This homily was offered by parishioner Rich Harrington.
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, O lord.. Please be seated.
Good (Afternoon)/Morning.. This weekend, we celebrate the 239th Birthday of our Nation… We look to our flag, which represents “One Nation, under God”, and we celebrate again our Independence and recognize our land as a land of free people and the home of the remarkably brave.
I recently had the privilege of seeing my daughter Hayley graduate from High School. She graduated from Paul VI, a Catholic High school, and during the Homily, the Bishop advised the graduates that in order to know where you are going in the “new beginning” that each has reached, that you only need to reflect on where you have been, and to think about, and always remember, the “legends” in each of their lives.
Now According to Webster, independence means “freedom from outside control or support”. Each of us, at some point of our lives, may have experienced a yearning for SOME form of independence; from school, from our parents, maybe from a relationship which failed, or from a career that was unfulfilling – but I share with you a notion to think about – that no Christian ever achieves complete independence.
Many of us may have also experienced at some point in our lives, a “Revolution” (as Webster defines among many meanings as) “ a sudden or momentous change in a situation”. Some Revolutions are good, and some are not – but every meaningful Revolution has “legends”, or at least “legendary moments”.
So if I asked “Who were the “legends” of the American Revolution?”, I would expect to hear names like Paul Revere, Robert Paine, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and John Adams.
But What about God? Was God a “legend” of the American Revolution?
To get where I am going with that question, please reflect with me back upon how the colonists lived in the Eighteenth Century. The colonists under British rule lived in a monarchy where the King controlled the Church of England.. the Church leaders were sworn to “obey the rule of” the King. Throughout the colonial period, and even in the early years of the United States, most colonies or states had established churches that were legally recognized as THE official state church. Different colonies privileged different Christian ideologies – Congregationalism, the descendent of Puritanism was the official state church in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, and Anglicanism was the established faith in most of the other colonies, including Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia. The early colonists harbored no expectation that there should be any separation between church and state, as that was not how they lived.
But state-supported religion is as an obstacle to true faith. Think of the first two commandments – last time I read Exodus, the King was not God… Those with little or no wealth or standing under the King’s church, left the Church of England in droves to become worship as Separatist Baptists, New Light Presbyterians, and Methodists. Freedom of worship for individuals – and freedom from government influence for churches led to the flourishing of Christian spirituality in America. And by the way, by 1840, the Methodist Episcopal Church was the largest religious denomination in the country, and the Baptists were not far behind.
Now a “legend” is someone who has fame and some level of notoriety in their achievements, and some significant effect on people’s lives. So while it is commonly inferred that religion was a direct cause of the American Revolution, and legendary Patriots of many religions came together to declare our independence – the true “legend” of the American Revolution was Christ.
So yes, not only was Jesus present with the colonists, he CALLED the Patriots to declare their independence, to bring together ONE Nation, Under GOD, from the thirteen colonies under the rule of the King.
The colonists had to sacrifice all outside support to take on the British, risking their lives (and many lives were lost), almost entirely on the notion that it was the right thing – the only right thing they could do. People of many different faiths came together for one common purpose – to put God before the King.
There are many examples of Christian influence in the Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Forgive me for modernizing the texts of some of our national archives, but the concept from our Declaration of Independence that “all persons are created equal”, and that we, each of us and collectively are endowed by our Lord with certain unalienable rights, among them the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The First Amendment concept that the government shall neither prohibit the free exercise of religion by any people nor establish any religion by means of law, and the Ninth Amendment concept that the establishment of rights by our Constitution shall not be construed to disparage the rights of others come from the very core of Christian beliefs, and very well represented in the practices and preaching of the 21st Century Episcopal Church.
According to the story in Exodus, God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on two stone tablets. The fundamentals are still the same. Our greatest obligations are to worship God frequently and to worship only God, to protect life and persons against injury, to protect the bonds of the family, to protect commerce and law, to protect our parents (and our children, and those who are unable to protect themselves), to be truthful, and to not take what is not rightfully ours. God calls US, and continues to call US to create a government which is right and just equally and for everyone.
God even saw to it that the American Revolution was successful. Think about this: During the Easter Vigil every year, we read the story where Moses leads the Israelites across the Red Sea, allowing them to cross on dry land, protecting them from the charging Egyptian chariots, leaving the Egyptians, ruled by pharoh, to later drown in the Sea.
But did God not also bring the coldest and snowiest of winters to Colonial Pennsylvania at a key point of the Revolutionary War to hold back the British, ruled by their monarch, while a wounded and outnumbered Gen. Washington’s Army bunkered down in Valley Forge to heal and regroup and eventually outlast them?
God is good.. All the time.. Back then.. and Even more so now..
As great as our nation is.. as economically and militarily powerful as we are, these same ideals are under attack, not just by our adversaries, but within our own borders..
Some are challenging the freedom of public religious expression – expression not only of the Christian faith, but the Jewish faith, the community of Islam, and the expression of ANY religion or use of any religious reference.
Some are misconstruing the right to bear arms outside the context of the Constitutional purpose of a well-regulated militia, and insist that access to certain weapons which serve no traditionally lawful purpose be maintained by people with no role in the security of our communities, or our nation.
The balance between maintaining privacy and public security in managing the technology of our times is eroding the security of us both individually and as a nation.
And we continually as a society are debating WHICH rights are endowed to us by our creator – what is included and what is excluded in the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and injustices remain to which, we – as a society – continue to look the other way.
Maybe God is calling US – each and every one of US – to come together for a revolution – to revert back to many of the ideals upon which our nation was founded, in a contemporary context. It may be time for a sudden or momentous change in our situation. It IS time to graduate to a “new beginning” where we look back at where we have been, individually, but not just individually, and as a Parish, but not just as a Parish, and collectively as a NATION to think about who our “legends” really are, and both listen to AND ACT UPON what our Lord is calling each of us to do.
At Good Shepherd, We are not colonies of different families, we are ONE Parish family, and a family that needs to unite and grow together.
We need to be supportive of each other, and our Parish, and our Diocese, and both plan and provide for a stronger future for the mission of all of them.
We have an obligation to God to get his message and teachings out into the community – to send out the Good News of his love for all of us, and to bring others to him. Let’s not just put a sign on the door and welcome those who find the door – let’s take our work outside the red doors, and share with others how great it is to be here!
I am very proud to be a Christian American, but we must work together with people of all faiths to re-revolutionize our Great Nation with the true ideals, Christ’s ideals of liberty and equal justice for all.
We can, and we will – with God’s help.