Don’t tread on me: The revolution within us

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“I have given you authority to tread on serpents, and over all the power of the enemy.” Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

I remember the Fourth of July being a big deal growing up. With a grand parade, parents and children flocked to the beach waiting expectantly to watch the fireworks at Sylvan Beach over Oneida Lake. Later in life I use to visit my sister in New Hampshire around this time of year.

I remember seeing this strange flag emerge with a yellow field, and the image of a coiled rattlesnake about to strike, with the words, “Don’t Tread on Me” beneath it. This flag intrigued me; it was so defiant, so bold. 

What society would have need for such a severe warning, to enshrine it on a flag? Later I’d learn it was called the Gadsden flag, relating to our nation’s rise and development. It was named after the statesman and military officer who designed it to be a standard for the American Revolution in 1775, and especially of the Continental Marines. To this day, the oldest active vessel in the U.S. Navy has the right to fly it. Along with the stars and bars, and the bald eagle, the timber rattlesnake represented an early icon of the budding republic.  

Benjamin Franklin praised the snake as “an emblem” of America’s vigilance, “magnanimity and true courage.” He writes that though the snake appears defenseless to the unschooled, and its fangs unimpressive to the uninitiated, “their wounds however small are decisive and fatal.” If you look closely you’ll see the rattle is formed of 13 sections, standing for the 13 original colonies. Franklin notes with a tone of pride and warmth, “she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of stepping on her.” 

We live in an age when the pressures of globalization are forcing us to reevaluate our basic premises, the very foundations upon which the global political and financial orders rest: uneven benefits of a global economy; booming black markets in drugs, weapons, and human trafficking; the ever-widening technology gap; terrorism; and an ecological crisis that threatens planetary collapse. The unfettered positivism of the Enlightened West is not working.  Our world is literally starving for a model of global justice that transcends the narrow self-interests of entities defined solely by their own sovereignty, and designed to perpetuate that sovereignty at all costs.

What is our work and witness? Globalizing the Grace Revolution! Who are we in the midst of these things? “I have given you authority to tread on snakes, and over all the power of the enemy.” Luke 10:19. We need to hear that. The Church needs to hear that. Take it in. He’s speaking to you and me. 

We are the 70. The Kingdom of God is the closest thing to an anti-state that the world will ever know. It exists not to serve itself, but to serve others; it does not conquer through violence or coercion, but multiplies by the force of love’s invitation. We reap what we sow. Jesus sowed a revolution not in others’ blood, but in his own, and for our sake. He sent out the 70 not with guns, tanks or swords; indeed, not even with a purse, bag or sandals. With barely a tunic to their name, the 70 are sent out not as mercenaries to convert others at the edge of a sword, but as people totally at the mercy of those who would receive them. 

Even to those who would not receive them, they declared that the Kingdom had come near, leaving in peace, returning their peace to them. The Kingdom comes near to us, too. Jesus gives himself to us so that we may give ourselves to others. Have you ever noticed that Jesus chooses the path of relationship over the path of structural power to change the world around him? We see those huge banners that declare, “Grace is Love.” I love that. It’s such a powerful message – one that’s urgently needed for our world. If justice is what love looks like in public, then grace is what love looks like in person. Grace is our answer to the power of the enemy.

Where is the harvest ripe in your life, and our life collectively as a church, to reap something great for God’s Kingdom? What has God given you, and given us, grace upon grace to bless those are around us? The thing about God’s Kingdom is that the establishment doesn’t see it coming. They can’t anticipate it because they can’t imagine a world where sovereignty is exercised apart from self-interest. 

Jesus intends for us to reign by abdicating all claim to our own honor, wealth, power and glory. That’s a tough sell. It’s a tough sell for me – because in the end, the nation/state isn’t the enemy at all: I am. The Gospel confronts us with this challenge: the only way to change the world around us is first to change the world within us. The only revolution that is the true revolution – effecting true, lasting and durable change – is the revolution inside. We need to learn to slay the selfishness and cowardice that keep us from knowing true freedom, the liberty of the children of God. 

On this 4th of July, as we remember the birth of our nation, let’s also remember Jesus’ words to us: “I have given you authority to tread on snakes, and over all the power of the enemy.” I have recently been reacquainted with a school friend, guitar player, and a Vietnam Veteran. I salute and thank him for his service and our freedom! I thank God for an 85-year-old veteran who acts like a father to me. I am so blessed.

Thank God for ALL our veterans. Remember them NOT just on Independence Day — thank you! And God bless you. And God bless the United States of America!

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