In his remarks to the country this week, President Obama observed, “We are not republicans first. We are not democrats first. We are Americans first.” Our Presiding Bishop in his video statement this week reflected on the pledge of allegiance, in which we affirm ourselves as “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” The Episcopal Church (until just recently, The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America) has its origins in the birth of our country. Our roots, of course, are planted in the Church of England, and following the American Revolution those Anglicans remaining constituted themselves in a form that mirrors the form and function of our federal government. It is natural, therefore, that we concern ourselves with our nation’s affairs and that we pray together each time we gather for our nation and its leaders. In this time of transition, I would ask that you also include in your prayers the prayer for our country and the prayer of the President of the United States, found on page 820 of The Book of Common Prayer.
But we must go further than this. We are not, in fact, Americans first. We are Christians first, followers of Jesus Christ. Our essential identity is stated clearly in the proper preface for baptism: “in Jesus Christ our Lord you have received us as your sons and daughters, made us citizens of your kingdom, and given us the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.” Our guiding principles and promises are found in our Baptismal Covenant, where we promise to continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to persevere in resisting evil, to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.
Any belief, position, or action that we hold or take must be examined in light of these promises. They form a common ground of values for us and give us our focus on life. What we focus on will become our reality.
This week’s readings from scripture focus on the destruction and rebuilding in new form of earthly kingdoms and temples, and they point toward the ultimate creation of a new heavens and a new earth in God’s Kingdom. The reading from Isaiah presents Israel’s exile in Babylon as related to their failure to live up to the ideals God established for them, their rejection of the Lord and his ways. God says in this passage that he will restore the seed of Jacob in his new creation of Zion, but the wicked will be destroyed. As the Temple is the holy center of creation, it must also be destroyed and rebuilt as part of the new creation. Once this is accomplished, life will be the fulfillment of all hopes and dreams.
In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul gives a warning about believers who think that the Kingdom has already come and that, therefore, they need do nothing. This is definitely not so, Paul writes; it is not what he has set as an example for them, and he exhorts them to “not be weary in doing what it right.”
The gospel lesson from Luke contains Jesus’ foretelling of the destruction of the Temple. This passage is sometimes called the “eschatological dialogue” because it is filled with sayings about the signs of the end times. He tells his disciples that they will hear of wars and insurrections, that “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom”; there will be earthquakes and famines and portents and signs in the heavens. But they are not to be afraid, even though they will be persecuted because of their beliefs. Why? This will “give you an opportunity to testify.” Jesus will give his disciples “words and wisdom.” Even if they are killed, they will not perish: “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
The main message throughout is that there will be a period of waiting, when followers of Jesus will have to be patient and keep working for the Kingdom through dangerous and testing times. Jesus promises that in these times he will be with his followers and give them everything they need. Constantly changing worldly situations should not ever deter us from following our mission and from doing those things we are called to do as God’s people in the Cathedral Family. Do not be weary in doing what is right.