Many years ago, I was watching news coverage of flooding in the Midwest. On the television screen was an aerial view of a broad swath of brown murky water covering the rooftops of a community. As far as the eye could see, there was water. It was everywhere. As I was watching this awesome and destructive mass of water covering the community, I heard the newscaster say, “… and here is the Mississippi River at flood stage.”
Looking at the water covering the town, I immediately thought, this is not a river. This is simply a body of water, flowing wherever it can, destroying any and everything in its path. My next thought was, what makes a body of water a river? A river has banks. A river’s banks are borders and boundaries. The banks direct and guide the water to where it is meant to go. Some rivers go to larger rivers and eventually all rivers and streams find their way to the sea. A river without banks is not a river. The banks of a river provide order, direction, and purpose to the water. Otherwise, the water is a formless void capable of inflicting violence and destruction on anything in its path.
We humans, like water, need boundaries, borders. We need rules and laws. Without them, we can be prone to chaos and even destruction. For most people of faith, our foundational set of laws are the 10 Commandments. These commandments focus us on our call to be in relationship with God and each other. For citizens of the United States, our foundational documents, creating our rights and obligations as Americans, are the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution.
Like many of you, I watched with horror and dismay the events of January 6, unfolding in our nation’s Capitol on the Feast Day of Epiphany, disbelieving my own eyes. The crowd which surged toward and into the Capitol Building reminded me of the Mississippi river at flood stage. They might have had a purpose, but as far as I could tell, it was not in keeping or consistent with any faith tradition or the founding tenets of our great democracy. They were destructive, violent, and chaotic. They were like a river which had overflowed its banks.
Given our public and political discourse over the last several years, and the ever-increasing tension which has accompanied the conversations, I don’t think any of the events of January 6 came as a total and complete surprise to anyone. Maybe the scene of American citizens smashing windows, breaking down doors and ransacking the Congressional offices in our Capitol was the shock we needed to our collective conscious to show us we need to reevaluate who we are and what it means to be an American.
We need to repent—literally, we need a change of heart. We need to restore our collective national identity as Americans, which transcends political parties, race, creed, and ethnicity. We need an epiphany—a manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something. As the Declaration of Independence declares, we must always remember the self-evident truth that “all men [humanity] are created equal…” Remembering that in our Baptismal Covenant, we have promised to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” (BCP, p. 305).
The gospel truth is this: we are all made in the image of God; we are children of God—each and every one of us. Without Christ, I am a formless void capable of destructive and violent actions and behavior. We all are. When we fail to remember and follow the inspired wisdom and direction of our nation’s foundational documents, we can resort to mob rule. That is what we recently witnessed. As Americans we are better than this. As Christians we are called to a much higher standard. As Christians, we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves; loving each other as our Lord Jesus Christ loves us. Please let’s join together following Jesus, striving to be children of God, one to another, and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Blessings, grace, peace, and love,