Independence Day 2017 Isaiah 61:9 The are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
241 years ago on July 2, 1776 a resolution passed by the Continental Congress stated, “The united colonies ought to be free and independent states.” John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail in Massachusetts. “(This day) ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illumination from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forevermore.” When Isaiah wrote, “They are a people whom the Lord has blessed,” we can but think of our nation, though at time the course of history is troubling.
Long before the world knew of our forefather and mothers, long before they had seen the continent, people knew something special lay to the west. Author Annie Dillard writes, “Most tantalizing was the… very scent of it from over the horizon at sea. For three centuries, European explorers plying uncertainly the waters far from sight of land repeated a certain moment: they smelled on the west wind the distant flowering forest. Columbus wrote of “a smell of flowers or trees from the land. John Cabot smelled it off Newfoundland, Giovanna da Verranzo smelled “sweet odors” 300 hundred miles off the Carolina coast.
A scan of an atlas shows how God has blessed this land. At least 31 states have communities with the word “rich” in their name. Rich, Arkansas and Rich Hill, Missouri. There are Eden’s in Illinois, Idaho, Maryland and Wisconsin. Martin Luther wrote in the Small Catechism, “(God) richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. All this he does out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For which it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”
We also recall that this is a land in which God, using the minds of people He created, caused ideas and practices of justice and freedom to spring up, flower and bear fruit. In his July 3, letter, Adams added, “You think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure, that it will cost to maintain this declaration…” Though the declaration maintains that the truths “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…” were self-evident; yet many issues debated when our country was founded were implemented only after great time and difficulty. And the discussion and contention continues to this day.
Freedom also has a spiritual dimension. St. Paul wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” He is writing about freedom from slavery to sin, death and the devil through Jesus Christ. When we were baptized into Christ we were clothed with Christ. We were dressed in the garment of salvation, given a new life now and in eternity. We are wearing that garment even now which gives us entry into God’s great feast in which we dine eternally upon his goodness.
St. Paul calls us then to regard our fellow human beings in a new way. Jesus not only tore down the wall of separation between God and us. His death and resurrection has destroyed all the walls that separate us from our fellow humankind. “There is no longer Jew and Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” God so loved the world that he would have all people to come to faith in Jesus Christ, so that thanksgiving to God may be increased. Furthermore, the unity Christ died to establish is then brought into reality in the lives of many more through our declaration of the Gospel in our word and life.
God used the ideals of our founding fathers to further implement his goal for the unification of all creation under the Lordship of Christ. With our freedom to speak freely, we can freely declare to one and all the freedom we have in Christ from sin, death and Satan.
As the struggle to declare humanity’s freedom in Christ continues, so the effort to put into reality the actions taken the first week in July, 1776. Abigail Adams had written to her husband in March, “In the new code of laws…remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors” Yet, it was not until the 20th century that women gained the right to vote.
In 1776, Samuel Hopkins urged the Continental Congress to abolish slavery. “The slavery that now takes place in this Christian land…is become a general and crying sin for which we are under the awful frowning of heaven. Let this iniquity…be considered with the probably dreadful consequences to this land…” 85 years later our nation fought a civil war. We still suffer the scars which that extended bondage left on our nation. Too often the Christian Church was a hindrance in implementing the declaration that “all men are created equal.” We have also failed to take seriously the directive that Christ wants all to be saved for in Christ we are all one.
On the issue of religion and the state, Thomas Paine wrote in January 1776, “To God…all men are accountable on the score of religion. He ended his letter sincerely wishing, “that as men and Christians you may always fully and uninterruptedly enjoy every civil and religious right, and be in your turn, the means of securing it to others.” The free exercise of religion is guaranteed. Yet, we see that the issue of prayer or the ten commandments or the phrase, “under God” are still the subject of discussion of how religion is exercised.
We thank God that we are able to exercise our faith freely. We have seen how religion has caused conflict and violence of the worst sort in the world. Christians have suffered greatly in areas like the middle east, Egypt, and Nigeria. We are in a worldwide conflict against terrorists who use religion to advocate destruction of any who might disagree with their interpretation of what thei god wills and permits.
As citizens of our nation we work toward the sweet smell of freedom and equality for all, not only in our nation but throughout the world. As Christians we work also to declare the sweet smell of Christ that all may know of that freedom and that life too.
One year when Independence Day fell on a Sunday, while I was at Holy Cross in Collinsville, Bernhard and Else Hartman came through the line after the service. The Hartman’s had come over from Germany as a young couple around the time of World War II. Bernhard had translated some old documents for me when I was writing the congregation’s history. That day when I greeted him at the door, Bernhard had tears in his eyes. He said, “Sometimes we forget how much we have to be thankful for, living in this country.”
May we also live our lives in this nation and in our Lord Jesus Christ that, “All who see (us) shall acknowledge that (we) are a people whom the Lord has blessed.”