It is those burdens that we are being asked to lay down that we might have rest—the burden of ourselves, the burden of trying to hold together a life that is not real, that is not who we are supposed to be.  It is declaring the true freedom to which we are called, a way of total oneness and dependence upon God for our very life.

Alyce McKenzie explains it like this:

In order to answer Jesus’ invitation to participate in his deeds of power and his life of joy, we have to lay down certain burdens that we have mistaken for blessings.

I can’t help but think of the time worn anecdote about catching monkeys in the wild. When trying to catch a monkey for the zoo trappers take a small cage out into the jungle. Inside the cage they place a bunch of bananas and then they close it, locking the bananas inside. A monkey coming along and spotting the bananas, will reach through the narrow rungs of the cage and grab a banana. But he can’t get it out. And no matter how hard he tries—twisting his hand back and forth—he can’t pull his hand through the rungs while hanging on to the banana. And even with the approaching trappers he won’t let go of the banana. For the trappers, it’s simply a matter then, of coming up and grabbing the monkey.

Jesus instructs would-be disciples to lay down the burden of lesser obligations and get in the boat with him (Mt. 8:18-22). He instructs the Twelve to travel light and to divest themselves of the burden of fear as they go out to spread his message (Mt. 10:5-32). He encourages the religious leaders to lay down the burden of Sabbath healing laws to allow a man with a withered hand to find wholeness (Mt. 12:9-14).

To be told we can lay down our burdens sounds so sweet, until we realize that, in Jesus’ eyes, many things we view as blessings are actually burdens. These would include, both in his time and ours, judging others, viewing oneself as occupying a superior position to others and entitled to a more comfortable life with more material possessions, and making a vocation of excluding and avoiding the unclean and the sinner, those on the bottom rung of the social ladder. To those who view those things as their birthright and most cherished possessions, to be required to divest oneself of them sounds like sacrifice. And it is. But it is on the way to a life of being forgiven, being refreshed, and being empowered to live with the humility, discernment, courage, and compassion that is the essence of Wisdom.

Wisdom in Person, the real deal, stands before us in Matthew 11:16. His “deeds” include healing, feeding, exorcizing, forgiving, and teaching us the Way. The question is, will we choose to participate in them? Will we allow Wisdom to be vindicated by her deeds as they show up in our lives?

Wisdom in Person, the real deal, stands before us in Matthew 11:28-30. He challenges us to lay down our burdens to participate in his blessings. The question is, will we sacrifice the burdens to make way for the blessings? (From “Lay Your Burden Down”, by Dr. Alyce McKenzie, available at, accessed 29 June 2011.)

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. Where do you see yourself in this passage?
  3. How do you think this plays out in our society?
  4. What do you think of this idea of God in “hiding”?
  5. What is your vision of “rest” as it is depicted here?
  6. What “burdens” get in the way of our “blessings”? 


Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

I think we can say that democracy is a form of government that demands more virtue of its citizens than any other form of government…So let us term freedom of choice less a virtue than a necessity, a precondition to real freedom, which is the ability to make choices that are generous, loving, and wise.  Our wills are not free when they will what is bigoted, narrow, ungenerous.  Our wills are only free when they can will the will of a loving God.  “They will be done on earth.” (William Sloane Coffin, Credo, 80-81)


Jesus has a different understanding of personal freedom.  Freedom is not the capacity to be what you are not, but the capacity to be fully who you already are, to develop your inherent self as much as God allows.  Spiritual and true freedom is wanting to do what you have to do to become who you are.  (Richard Rohr)


Let music swell the breeze, and ring from all the trees sweet freedom’s song; Let mortal tongues awake; let all that breathe partake; let rocks their silence break, the sound prolong. (Samuel F. Smith, 1832, “America”, (Verse 3), UMH # 697) 



 We know well the “honor roll” of nation states and mighty empires that run all the way from Egypt and Assyria to Britain and Japan and Russia—and finally us.  We know about the capacity for order that they have and the accompanying capacity for exploitation and violence.  We know that the great powers, while held in your hand, are tempted to autonomy and arrogance.  In the midst of war, we ponder modern empire.   

In these moments, we hold our own resource-devouring empire up in your presence.  For the moment, we pray for it:  forgiveness for its violence, authority for its vision of freedom, chastening for its distorted notion of peace. 

We pray, for the moment, that our very own empire may be a vehicle for your good purposes.  Beyond that, we pray the old hope of our faith:  that the kingdoms of this world would become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ.  We do not doubt that you will reign forever and ever.  Along with all waiting powers, we sing gladly:  Forever and ever, Hallelujah!  Hallelujah! 

O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears! America! America!  God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.  Amen.

(“On the Oracles against the Nations”, in Prayers for a Privileged People, by Walter Brueggemann, p. 177-178 and “America the Beautiful” (vs. 3), by Katherine Lee Bates, UMH # 696)