True Foundations: Independence Day 1996

Deuteronomy 10:17-21
Hebrews 11:8-16
Matthew 5:43-48

We just heard, in our first reading from Deuteronomy, some instructions that Moses is giving to the Hebrews on how to live once they finally cross the Jordan River. Moses won’t get to cross the river into their new home, so he is preparing the people for a change of leadership from him to Joshua. The short passage from Moses’ long speech on the plains of Moab is similar to many other documents from the area. It was customary for a king to prepare his subjects and his successor by reading a covenant between the king and the people. Some of these covenants from the Assyrians and Hittites have been found, and they are much like what we just heard, with one big exception. They might read something like: ” for Ashurbanipal is king of kings and lord of lords “, or: “Esarhaddon is mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice…” Deuteronomy, however, says: ” for the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice…”. This covenant served as a reminder to the Hebrews that God was their king, and even though they should show respect to Joshua and follow his lead, any human government was merely an extension of God’s kingship and authority.

Part of the covenant that makes up the Book of Deuteronomy is a list of the laws that God expects the people to obey once they cross into Canaan, as well as a list of the good that will come to them if they obey the laws, and a list of the bad that will come to them if they disobey. God is giving them laws so that they can have good lives, not so that they can worry about obeying arbitrary laws. It also says that they should circumcise their hearts to live the law, not just obey its outer form. We are not Hebrews living in Canaan, and we are not bound to obey all those Old Testament laws that was decided by the apostles in Jerusalem but we still need to be aware that our sovereign ruler is God. Our king is Jesus, whose throne is a cross, and whose robes of state are woven of blood and sweat. Our covenant might be something like: “Jesus our God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice “.

Even though we are not bound to follow all of the laws in the Old Testament, we are bound to follow Jesus, who is the foundation and fulfillment of those laws. Jesus expects us to live a certain way, and he sums it up in our gospel reading this morning by saying: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Some commentators note that the word perfect in this instance could also be translated as “true” or “complete” or “whole”. “Be truly complete and whole, just as your heavenly father is truly complete and whole.” The truth is something that is stable, can be relied upon, and can be built upon. A foundation that is complete and whole can support the building on top. We are to build our lives on this truth, and have the reality of God as our foundation, so that our own lives are real, whole, and true. The letter to the Hebrews, which we heard this morning, mentions that very thing when it talks about Abraham, who ” looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Although Abraham was always on the move, he was a citizen of that city of God. He and Sarah kept going, even though scripture says they had the opportunity to go back to their old home in Mesopotamia, seat of human civilization and empire built on the incomplete and false non-reality of the idols of human pride. So we must also always turn away from our false desires and go ever further into the truth that is Jesus, and let him build us on his foundation into an ever more glorious city that is the light of the world. As we are being built into this city on a hill, we must not keep the light of God’s grace and peace to ourselves.

Christians have often been puzzled by the question of our place in national and political life. We might be able to solve that puzzle by remembering that although God is our sovereign, we are to be respectful and obedient to our human governments, even when we do not agree with the particular people in various offices. We are also to love the stranger, help the poor and the needy, the sick and imprisoned, the oppressed and the outcast. We are to be Jesus to our world Jesus who ate with sinners and healed on the sabbath. We also need to keep our patriotism in line with the truth that the United States are not the promised land, or the New Jerusalem, or even the Old Jerusalem. We must also remember that we are all children of immigrants even Native Americans came from somewhere else – and we should still be traveling and making our home ever more peaceful and heavenly. Like Abraham and Sarah, we must never turn back to false gods of human foundations. When we hear people urging us to go back to the moral foundations of our nation’s founding fathers, we need to remember that what the signers of the Declaration of Independence were doing was illegal and treasonous, and many of the legal things they did were quite immoral: slavery, drunkenness, wife beating, and genocide of Indians (what we would call ethnic cleansing) were common in their society. We need to turn our backs on all that and more, and never go back to worship the gods whom our fathers served beyond the river. We need to live the truth that Jesus is our God: “the God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice ” . AMEN