Nearly 400 years ago, as the ship Arbella sailed toward Massachusetts, John Winthrop gave a sermon on the nature of Christian Community and Christian Charity. He spoke of the people living as a “shining city on a hill,” a place where people lived together fully:
making the other’s conditions their own.
Over time, this sermon, and especially the attachment of America to the biblical image of “the shining city on a hill,” became embedded in the public consciousness of America. Presidents Kennedy and Reagan both drew heavily on the image of the City on the Hill, encouraging the better angels of our being in service to our country and our people.
The temple of America,
the shining city on a hill,
a beacon of light in the darkness,
is built on stones promising justice for all,
stones of equality between peoples,
and stones of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Over the last 400 years, we (mostly) white European immigrants to this beautiful land, have held dear this image of America as the City on a Hill. We have spread the Gospel of America far and wide. We have mourned together. We have rejoiced together.
We have marveled at the beautiful stones of our temple and the gifts dedicated to the God of progress and self-reliance.
In ancient Judea, there was a literal temple. It was enormous. It stood on the top of the hill in Jerusalem and could be seen for miles around. It was destroyed the first time in 586 BCE and then rebuilt.
In the time of Jesus, the temple was a center of life for the people. It was the focal point of the three pilgrimage festivals. The temple was the very house of God. It was the place to which people went to seek favor with God. It was the symbol of hope for the people. The temple was the locus of their faith and the core of their identity.
And the temple was destroyed in the year 70.
The gospel according to Luke was written in the wake of this destruction.
Imagine for a moment being a first Century Palestinian Jewish Christian,
one who has lived through wars and insurrections,
who has seen many Messiahs come and promise salvation
only to be smashed down again,
one who has seen the literal destruction of the Temple.
Imagine feeling the shock of the destruction of your identity and hearing the words of the Gospel today.
What would you feel?
What do you feel?
Perhaps for some of you it is not hard to imagine. For many people this week the Temple of America came tumbling down. For many people, the temple of America was never really there.
The promise of “all men are created equal” has long meant:
of largely European ancestry,
The City on a Hill, rejoicing together and mourning together, has all to often only been true if you are like me.
The City on a Hill never was.
We are a nation forged in hope and promise for a better future.
Promise which was made possible
through the genocide of those persons already living here,
through the enslavement of millions of persons
brought here from their homes by force,
through the restriction of civic rights to millions more,
through mass incarceration with impact that ripples throughout the lives of families.
Over the last year and a half, the nation of Liberty and Justice for all has allowed hateful, divisive rhetoric to become normal.
Realizing that there are many motivations for voting one way or another, we as a nation have allowed those motivations to overwhelm our sense of duty to one another.
We have failed to make the other’s concern our own. We have failed to love our neighbor, when that neighbor is far away and different. In the days sense the election, accounts of racial slurs, physical attacks on immigrants, and fear deep in the heart of people abound.
This is not simply a political dispute.
This is not simply a party who lost feeling sad about losing.
This is not something that the people who are afraid and grieving can just buck up and get over.
Because now the myth of the Temple of America has been laid open and been brought down.
Standing in the wake of the destruction of the temple of America,
we remember that each of us is a beloved child of God,
created in God’s own image,
no matter what.
AND so is everyone else:
everyone who voted for Donald Trump,
everyone who voted for Hilary Clinton,
everyone who voted for Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, or Evan McMullen,
everyone who did not vote for any of them, or at all,
every person born here,
every person regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,
every person regardless of religion,
is a beloved child of God,
created in God’s own image.
As hard as it is, as much as we may be hurting, we remember that God’s love has no limits.
We remember that other people are hurting too, for many reasons. There are many people who voted each way in this election, and we must be careful not to vilify the people who voted for a position other than our own.
Instead, we must look closely at the myth of the temple of America,
see how it has caused pain for so many people.
We must seek relationships which build bonds
across our community, and our country,
and which challenge our own concepts
of what people believe and who they are.
Standing in the rubble of the temple, we will be tempted to listen to those who say I AM HE.
We remember that there is only God, the I AM, the source of all life, the very foundation of all being.
We remember that this I AM came into the world as Jesus the Christ
to proclaim the Good News to the poor,
to die at the hands of the world,
and to rise up again.
We remember that we are joined to this death. We are joined to this resurrection. We are joined to this ascension.
We remember that we are presented with opportunities to testify to the love of God:
to proclaim the Good News,
to welcome the stranger
to feed the hungry
to comfort the afflicted and imprisoned
and to seek justice for all persons.
We are presented with the opportunity to build community which
and makes the other’s condition our own,
living as a shining city on a hill.
As we go forth we are surrounded by the Love of God and by all of those who have gone before us,
building the temple of God in the world through thought, word and deed.
trusting in God,
who calls us each by name,
and whose love endures forever.