Spirit Sightings

August 28, 2016: In Your Place!

From Paul Turley

“The United States of America is the greatest nation on earth!”

Anyone who has been exposed to even the smallest amount of news about the 2016 U.S. presidential election will have heard those words, or words like them, many times.

American Exceptionalism is the term used to speak about one version of The United State’s understanding of itself. From Thomas Jefferson talking about the new United States as an “empire of liberty,” to Franklin Roosevelt describing his country in the early part of the Second World War as the “arsenal of democracy,” to Ronald Reagan’s rhetoric of the U.S. as a “shining city upon a hill,” U.S. leaders and prospective leaders have wanted to tell a story and make a case for the U.S. being different from other countries, and that that difference requires the U.S. to take on an international leadership role. It is only a small step for some from different to better, and from better to best.

While the claim that the U.S. is the greatest nation on earth sounds bizarre and absurd to many people, both without and within the U.S., it is a claim made by those who run for high office. Unless I am elected, the rhetoric goes, the U.S. is in danger of becoming like other countries and, since other countries aren’t nearly as great as the U.S., that would be a bad thing.

In launching their 2016 presidential campaign, the Republicans again endorsed American Exceptionalism. America has, the platform documents say, an “historic role – first as refuge, then as defender, and now as exemplar of liberty for the world to see.” However, even the most cursory glance at U.S. and world history since the American War of Independence at the end of the 18th century reveals a far more complex and compromised story than the Republicans are asserting in this campaign.

Our text this week is disturbing for anyone who claims the high ground for their nation, their religion, their ethnicity, their gender, or any other marker they might choose. It might also be disturbing for many of us as we have been watching the Olympic Games, with its pretense of pitting nation against nation. I reality, of course, we have been watching individuals competing against other individuals each of whom just happen to hold (or, thanks to their sporting prowess have had it engineered) a passport from a particular nation.

Jesus, as he often does in the gospels, upends the usual way of doing and thinking about things. Placing yourself or your nation in a privileged position is not a gospel value. Flag waving and jingoism has no place in the kingdom or new world of God.

Explore…Luke 14:1, 7–17

  • What might it look like on an international level if your nation was to take Jesus’ suggestion about how to act in a gathering?
  • Do you think it is possible to be both a follower of Jesus and a patriot?
  • What might our international aid programs look like if we took Jesus’ advice in verses 12 and 13?
  • How might you translate the ideas in verses 8 and 9 into other areas of life?

Prayer links…

  • God, so much time, energy, blood and treasure has been spent in our lifetimes defining and defending our nations. And yet we are still far from embracing and celebrating the truth of our existence; we are all one people, one family. God, may we who call you “mother and father of us all” learn to embrace each other, to erase the boundaries we’ve drawn and the walls we’ve built, and to live as you call us to live. Give us courage we pray. Amen.

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