Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon on July 3, 2011, at Resurrection. The scripture reading is Zechariah 9:9-12. The general theme of the day is “free to worship.”
Our children’s bulletin has 3 pictures that show us something about the goodness of God. The pictures are about our homes, our church, and all of God’s creation.
1. Tell me what you see in the picture about someone’s home that show God’s goodness:
(grandma, mother, 2 children, food on the table, smiles, pictures of relatives)
2. Tell me what you see in the picture about church that shows God’s goodness:
(cross, bread and wine, baptism, Bible, lady singing, candle)
3. Tell me what you see in the picture about things outside that shows God’s goodness:
(girl and her dog, flowers, bird, leaves on a tree, kids swimming and playing with a ball, breeze).
On the back of the children’s bulletin is something for you to do today when you get home. It says “write a thank you prayer to God here.” Let me give a prayer right now…
When Terri Evers asked me what illustration we should use today on the front of our bulletin, I immediately thought of having a picture of a church. Jesus’ words in the gospel about “finding rest for your souls” influenced my thinking, for that is a good description for me of what church can be. I am also influenced today by our closeness to the 4th of July and our freedom to worship God as we choose. I hope we never take this freedom for granted.
This past Thursday I was in Philadelphia for a meeting at our Lutheran seminary. Philadelphia is a wonderful city to visit and remember our heritage as Americans. I serve on a committee that is remembering the legacy of the Muhlenberg Family, Lutherans who lived in colonial America and helped influence the organization of our denomination and our country. Peter Muhlenberg is the one we know best in Virginia, for he was a pastor serving in the Shenandoah Valley, he served in the Virginia legislature, he became a general in the army under George Washington, and he is given great credit for his part in leading the American Army to victory at Yorktown.
I suspect that quite a few of us here today have never heard of Peter Muhlenberg. Yet, he was prominent enough in the formation of our nation’s founding that his statue stands in the gallery at the Capitol in Washington. Each state can choose 2 prominent citizens to represent their state, and Pennsylvania chose Peter Muhlenberg as one. Do you know which 2 Virginians represent our Commonwealth? They are George Washington and Robert E. Lee.
In the Virginia Legislature, Peter worked diligently to help pass a bill that was near and dear to the heart of Governor Thomas Jefferson. It was the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Peter and his family knew what it was like to live in a country where there was a state church, where you had to pay taxes to the state church, where you had to attend that church periodically or be punished, where folks who were not members of the state church could not serve in the legislature. Peter, a Lutheran pastor, felt compelled to be ordained in London in the Anglican Church, in order to effectively serve here in Virginia. Thus he was free to marry people and serve in the Legislature that met in Williamsburg.
Peter was a bit of a rabble rouser naturally. Back in Philadelphia in the decade before the Revolutionary War, he proposed something at his father’s church that led to a split and the start of a new congregation. What did he propose? He proposed that not all services should be in German, but that English services should also be provided. The majority of the congregation voted against that, and so a sizeable portion left to start a congregation that used English.
The leaders of the Anglican Church must have thought they had a loyal priest in Peter when they assigned him to preach at Woodstock, here in Virginia. Little did they know what he was up to. On a Sunday morning in 1776, he concluded the church service by paraphrasing the words of Ecclesiastes: “There is a time for peace and a time to fight, and now is the time to fight!” With that, he opened up his clerical robe to reveal the uniform of the American militia, and called upon the men of the congregation to sign up to fight for the cause of freedom. We’re told that 300 men did sign up that day in response.
Part of the goal of this year’s remembrance of the Muhlenbergs is a restoration of Peter’s clerical robe. It given to the seminary in Philadelphia about 100 years ago, and it is in fragile condition. Part of my volunteer work this year is helping to fund this restoration project.
Today’s reading from the Old Testament Book of Zechariah would have been a good one for Peter Muhlenberg and folks who had to endure the hardships caused by the War for Independence. Zechariah was giving his folks a pep talk. These people had been born in slavery in Babylon and had now returned to rebuild Jerusalem. They had few tangible resources. They were in great need. Five hundred years before the birth of Christ, Zechariah tells them to depend on God and he paints a picture of their salvation that should sound very familiar to us Christians: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.”
Yes, the words of Zechariah of old foretell the mission of Jesus to bring peace and salvation. We can proclaim freely our faith in Jesus and spread this good news because we live in a nation that is free. My hope and prayer today is that we will remember the cost of our freedom and will never take lightly our right to worship and live out our faith as we choose.
Thank you God for this wonderful blessing. Amen!