Common phrases arise and become slogans, taking on new meaning. To “make America great” has always had meaning. But now it means something very specific. Just as the idea that “America is a Christian nation” has often been said, but each generation interprets it differently. Both of these phrases today are tied up in a specific party – maybe even a specific person.
But before today’s redefinitions I had a different understanding of America’s greatness. And while I would not call America Christian (as I know too many Americans 😉 ), I did understand how the United States occasionally acted like Christ.
These memories came to the forefront of my mind as I watched the immigrants in Martha’s Vineyard. The whole scene made the people political pawns. When we make humans, created in God’s image, fodder for an agenda… no matter how broken our immigration system (and it IS broken)… this is not Christian. This is not great.
Pondering this I was delighted to see local churches working to house and feed the newcomers. Rev. Chip sprang into action, “We opened our doors… they can sleep on our pews…”, while volunteers ordered pizza. I can imagine we, Chandler, would respond the same way. (Thank you for being a Christ-like Church!)
But I was also reminded how far we have removed our nation from the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
It has been ages since I read the full text of Emma Lazarus’s poem. I had forgotten the poem’s title is “The New Colossus”. The Statue of Liberty was to be our nation’s reinterpretation of the Greek statue of similar size, “Colossus of Rhodes“. The first colossus, one of the seven wonders of the world, was built to honor a military victory over invaders. The defeated invaders’ weapons were melted down and made into part of the structure. For the world’s first democracy it was a symbol of defense against the outsider.
But the Statue of Liberty was a reinterpretation for our democracy. Our nation was not built on defense, but upon invitation. Rather than a father of protection, we built what the poet calls the “Mother of exiles”. Rather than locks and walls, the poem’s final words, “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The poet’s last name, Lazarus, is fitting. Our nation was to be a place of resurrection. We would open up to the rejected and give them new life. For me this act is the closest we can come to a Christian nation. When we set aside our own well being and help our neighbor – this is what it means to BE Jesus. In this we allow Jesus to define what makes us great.
This Sunday we continue our series on the church vision. This week we take up the phrase, “going BEyond the church walls”. This is our commission from Jesus and it is participation in salvation’s act – when Jesus went BEyond heaven to find us. Join us at 10:30 in-person or streaming live.