E Pluribus Unum: Reflecting the Image of the Creator

Isaiah 58:9b-14

9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. 13If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; 14then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Psalm 103

1Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

2Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits—

3who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,

4who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

5who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.

7He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

8The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Hebrews 12:18-29

18You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. 20(For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” 21Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) 22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 25See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! 26At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” 27This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; 29for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

Luke 13:10-17 10Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Good morning, St. Matthew. We gather on this morning in Itasca on the unceded tribal lands of the Kickapoo, Peoria, Ka-skas-kia, Potawatomi, Mya-a-mia, HoChunk, Winnebago and O-che-thi Sakowin nations, acknowledging the hard past and praying our way into a better future.
And so we pray.
Holy Lord, there are moments that lift and change us. The problem is that far too often we think we can control the lift and the change. But because we are not you, God, the details slip away from us, and we find ourselves floundering, caught in a thousand unintended consequences. Today, Lord, we pray for change – change that we can celebrate and that we will acknowledge begins and ends with you. To pray with full and trusting hearts: O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

I was born in 1963, and for much of my childhood, I was raised in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, which at the time was the town centre for the many farm communities surrounding it. My parents however were both big city people – my dad was raised in Detroit, and my mom was raised in Baltimore. So for small town Oshkosh, we came into town with question marks and for many, there were deep suspicions born of beliefs that city mice and country mice just don’t mix. It was also known that I was adopted – and there were a number of people in Oshkosh for whom that knowledge unleashed a ton of prejudice. Before grey happened, I was a deep brown brunette in a sea of blonde Scandinavians. All of this “outsiderness” came to a head when I entered kindergarten. Within the first few months, around Thanksgiving, we had a unit on Pilgrims and Indians. It is actually cringe worthy to recall all the myths and prejudices that were laid upon us in that teaching. But for me personally, what was unintentionally life changing was the lesson that included an “Indian War Dance” competition. I believe in my soul that what was intended in 1968 was a recognition that there were two distinct cultures meeting – but in the hands of teachers and cultures that had zero Native interaction, it quickly became the worst kind of stereotype. All the kids were told to put feathers in their hair, strings of beads around their necks and to let loose with hooting and hollering. I won. Hear that. I won.
But – in the midst of this dance, I remember seeing two teachers smugly nodding and pointing at me. And what happened that day proved tragic for me. Putting all the outsider things they “knew” about me, they decided I was an Indian child. Let me note here, that DNA says different, and I can’t claim that amazing heritage. But in that moment, I crossed into a different perspective of the world. Most white folk will never experience what it is like to live on the other side of cultural racism, and I have to tell you, it’s not fun. We lived in Oshkosh til 1975, and nearly every day, I was beat up, called names, chased and the subject of raised eyebrows and behind the hand whispers. All because of a well-intended school lesson.
I start with this personal remembrance because I want us all to understand that in human hands even the best of intentions can off the rails. When the actual pilgrims showed up at Plymouth Rock, they came full of faith and determination. I want to be clear about this; the men and women who came to these shores had experienced something amazing. Remember that with the rise of the merchant class at the end of the Medieval era, education was not just for the top 1% and more folks that ever were reading and writing. Moreover, with the Reformation in the 1500s, the word of the Bible had been returned to the people in the pews. These factors meant that – wonder of wonders! – regular people were reading the Word of God! This was remarkable and amazing BUT they were reading complex thoughts without a complex education to guide them through it! So, more often than not, they read God’s word through a very clouded lens. It never occurred to them that they were not the modern day Israelites being led to a promised land that they were to conquer and occupy. This led to mistakes and misunderstandings that manifested just as surely and horridly as the confusion over my heritage manifested in my life. In fact, you can draw a pretty straight line from their mistakes to my mistreatment.
In coming to the New World under the assumption that they were the new Israelites, and never allowing the Spirit to enlarge and expand that understanding, the Pilgrims didn’t bring a gospel of grace but rather a tyranny of racism and destruction. The planners of the kindergarten Thanksgiving lesson may have been clear in their intentions to teach the history of two cultures meeting that long ago harvest day. But by failing to provide the context and to be sure that those teaching it understood that context, they just reinforced stereotypes, and actually created more division. In just the same way, the leader of the synagogue KNOWS what he knows. There is a law of Sabbath which cannot be ignored. The Scripture says that the Sabbath is to be hallowed – to be kept holy and no work is to be done. It even makes the Top Ten in the Commandments for Pete’s sake! So the Leader cannot be faulted for his practice – he is 100% right. And 1000% wrong. He has become so dedicated to the letter of the law that he fails to see the consequences of the law.
When Jesus encounters the woman who is bent double, he sees the need AND the law. Remember the Pharisee who wanted to know the greatest commandment? What is Jesus’ response? Luke wrote,
An expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.[j] “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbour as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
Listen to that verse. It is very important to also remember that the expert in the law is quoting Deuteronomy, chapter 4. We are not called to start with the law but rather to start with the love. Does love ever look at suffering and turn its back? Does love ever refuse to see the humanity in another? Or fail to see the spark of the Divine in a brother, sister, sibling? You and I know the answer to that. Love just doesn’t walk that way. In Luke’s gospel, this question of love is followed up by the story of the Good Samaritan where the focus is not the worthiness of the one who takes care of their neighbour but rather their capacity to care at all. Our living of faith is evidenced by remembering that love does not judge but serves.
How would the story of our nation be different if we really had lived this love? If Pilgrim had met Native with an outstretched hand? If European had trusted the Word of God rather than cultural law? If Columbus had not allowed his ego to hold more sway than his faith when, in his disappointment at not finding the assured path to the riches of the Indies, he slaughtered and enslaved the peoples he did find? The faith in which he read – just as assuredly as you and I have! – that in Christ there is no east or west, slave or master, male or female? I want us all to hold that in our hearts – that failure to be the neighbour that we were created to be – that pain at what could have been.
Now – pain is not to be taken lightly. Pain tells us of our need to be healed. The woman who comes to Jesus is bent with pain – and in love, Jesus meets her in her pain and alleviates that pain – sending her to go and live a life that will no longer be defined by that pain. But I lay you even money, that being healed by Christ, she goes to live a life informed by that healing. A life that has known both pain and healing is a life that is changed – the Lord took the pain that I lived in being misidentified and gave me a heart for understanding the sin of racism that I don’t think many white girls from Oshkosh have acquired. And in the weird math of grace, that has made me the woman I am.
Grace IS weird math. And grace takes many forms – and shows up in some pretty astonishing places. The Native peoples of the United States, despite all the pain that has crippled them and bent their backs, still work to make those of us in the Euro-heritaged communities recognise and respect their humanity. And in many ways, Native Nations are reclaiming the wholeness that is their birth right as children of the Creator. The hard part is getting those Euro-heritaged communities to let go of the cultural laws that taught their people to hold that broken law above the call to love their siblings as they love themselves. But our Native siblings keep hammering away.
Long ago, they took pity on starving Pilgrim invaders to try to teach them the way to love this new land. And throughout US history, they have brought their influence and guidance. Our nation is governed by E Pluribus Unum – Out of Many One. Referring to the History Channel newsletter, that idea came to the Founders from
The Iroquois Confederacy, which dates back several centuries, to when the Great Peacemaker founded it by uniting five nations: the Mohawks, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, the Oneida and the Seneca. In around 1722, the Tuscarora nation joined the Iroquois, also known as the Haudenosaunee (ho day no shaw nee). Together, these six nations formed a multi-state government while maintaining their own individual governance.
That influence has continued, in ways the larger country has begun to acknowledge. One of those recent acknowledgements has been the creation of a day to recognise The Code Talkers of WWII. In your bulletin is a graphic enumerating the numbers of their service – but in that war, as much as we might want to think an Allied victory was inevitable – it was not. There were super clever people on both sides and codes were created and broken on both sides. But in a moment that put the lie to how any child of God is less, Native folks stepped up. According to the WWII Museum page:

Most people have heard of the famous Navajo (or Diné) code talkers who used their traditional language to transmit secret Allied messages …there were at least 14 other Native nations, including the Cherokee and Comanche, that served as code talkers in both the Pacific and Europe during the war. The idea of using American Indians who were fluent in both their traditional tribal language and in English to send secret messages in battle was first put to the test in World War I with the Choctaw Telephone Squad and other Native communications experts and messengers. However, it wasn’t until World War II that the US military developed a specific policy to recruit and train American Indian speakers to become code talkers. The irony of being asked to use their Native languages to fight on behalf of America was not lost on code talkers, many of whom had been forced to attend government or religious-run boarding schools that tried to assimilate Native peoples and would punish students for speaking in their traditional language.
Despite their heroic contributions during the war, American Indian code talkers were told that they had to keep their work secret. They couldn’t even tell their family members about their communications work. Since the codes that they developed remained unbroken, the US military wanted to keep the program classified in case the code talkers were needed again in future wars. Even when the WWII code talker program was declassified in 1968, national recognition of code talkers was slow. While there was some recognition in the 1970s and 1980s, it wasn’t until 2001 that Congressional Gold Medals were given to the Navajo and other code talkers.
Today we work to right some wrongs and bring healing to the past by participating in the honouring our Native siblings service as Code Talkers – but more than that, as followers of Christ, we are hearing the call to leave the laws that break the backs of our siblings by naming any child of God as less or other or outsider. As followers of Jesus, we renounce that broken law and proclaim instead a love that reclaims, renames ALL of our proud and upright siblings as God’s children.