July 3, 2016 from a Christian Perspective”
I’m a big believer in the separation of church and state, so I rarely preach on national holidays. But with all that is happening in the world and our country right now, this year feels different. Separation of church and state doesn’t mean that we leave our faith and what it teaches us behind when making decisions that affect our lives and the lives of others in our nation. As I said two weeks ago, our voices need to be heard now more than ever.
Since ancient times we’ve attached symbolic significance to certain numbers. The number “7” signifies completeness and perfection. In ancient Israel the great festivals lasted seven days. Every seventh year was a sabbath year. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.
“12” was also a number of completeness and perfection. Israel had 12 tribes. Jesus had 12 disciples. After Judas betrayed Jesus, the disciples drew lots and selected Matthais to be the 12th. 11 just didn’t seem complete.
The Big 10 conference now has 14 schools. It just doesn’t sound right. How can you call it the Big Ten when it’s really the Big 14? That has nothing to do with theology, but it bugs me. We get caught up with numbers too.
Tomorrow we celebrate - what? - the “4th” of July. It holds some significance and symbolic meaning for our country too.
When the Declaration of Independence was signed 240 years ago today, it’s words described the beginning of a process, not the end. We might rename it the Declaration of Incompleteness. Jefferson’s words expressed the hopes and dreams of this fledgling nation “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
This morning I’d like us to look at how are we doing as a nation 240 years later? What dreams of our forefathers are still incomplete? What are your dreams for our country this 4th of July?
Remember when we were kids and our teacher put one of those shiny colored stars on our papers when we did well? If you could add some of those stars to our flag, not for another state, but for living up to those ideals expressed so eloquently by Jefferson, what would we need to work on to get a star? Where are we shining and where do we need to improve as a nation?
Let’s start with equality: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” It doesn’t say “Born equal.” It says “created equal,” which requires a divine creator. Genesis tells us “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Psalm 8 tells us God has made human beings “a little lower than God, and crowned them with honor and glory.” (Psalm 8:5)
That’s who we are, and that’s who our neighbors are too. We were created equal. Have we remained so in the eyes of each other?
Where do we get a star for equality?
Where do we need to improve?
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, (that’s where Jefferson got hung up - “men” were created equal? and we know back then, it was only some men) that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life,…”
To be a Declaration of Completeness, what should that “life” look like? What do we need “to live” in this land of ours?
As Christians we believe that God has given us life so that we can give it back to God. You might ask, What does that mean?
In Luke 20 Jesus illustrates this when a group of spies, who pretend to be honest, but are actually trying to trap him so they can hand him over to the authorities, asks Jesus; “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
Jesus was on to them, so he asked them to hand him a denarius. “Whose head and title does it bear?” They responded “The emperor’s.” So he told them to give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s. And that shut them up.
On one level Jesus is giving a simple separation of church and state answer that would certainly please Thomas Jefferson. Keep the state out of the church’s business and vice versa. Pay your taxes, vote, be a good citizen. Then give to God the things that are God’s.
Just as the emperor’s image is stamped on the Roman coin and George Washington is on our quarters, the image of God is stamped on each one of us. When we give ourselves to God, we are giving to God the things that are God’s. We do this when we use our intellectual, spiritual and relational gifts to further God’s work in the world, so that each member of our society can live fully.
We are going through difficult, divisive, fearful times in our country. I don’t have to tell you that. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, 49 people loose their lives in the worst mass shooting in American history. But this is a nation that holds “life” as precious. It’s part of our identity as a nation, or so I thought.
Where do we get a star for upholding “life”?
Where do we need to improve?
What we give to our country is important, but what we give to God through our service to others makes our country strong, and makes us proud to be an American.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, ...”
Freedom - that’s what our country was founded on. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were anxious to escape from the tyranny of King George. The Pilgrims and the Puritans, our forefathers and mothers in the UCC, came to these shores to practice religious freedom. As of late, we seem to be forgetting, or maybe we’re just ignoring, the fact that we are a country of immigrants who came here desiring freedom of one sort or another.
Last week, in the Christian Century, I read the story of Brayham Reveles, a high school sophomore and one of “665,000 immigrants who arrived in the US as children and now have temporary legal standing under President Obama’s executive order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA. Brayhan arrived as an infant.
He has thrived in this country. He gave the graduation speech for his 8th grade class. He plans to earn his high school diploma simultaneously with as associate’s degree at the community college and then enroll in a four year university.
He wants a driver’s license and a job, “but he is constantly caught between what is normal for a teenager to do and what his legal status does or does not allow.” His mother says “Brayhan says he wants to fly high” yet without documents, “our world is very small.”
Now that the Supreme Court was split last week in a 4-4 decision, the future of DACA is threatened and the future of people like Brayhan is perilous. They will have no legal path for staying in the only country they know, living in constant fear of deportation.
“Where do we get stars for upholding freedom?
Where do we need to improve?
In the Gospel of John Jesus tells his disciples “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” As Christians we gain freedom when we put our trust in Jesus and follow him.
Independence Day is also the day to recommit ourselves to the pursuit of happiness - for ourselves and for all of our fellow citizens. Happiness comes from being part of a community in which God’s abundant goodness is shared and enjoyed by all.
Paul reminds the early Christian community in his letter to the Romans “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” (Romans 12: 9-13)
Putting what’s good for us ahead of what’s good for all isn’t a Christian option. We are called to honor everyone. When we work for the good of all, loving our neighbors as Jesus and Paul instructed us, the entire community advances and greater happiness is shared by all.
John F. Kennedy once said: “For of those to whom much is given, much is required.” Despite the difficult times we are presently going through, we are still a country who enjoys so much bounty. Our country’s not perfect. 240 years later we still have a Declaration of Incompleteness. But today, as we celebrate the birth of our nation, it’s time to give thanks for the bounty we enjoy, and then roll up our sleeves and reach out to those in need - put our blessings to wise use in this land and those beyond.
Happy 4th of July.