Their Sacrifice, Our Freedom
A Sermon for July 4, 2010, the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost. Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection. The sermon text is Exodus 5:1, “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
The people of the United States celebrate July 4, 1776, as Independence Day. We shouldn’t! It would be better to call it our DECLARATION of Independence Day, for merely signing our John Hancock’s on a sheet of paper did not establish our independence. King George did not read that declaration and then say to Thomas Jefferson, “Nice piece of writing, Tom. Now you and your friends enjoy your new freedoms and send me a postcard from Colonial Williamsburg.” No, it took seven years of struggle before the Constitution could be written.
Jesus talked about the cost of being one of his disciples. In Luke 14:28 he says, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and it not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him…” The 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia knew that they were putting their very lives on the line. The cost could be, and was, immense.
Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, 5 were captured by the British before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the Revolutionary Army. Another 2 had sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wound or hardships of the war.
I think of the Fielding Lewis Family of Fredericksburg. Many of us have admired their beautiful home on Washington Avenue, named Kenmore. Did you know that Lewis and Betty lost their home to foreclosure because they borrowed everything they could to buy ammunition and weapons for the Revolutionary Army?
Recently I watched a series on the History Channel about George Washington. He wasn’t there in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. Why? He was with his men of the army already on the battlefront. If somehow I had the idea growing up that George Washington was able from time to time to go home to Mount Vernon and relax a little during the Revolutionary War, how wrong I was. Do you know that he was away from home, with his troops, for the next 5 years and only went home twice?
On July 3, 1776, the day before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, George Washington wrote a letter to Martha, anticipating the hardships which would soon occur. Here in part are his words:
In a few days, you will see a Declaration setting forth the causes which have compelled us to this mighty revolution and the reasons which will justify it in the sight of God. I am fully aware of the toil and treasure what it will cost to maintain this declaration and support and defend these states; yes, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory.
People of Resurrection, let us never forget or underestimate the sacrifice that was made to insure the freedoms we enjoy today. It should be a lesson for us. We trust in God alone, and we step out in bold confidence that our future rests in his hands and not in ours.
Let me talk today about a struggle that we have in the community of faith over allegiance. Many of here this morning want to celebrate this land that we love, and rightly so, and yet we want to be careful that our allegiance to country never supersedes nor is equivalent to our allegiance to God. We sing “ God Bless America” and yet we know that our faith will not allow us to ask God’s favoritism toward us over other nations. Why? Because we know there are no national boundaries lines with God.
Sometimes we struggle to love our country when our government acts in ways we feel are contrary to God’s ways of justice and peace. But we love our country by calling it to God’s ways of justice and peace…Our first allegiance is to the God whose truth still marches on.
I was a history major at UCLA. That was the first time I ever read about Fredericksburg and the connection of George Washington to this area. That was also my introduction to the Civil War Battles that took place in this area. I also was introduced in a class on American History to a French writer Alex de Tocqueville, who visited America in 1831. After his visit he wrote something that I think is still true:
I sought for the greatness of the United States in her commodious harbors, her ample rivers, her fertile fields and boundless forest – and it was not there. I sought for it in her rich mines, her vast world commerce, her public school system, and in her institutions of higher learning – and it was not there. I looked for it in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great!
My understanding of this “good” that de Tocqueville writes about comes from us being the followers of God in Christ who bring a sense of living according to God’s laws, treating all people with dignity and respect, and helping to provide everyone with the freedoms we want to have.
How many of you have visited Thomas Jefferson’s grave at Monticello? He wrote the words for his gravestone, the 3 things he wanted to be remembered for. Interestingly he does not mention being president of the United States. Here are the things he did list:
· Author of the Declaration of American Independence
· Author of the Statue of Virginia for Religious Freedom
· Father of the University of Virginia
You and I today are free to worship here today in part because of the vision, sacrifice and boldness of Thomas Jefferson. His Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom was written, he says, while staying here in Fredericksburg. It guaranteed the right of all people to choose their religion and way of worshipping or not worshipping, and guaranteed that the state could not compel one to be a part of the State Church. It became the basis for the Bill of Rights and the guarantee of religious freedom for everyone in the United States.
Today you and I honor our past and those who made sacrifices, we praise God for giving them the bold confidence to endure in their struggles, and we ask God to help us in our day through our struggles. I would like to think that when we are tested, we too will have the faith of our forefathers and mothers and will live in the confident expectation that God will be with us every step of the way.
Thanks be to our God. Amen!