Happy Interdependence Day
July 3, 2022 – Rev. Drew Stockstill
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way; I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if a person of peace is there, your peace will rest on that person, but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’
If you’ve spent much time around young kids, one of the phrases you eventually hear is, “I can do it myself!” It’s usually not a question but an adamant declaration of independence. While preparing lunch, one wants to help spread the jelly on the bread, but help is not really what she wants, she wants the jar, and the spoon, and to be left alone, “I can do it myself.” But that would lead to a whole jar of jelly on the bread, and the counter, and floor, and walls, and hair, and also just eating jelly. Putting a puzzle together, he gets the right piece to the right spot but it’s in the wrong direction, and he’s jamming it in and bending the puzzle piece, and when you try to help him before he destroys it, he yells, “I can do it myself!” A declaration of independence.
Of course, it’s not only toddlers who assert their desire to go it alone. One of the more painful aspects of growing older is losing the ability to do things you once could with relative ease. For most of life, driving to the grocery store and picking up a few things for the week didn’t require a second thought. But there comes a time, if we have the fortune to grow old, that it is not safe to drive ourselves, and it’s time to let others help us, but we may want to proclaim, “I can do it myself.” A determination for independence.
Independence, self-sufficiency, self-reliance, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, these are highly regarded qualities in our country. Tomorrow we will celebrate our nation’s Independence Day. In regards to a nation’s right to self-governance, independence is to be celebrated, honored, and protected. And in our nation, Independence Day reminds us of the weight and the cost of achieving this right of sovereignty and of maintaining it, and it should also remind us of the right of other nations to self-govern.
In the DNA of our culture is the struggle for independence and rugged individualism. Rugged individualism is a phrase coined by President Herbert Hoover to describe the American frontier experience. That is when Americans pushed westward and the population expanded into the prairies and deserts. For the last two weeks, I was on active duty with the Marines and we were stationed in Salina, KS, which is flat prairie country, once part of that American frontier. Just outside of town where the landscape still resembles those frontier days, you can imagine how hard people worked to make the land inhabitable. People were spread out, they couldn’t rely on each other, they had to rely on themselves, and they struggled in isolation for a long time. President Hoover said it was a rugged individualism that enabled Americans to survive in those sparsely populated areas. Rugged individualism, Hoover said, is the “enterprise through which our people have grown to unparalleled greatness." And Hoover was contrasting that to a system of government where people relied more on each other and the government.
Forty years later, Dr. Martin Luther King, said the way he saw it, there are two Americas, “one America is flowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality.” But there is another America, where millions of people live in substandard housing, inferior schools, in areas where they don’t have clean water, and where environmental pollution makes them sick. Dr. King said, "This country has socialism for the rich, rugged individualism for the poor." Meaning, that it sometimes seems only the poor are left to struggle on their own while the rich grow richer, sharing their wealth from one generation to the next and benefiting from governmental policies. Dr. King said, “probably the most critical problem in the other America is the economic problem. By the millions, people in the other America ﬁnd themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. We only need look at the facts, and they tell us something tragic. . . When there is massive unemployment in the black community, it’s called a social problem. But when there is massive unemployment in the white community, it’s called a depression. With the black man, it’s “welfare,” with the whites it’s “subsidies.”
You can take a look online at the lives of the rich and famous, and this weekend you’ll see the millionaires and billionaires in their yachts, and you might be fooled into thinking it was through sheer grit and rugged individualism that the few reached such economic heights while the many live modestly, mindful of each paycheck. But the fact is it is only holding onto wealth that is ruggedly individualist, but the accumulating of such an empire of wealth comes from the many. They did not pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
You know what’s funny about that saying, that saying that people who what to rise above their current situation should, “pull themselves up by their bootstraps?” What’s funny is that bootstraps are attached to boots and if you are to pull on your bootstraps you’re only pulling yourself down, not up. You can pull your boots on by your bootstraps, but if you are trying to stand up by pulling on your shoes you’re not going anywhere. To pull yourself up you need something outside yourself to grab ahold of, or someone who offers you a hand.
The fact is, few can make it all on their own. What is worth celebrating in this country is not only our independence as a nation, but our interdependence as a people. What is amazing about the American story is that despite the evils which plague us, despite atrocities, despite division, our story is filled with communities, against great odds, drawing together to overcome, to persevere, and to flourish. We are told stories about the few who seemed to make it on their own, but those are the myths. The true great stories, the ones we love are not bootstrap stories, but helping hand stories, not stories of isolation and rugged individualism, but community building, and interdependence. Marines know their greatest strength is not weaponry, but their intense bond. Their power is not in the toughness of a single Marine alone, but their devotion to each other. In fact, devotion to each other is the story of the church.
After Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Houston, TX in 2017, the stories that came out of the Lone Star State were those of neighbors helping each other. No one celebrated rugged individualism then. It was the coming into the streets each night to share food, to encourage each other. So many said it was actually some of the best times they’d had, even though they lost so much.
I’ve heard stories of hurricane parties in other places that are hurricane prone, where before the storm hits, people come together to have a feast, to empty out their refrigerators before the power goes out. And what people share about those times, is not the devastation of the storms but the great feeling of community, the love of interdependence.
When Jesus went about his mission to build the church on earth, did he go it alone? No. He called disciples to join him in the beloved community. He didn’t model independence, he taught us interdependence. And when it was time to teach his disciples to carry on his mission, to build a church on earth, he sent them out, not as solitary individuals, but he sent them in pairs. And when he sent them in pairs, he didn’t tell them to be self-reliant, to figure it out on their own, to be strong and independent. No, he told them to carry no purse, no bag, not even sandals, he sent them without anything and told them to depend on the kindness and hospitality of those they would meet. The whole premise of the Christian church is built on needing each other, and allowing God to care for us through his people. You’ll know the Kingdom has come near when you are called on to help someone, to offer support and hospitality. You’ll know you are entering the Kingdom when you let someone give you a helping hand when you receive their generosity with humility and gratitude.
There may be two Americas, or probably even more, but there is only one church and it is marked not by independence, not by rugged individualism, but it is marked by the cross, the symbol of our reliance on God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. And it is marked by the table, the symbol of our coming together to feast, to be nourished as a community by God.
Interdependence is the great Christian virtue, that we need each other, that we need God and that we wouldn’t want it any other way. Jesus sent his disciples out vulnerable and reliant on the hospitality of those they would meet. This is his plan for evangelism, for sharing the good news. He said, “and when you get to town, [hungry, with broken feet, and no money and in dirty clothes,] and those people welcome you, and feed you,” he tells them, only then “cure their sick and tell them The Kingdom of God has come near to you.” That is what the Kingdom of God looks like.
But if you get to town and they don’t do that, if they don’t open their doors to you who are hungry and tired, and filled with the power of God; if they tell you you’d be better off figuring it out on your own, if they leave you to pull yourself down by your bootstraps, if they do not welcome you, don’t waste your time. They are focused on themselves, they’re busy being self-reliant, rugged individuals, and so “go out into its streets and say ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.’ Don’t even carry the dust of that town with you. But know this, too, “The kingdom of God has come near,” and yet you let it pass you by. The Kingdom of God is interdependent. When it comes near you’ll know it when you are being cared for or caring for others.
On this Independence Day weekend, there is much to celebrate about our nation, and much more work to be done. What we celebrate is the ways people in this nation have drawn together and found strength and resilience through the community: Indigenous Americans who had much to teach us about community with each other and with God’s creation, even as they suffered and died; slaves who survived centuries of brutal torture by drawing together, devoted to God, each other, and the will to survive; the Civil Right movement that shifted our nation forward through acts of solidarity, protest, and cooperation; communities that draw together after wars, and natural
disasters, and mass shootings, and terrorist attacks, and draughts. Our American story is worth celebrating for the many individuals who step out of isolation and into community to overcome, to grow, to flourish, to serve, to help, to love. When we enable this kind of community, this kind of interdependence we will know the Kingdom of God is near, for as God said to Isaiah, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; in Jerusalem [in community, as a people, together] you will be comforted. When you see this, your heart will rejoice; your entire being [your entire community, not just a few, not individuals on their own, but your entire being] will flourish like grass.”
 Herbert Hoover in 1928 post-election speech. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rugged_individualism  Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr, “The Other America,” March 10, 1968. https://www.beaconbroadside.com/broadside/2018/03/martin-luther-king-jrs-the-other-america-still-radical-50-years-later.html