I immediately saw images of softball or tennis. No. It was roller derby. Some of you may remember roller derby—this scrum of women on roller skates knocking against each other, trying to prevent each other from getting around the roller skating rink.
There is a uniform for every sport. For example, in baseball you wear a shirt with a number on it and a pair of cleated tennis shoes. In football, you wear shoulder pads and a helmet. In roller derby you wear a helmet too, as well as black fishnet stockings, preferably torn. Plus a form-fitting body suit to cover the rest of your torso. Didn’t matter what body type you had, and all were represented, this was what you wore above your roller skates.
Margarite invited us to one of her matches, where the women would bang against each other and squeeze together to prevent anyone from getting ahead. And the scrawny ones would try to weasel their way through. But watch out! These women had no compunctions, no scruples or hesitation to knocking you flat out, arms splayed, legs akimbo, face down on the hardwood floor.
Meanwhile, fine looking men in striped shirts and bowties would play referee on roller skates, tweeting their whistles whenever they thought someone might be about to run into someone else from behind, or hit her in the face, or actually use a fist.
We sat in the stands. We could get popcorn and lemon aid. There was a band with a tuba and a base drum and a banjo. The band was dressed in the wildest clothes. Rainbow hair and clown noses and polka dotted vests and giant shoes. There were dancers, and people who twirled radioactive green hula hoops around their middles and around their wrists and then lie down on their backs and twirl them around their feet.
I looked over here and over there, at all these things, and I said to myself, “I would die for this. This is America.”
In America, you can stand on the streetcorner and talk to blue aliens all afternoon and that’s okay. You can wake up tomorrow morning and say to yourself, “I think I’d like to go to the Grand Canyon,” and if you have a car and enough gas, you can be on the road by eight.
This is great.
The United States is an exploration of what freedom means. Who gets to be free? What does it mean for you to be free, if you are a white man who owns property? Those were the only people who could vote back in 1776 when the whole thing started. What does it mean to be white person and poor? What does it mean to be free when you are an African American man. An African American woman? Women in general. What does it mean to be free if you are gay or lesbian? Native American or Asian American or Latino or Latina?
It’s hard to talk about your country in church. Whatever country you come from. Because if you praise your country too much, it can start sounding like you are worshipping your country instead of God. We do not worship the United States or any country. We worship God, the lord of all countries.
On the other hand, if we focus too much on the problems in the United States, and we do have problems. Like any country, we are a human institution and are therefore fallen. If we just talk about the problems then we begin to sound awfully negative, and we forget the courage of so many people who have seen problems and injustices and said “What are we going to do about it?”
Whatever we might say about the United States, is where we live. It is where we find out who we are. It is where we experience exuberance and joy and frustration and weariness and hope. It is our home.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus sends out his disciples to people’s homes. To the villages and towns where they find out who they are, where they experience exuberance and joy and frustration and weariness and hope. The disciples do two things there, which really are one thing in the end. They heal, which also involves casting out demons because illness in Jesus’ day was associated with the demonic. And they let people know that another nation, another home, the kingdom of God, is near.
We do much of the same thing. This Saturday we are going to do a Habitat for Humanity work day. It’s a healing, a way to participate with someone building a house for themselves and working for the community. But it’s also something else. It’s a way of saying, these problems, like housing in the United States or hunger in the world or crime or enforcement or education for everyone, these problems are not so huge that we can do nothing about them. Not so huge that we are helpless before them. We have a power close by, a hand that is greater than our own. The kingdom of God is near, not just far away up in the sky somewhere, beckoning toward us and hoping we make it there. Not just somewhere beyond death, beckoning toward us and hoping we make it there. Jesus has brought the realm of God into our world, into the most difficult and horrible problems and places in our world. Jesus has come to us at the cross. And that is where God meets us.
On September 11, Women of the ELCA and Sunday School are kicking off with God’s Work Our Hands Sunday. We are putting together kits for St. Matthews’ Area Ministries with all the ingredients of a birthday party: cake mix, candles, all that stuff. This is healing. It gives a kid whose family is having a hard time, a cool party. But it also does something else. It says that even if you don’t have very much money right now, the day of your birth is still worthy of celebration. You are still somebody. That’s casting out a demon.
So when we show God’s love in the world, we are also proclaiming that the kingdom of God is close. That the demonic does not have final power in this world. That good is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, life is stronger than death. That goodness, that love, that life is close. Close as breath.
Like Christians in any nation, we give thanks for the many gifts we have. Like Christians in any nation, we work on the problems before us. Like Christians in any nation, we show in this nation, by our lives and service, the presence of God, the home of God, the realm of God, that is close beside us in this day.