1776 Revisited

 A Metaphor for Resurrection


Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon on July 2, 2006.


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.


Today I’ve given a title to the sermon – “1776 Revisited, A Metaphor for Resurrection.”  The experience of our Congregational Meeting of last Sunday evening is still etched in the minds of all in attendance at that 3-hour meeting!  For the few minutes of this sermon time, I would like to reflect on our Resurrection experience through the experience of our Founding Fathers as they prepared to sign the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.


If you’ve seen the stage play or movie “1776”, you have an idea of the sacrifices it took to get our nation started.  For a whole year delegates from the 13 colonies had been meeting in Philadelphia.  Some of their names are very recognizable to us today: Thomas Jefferson and Richard Henry Lee and Ben Franklin and George Washington and John Hancock.  In the last month leading up to July 4, their task became more urgent.  For they were debating the resolution proposed by the legislature of the Commonwealth of Virginia on Independence from England.  Amazingly, they voted to put these stipulations on their vote: All colonies must approve every word in a Declaration of Independence and there must be a unanimous vote for Independence.


If you see Resurrection as having people of diverse opinions, you would be amazed at the diversity in that Continental Congress.  They came as delegates from colonies that seemed to care more about themselves and their own interests than the interests of the whole.  They were very human. They were quick to see the faults in others’ opinions and to point them out.  This exchange between John Dickinson of Pennsylvania and John Adams of Massachusetts is a good example:


            John Dickinson:  Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Lee, Mr. Hopkins, Dr. Franklin, why

            have you joined this…incendiary little man, this BOSTON radical?  This

            demagogue, this MADMAN?

            John Adams:   Are you calling me a madman, you, you…you FRIBBLE!

            Dr. Benjamin Franklin:  Easy John.

            John Adams:  You cool, considerate men.  You hang to the rear on every

            issue so that if we should go under, you’ll remain afloat!

            John Dickinson:  Are you calling me a coward?

            John Adams:  Yes…coward!

            John Dickinson:  Madman!

            John Adams:  Landlord!

            John Dickinson:  LAWYER!

            [a brawl breaks out]


While all this debating is going on in Philadelphia, the Continental Army under the command of General George Washington, is fighting the British.  Lives were already being sacrificed for freedom and the founding of this new nation.  There was no guarantee of success in this war and, in fact, Washington’s daily letters seemed to indicate that they might lose.  So, the vote for Independence took on an ominous flavor as the delegates realized they may be signing their own death warrant.


You know the result of their vote.  They did approve all the words in our Declaration of Independence, using all their skills for compromise and getting to the most important matters and leaving out the well-intentioned “side” issues.  Surely it was a work of God, a miracle, that the unanimous vote for Independence was achieved on July 3, 1776.


I am interested in the atmosphere in the room at the conclusion of the vote.   Secretary Thomason said, “The count, being twelve to none, with one abstention, the resolution on independence… is adopted.”  There was no show of emotion and it was John Adams who simply said, “It’s done…it’s done.”


The other evening when the vote was taken on our building project and it was overwhelmingly approved, I wanted to rejoice, but could not at that point.  I was physically tired and emotionally drained.  That must have been the mood in the Continental Congress on July 3.


With their signing of this Declaration of Independence on July 4, they did this: they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to make this happen.


What that means to me is that the vote was only a beginning.  Now, they must get out and do everything possible to make it work.  There were no guarantees; in fact, the odds were overwhelmingly against them.  Yet, they believed that God would guide them and that whatever happened would be to his credit and  not to theirs.


John Dickinson of Pennsylvania did not approve of the vote for independence but the Pennsylvania delegation outvoted him.  He did something that needs to be lifted up.  When he left the Continental Congress to return home, he said that though he did not approve of the vote, he would join the army and fight for independence.  This way he would show support for his people and allow God’s will to make itself known.  In the Church, we believe that no one of us knows God’s will, but it takes the Community, The Body, to discern God’s will.  That is why we have prayers and meetings and votes.  We are truly seeking God’s will, there are no winners and losers when a vote is taken.  Whatever the outcome of the vote,  we then draw together to support and carry out what we believe we are supposed to do.



Last Sunday evening we were in this Sanctuary, our Congregation assembled to be about the good “business” of the Church.  It was a longer meeting than usual.  It was a dark and stormy night outside, with lightning and thunder and rain.  We who voted knew that we were making a very important decision for the future of this congregation.  We knew that the price tag is very large for the size congregation we are now.  We knew that approval would entail sacrifice, dedication and hard work on our part.


It was important that our leadership, including Pastors and Council, believed that we should undertake this project and that God was leading us to do so.  The overwhelming vote of the Congregation affirmed this belief.  When you get your newsletter for July, you will notice a subtle change in the RLC slogan in the upper right hand corner of front page.  We have been saying “God Calls Us to Grow!” and now we can say “Here We Grow!”


In actuality the vote for approval is the easy part.  Now comes the time when we will be tested.  There is no guarantee of success.  At times in the future we will surely wonder if we got it right, especially when we encounter the obstacles. 


But then we remember something else.  We are not called in this world to  be successful; we are called to be faithful.  We have faith in Jesus the Lord of the Church to lead us into the future.  If he wants this church to increase in size to serve this community, it will happen.  It will happen in spite of overwhelming odds.  If he does not want this to happen, it will not in spite of our best efforts.


In the 230th year of the independence of our nation, I thank God for the freedoms that we share today.  I thank God for the sacrifices made by men and women at the beginning of our country.  I thank God for being part of a congregation of folks who continue that same spirit of sacrifice in the face of adversity for something we believe in.  May God always give us his direction and guidance.