See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?
It is entirely too easy for Americans to talk about the sovereignty of our country. We are bordered by only two countries. For most of us, traveling to those countries is something of an endeavor, not a day trip as international travel can be for many people living abroad. We grew up in school singing songs about Columbus and hearing happy stories about the native people of this land who generously helped colonizers survive the harsh winters. It isn’t until we are a bit older until we learn about the Trail of Tears, the theft of more than 500,000 square miles of resource-rich land from Mexico and the genocide of our land’s natives, just to name a few.
We sing songs to our country, we outline its shape on colorful maps, we are told that is is the greatest nation on the earth. What is it that we say on the first day of lent?
You are dust and to dust you shall return.
For many Americans, even those who are well traveled, it is difficult to think of borders and nations in any way other than that which we were taught. It takes many personal conversations with people who have different experiences to start to get a grasp on just how fragile our “sovereign” nation is. For me it has taken years of hearing individual stories from my Mexican friends telling me about how US politics affect their economy, how gang violence made them flee their homes in the night to save their lives. It has taken tearful stories from a Syrian friend talking about his decimated hometown. It has taken mournful poetry from Palestinian storytellers, lamenting the loss of their home. It has taken years of relearning my nation’s history to clearly see that America has become an idol. And let us remember, American is not eternal.
It is interesting that today’s reading from the lectionary comes from Deuteronomy. Moses is telling the Israelites that they are going to enter their promised land but that they must obey the statues set before them by God. We see in their story just how volatile borders can be. Moses goes on to repeat again and again that they shall not have ANY idols before God. This commandment is one that we cannot escape anywhere in the Bible. In our small mindedness we like to be proud that we don’t worship gold statues anymore, that even though our neighbor worships their car like a God, we aren’t attached to such material possessions.
Our attachment to the idea of American Sovereignty when it becomes greater than our responsibility to the dignity and justice for all who were created in the image of our Creator is nothing short of this idolatry that we read of. This is not to say that national borders don’t have their utility but anything on this physical earth that comes between Christians and reflecting the love of God to all of humanity is an idol.
Consider: What earthly attachments are keeping me from acknowledging and propiritzing the people of God? Does any of this come from a fear of scarcity or the unknown?
Pray: Lord, open my eyes to see you first. Help me to see the difference between what you have created and what man has created. Help me to see that there is no such thing as us and them, that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made in your good and perfect image. Amen.