Saturday, June 29, 2013
True Patriot Love
30 June 2013
Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
During the 1830’s and 1840’s the area we now know as ‘Germany’ did not exist. There were kingdoms such as Prussia and Bavaria and large areas ruled by aristocratic families such as Baden-Württemberg. Some of these little fiefdoms were no larger than the Diocese of New Westminster.
Politically these states were predominantly conservative and aristocratic. If the state had a legislature, its membership was usually reserved for the politically dominant members of society. But it was during the 1830’s and 1840’s that a spirit of reform and revolution blew through these German-speaking states. Many Germans were inspired by the American and French revolutions, while others found their inspiration in the constitutional monarchy taking shape in Great Britain during the reign of Victoria.
In most of these small states, however, the forces opposing such changes were stronger than the reformers. Thousands of reformers were either imprisoned, exiled or killed. Many found their way to North America, especially the larger cities of the United States.
One of these reformers was the writer and publisher Carl Schürz. He fled Germany after the violent suppression of the reform movement and finally settled in Wisconsin where he became active in the Republican Party. In those days, the Republican Party was, for the most part, a liberal party seeking either to restrict slavery to the southern states or to abolish it altogether.
As a foreign immigrant and a known liberal among liberals, Carl Schürz was frequently attacked by his opponents as being ‘un-patriotic’. He was, after all, a foreigner and there were and are plenty of Americans, even plenty of Canadians today, who do not trust anyone they consider to be ‘foreign’. Once, when his patriotism was challenged by an opponent, Schürz famously responded, “My country right or wrong. When right, to be kept right. When wrong, to be put right.’
With these words Schürz expressed what I believe to be the essence of how Christians are to relate to the countries in which they live. We are, after all, members of a movement that began two thousand years ago and counts among its member people of every race and nation, men and women, ‘cradle’ Christians and ‘new’ Christians. Our fundamental identity is as members of the body of Christ who are committed to the words of the prophet Micah: to do justice, to love steadfastly and to walk humbly with God.
On Canada Day it’s interesting to remember that when the first Christian communities were asked to describe their assemblies for worship and teaching, they chose a political rather than a religious term to describe these assemblies. They said that the Christian assembly, the Christian people, was an ekklésia, a word that in ancient Greek meant a political assembly of citizens who gathered to make decisions for the common good of the community.
It’s also interesting to remember that when the first Christian communities were asked to describe what their worship and teaching was, they chose another secular rather than religious term to describe what they were doing. Christian worship and teaching was leitourgia, an ancient Greek word meaning a public work voluntarily undertaken for the common good.
When we put these two words together, we have a striking portrait of what it means to be a Christian living in any state. We are a public assembly of people who are committed to the common good of the entire community. When we gather, our worship and teaching are a public work that we voluntarily undertake for the common good. We are gathered here today, first and foremost, to work for the common good; not our personal gain, not our personal agendas, but for the common good of all the people among whom we live and work, whether they are Christians or not. When we are sent forth from this place, the eucharist we have shared is food to strengthen us as we work for the well-being of our neighbours. The teaching that we have shared, whether from the Scriptures, the prayer, the hymns or the sermon, are meant to help us use our time, talents and treasure to build up our communities, our neighbourhoods and our countries.
This means that, from time to time, our governments might find us annoying. Why is that? Governments such as ours, democratically elected, even if by only a minority of the total electorate, are always tempted to play to their own supporters. It is a natural temptation to which we are all prone, but this is a problem when one is elected to serve, whether in municipal, regional, provincial or national government. Once in government, one’s obligation is to work for the common good and the common good sometimes challenges one’s political base.
It is the church’s task, so long as it exists, to speak to the powerful about the needs and concerns of the whole community, especially those who are vulnerable, voiceless and easily dismissed. We are called to hold before the powerful the prophetic call to do justice, to love steadfastly and to walk humbly before God. We hold before our leaders the principles by which we expect them to lead, even when those principles may require those leaders to replace political platforms with bridges that lead to hope and equity.
As Canadians we have much for which we give thanks to God, to our ancestors and to those who work tirelessly, day after day, for the common good. As Christians our duty is gather Sunday after Sunday, year after year, in our public assemblies to remember what makes the common good and to be strengthened to work for that common good, even when it is costly to ourselves, even when it means challenges our leaders and risk being thought of as ‘un-patriotic’ or impractical.
What is the ‘true patriot love’ of which we sing today? It is a love of justice, a love that is steadfast, a humility that knows we are the stewards of God’s bounty not its possessors. It is a love that dares to keep our country right when it is right, a love that dares to put our country right when it is wrong. It is a love that fulfills the motto of the Order of Canada, a motto taken from the Christian scriptures: ‘Desiderantes meliorem patriam.’ --- ‘They seek a better country.’ (Hebrews 11.16).
For that better country, we stand on guard. For that better country, we shall work. For that better country, we shall always hope. Amen.