July 4, 2021
Revised Common Lectionary
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 or Ezekiel 2:1-5
Psalm 48 or Psalm 123
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Psalm 123:1-2, 2, 3-4 (2cd)
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
In 1852, more than ten years before the abolition of slavery in the United States, Frederick Douglass was invited to deliver the keynote address at an Independence Day event. Douglass, who had himself escaped enslavement in 1838, put to his hearers this pointed question: “What to a slave is the Fourth of July?”
He then went on to issue a scathing critique: “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” As both Canadians and Americans celebrate their national holidays during this week of July, Douglass’ address is a reminder that there are many people on the margins of society who are left out and do not participate fully in the benefits that these holidays are meant to celebrate.
On this Sunday that coincides with the Fourth of July celebration in the United States, we hear the story of Ezekiel’s call to be a prophet. The Holy One sends him with a commission that sounds a lot like the task that Frederick Douglass undertook on that Independence Day in 1852: “Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day” (Ez 2:3).
Like all the biblical prophets, Ezekiel was sent to use words to communicate a message from God to the people. The Holy One offers no guarantee of success but rather prepares the prophet for rejection: “Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them” (Ez 2:5).
As he proclaimed the coming reign of God in word and deed, Jesus himself experienced rejection, even among those who knew him best. In today’s Gospel reading he returns to his hometown to teach in the synagogue. The people there found it hard to swallow that someone so ordinary, someone whose family members were well known to them, could possibly speak words of wisdom or perform powerful deeds in the name of God. And so, the Gospel writer tells us, “they took offense at him” (Mk 6:3).
If the hometown ministry of Jesus had been billed as an evangelistic campaign, it would surely have been rated as a disaster. Indeed, “he was amazed at their unbelief” (6:6) and “could do no deed of power there” (6:5). It seems remarkable then that on the heels of this colossal failure, Jesus proceeds to send his disciples out two by two to extend his mission.
Among the many instructions that he provides them, he includes this one that foreshadows the rejection they will face after his death and resurrection: “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (6:11).
For the biblical prophets, for the early disciples, and even for Jesus himself, accepting the commission to speak and act on God’s behalf often meant rejection, persecution, and even death. Those who carry on that mission today likewise face resistance, ridicule, indifference, and more. As I watch the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II lead the Poor People’s Campaign or witness advocacy for immigrants and refugees by my friend, the Rev. Dr. Sharon Stanley-Rea, I’m deeply impressed by the joy and hope that characterize their work even as they carry on the prophetic task of communicating hard truths.
As our countries celebrate their national holidays, today’s Scriptures challenge us to become attuned to the voices of the prophets among us. How is God speaking to us and encouraging us to meet the challenges of this time, to take an active role in opposing policies and dismantling structures that benefit the privileged at the expense of others? Where are we hearing the voices of the prophets today—and are we listening?
A Hymn for Today: “This Is My Song”
Part of the church’s prophetic mission is breaking down the barriers that set nations against one another and that allow some to prosper while others suffer under the weight of poverty or violence. Poet Lloyd Stone wrote the first two stanzas of this hymn between the two world wars (1934) as an expression of hope for peace and harmony among nations. Methodist theologian and hymn writer Georgia Harkness created the final stanza just a few years later (c. 1939) as a prayer to the Ruler of all nations that God’s reign may come and the divine will be done. It is normally paired with the tune FINLANDIA, adapted from a symphonic tone poem of Jan Sibelius and inspired by a patriotic impulse.
This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies and everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.
This is my prayer, O Lord of all earth’s kingdoms:
let thy reign come; on earth thy will be done.
Let Christ be lifted up till all shall serve him,
and hearts united learn to live as one.
O hear my prayer, thou God of all the nations;
myself I give thee; let thy will be done.
Text: St. 1,2 Lloyd Stone, 1934, © 1934, ren. 1962, The Lorenz Corp. st. 3, Georgia Harkness, ca. 1939, © 1964 The Lorenz Corp. Used by permission under OneLicense # A-729857.
Image Credit: Frederick Douglass, 1879
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.
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