14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 4, 2021
Rev. Jim Ryan, M.Div.,Ph.D. firstname.lastname@example.org
I have heard it said and seen it written by historians and scholars that Abraham Lincoln almost singlehandedly remade America. While I acknowledge that this is somewhat of an overstatement, I invite you to consider that he did things that the founders of the nation wouldn’t and couldn’t do. As a case in point the Emancipation Proclamation settled the point once and for all that individuals who were enslaved are full persons. No more of this three-fifths person of the Dred Scott decision. Lincoln’s proclamation, that all such persons who were formerly enslaved are individual persons, was sealed into the Constitution with the 13th and 14th Amendments. His decision was never challenged in court. Think in today’s terms and see if you find it unbelievable, as I do, that a President’s decisions were not taken to court.
Clearly the Emancipation Proclamation did not complete the job showing that it, as well as Lincoln himself, was fully engaged in fulfilling the Promise of America. What does this phrase, “Fulfill the Promise,” really mean? How does it guide the practical realities of America? As Christians we are very familiar with this notion of the Promise Fulfilled. Isn’t Jesus the Promised One? Aren’t we certain that the covenant that the Creator makes with people of faith is one of Promise that ends with the Word, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End? This is not the case in this nation where so much is unfulfilled. Much is said about the promise of America, mostly because it is so often unrealized.
So, let’s take a look this morning at what it means to fulfill in such a way that this is more than just a nice word or even a guiding principle. In this nation that so prides itself on being practical and pragmatic how does one measure fulfillment? How do we recognize that persons are fulfilled and not merely in the sense of a psychological condition of well-being or even self-esteem?
Martha Nussbaum writes that fulfillment is a matter of capability. With the Indian social philosopher, Amartya Sen, she has developed what they both call the 10 Central or Combined Capabilities. This begins by asking the question, “In this society what is a person able to do or to be?” It proceeds by recognizing that fulfillment is indeed more than one’s psychological state of being. Capability requires social and governmental input and support for full human development.
The 10 Capabilities include: life, bodily health and integrity, imagination and emotions – all lived out in physical reality with social supports to assure the fulfillment of these capabilities. I like the capability that she refers to as “Affiliations with others.” This demands that governments permit freedom of assembly and support the freedom to organize as workers, as defenders of creation, as bridge-players, etc. There is even a capability that she titles, Play, which celebrates the freedom to act in pleasant and enjoyable ways. The point of each capability is its reliance upon and thriving with others in communal celebrations and supports. Fulfillment based on the successful growth of capabilities is a measure for social, political, and economic development of the so-called advanced nations. Such fulfillment also stands as a judgment against societies that prevent persons from capably doing or being. It seems to me that it is easy to see why fulfillment is always a work in progress.
Clearly the Emancipation Proclamation did not fulfill America’s Promise. It didn’t even free all enslaved persons. The 13th and 14th Amendments didn’t put an end to slavery in America. Ironically, the last freed persons were those who had been held as slaves by Native Americans. In late 1866 treaties were finalized that required the Five Civilized Tribes (Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Crow, and Seminole) to free their slaves. Only then did the Promise apply to all full persons who were citizens.
Just as fulfillment is about social and governmental support of persons and their capabilities – so is the Promise a matter of community. As I said earlier the phrase, “Fulfill the Promise,” easily falls off the tongues of Christians. After all, Jesus is the Promised One, right? The challenge for Christians, though, comes when the profession of Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior comes up against the fact that the Promised One was all about love. And that takes community!
Today’s Gospel story could not be more perfect for today’s celebration of Eucharist. This is from Mark’s Gospel. In St. Luke’s Gospel this same story is expanded to include that what Jesus read in his home-town synagogue was from the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah. The particular passage was the one that proclaimed that God sends the Promised One to set the captives free. I like to think that Abraham Lincoln heard that in his ear as he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation.
But, here’s the thing. The community did not accept that this nobody of a carpenter’s son, who was only the son of Mary, could be the One who fulfills the promise. Jesus could perform no miracles there owing to their own lack of acceptance and love. And that’s what makes this the perfect story for today.
We Christians may be very clear that Jesus fulfills the Promise. We Americans realize, particularly after January 6, that the promise of this society is always in need of fulfilling, is always incomplete. And completion takes community. It takes political, social, and economic policies and actions that support the development of each person’s capabilities. Our Christian faith cannot be the institution that fulfills the promise of America. That is the way of distortion. The very presence of professing Christians in this society who believe and who commit acts of violence to prove their faith in the destiny of the white members of the human race to dictate and to control all others of the human race – only proves the distortion.
No, it takes community acting in love and support for human development that serves as a guide to all of society. The power of Jesus’ love to transform others was diminished by those who, in his home town, refused to believe. As we conclude this time of reflection, memory, and even penitence, this Juneteenth to July 4, may we shine lights on the giants, the heroes, and the saints who prove to us that a community that practices love for all God’s children and all God’s creation is the community who has the best hope to fulfill the promise.
May we give thanks!
Litany, Fulfill the Promise
Reader This nation has promised freedom to all citizens and human rights to all persons.
All Strengthen the resolve of those who are engaged in fulfilling this promise.
Reader The judicial system of this nation promises impartial and unbiased judgments.
All Encourage the commitment of those who are engaged in fulfilling this promise.
Reader The legislative system of this nation promises fair and just laws.
All Motivate the will to run for public office of those who are engaged in fulfilling this promise.
Presider While the promises of this nation often go unfulfilled, may Christ who guides us in faith and in action keep us hopeful in that peace and freedom which never ends.
All God Bless us and all creation!
Presider We are a people familiar with light and darkness, the easy and the hard times that come with living. We also are a people who too often forget the dignity and justice that is due to others for past indignities and violence. You would think that we would remember that you, Creator of all, had the intention for one human race, and that your desire is for us to live in peace.
All Jesus, Word made flesh, show us the way to peace and freedom. You are the Christ who lives and reigns with the Creator and Sophia Spirit now and forever. Amen.