The first lesson in American history is to expect the unexpected.
July 4: 244 years ago, a group of upstart colonists declared their independence from Great Britain, and launched an American dream. The eight-year War of Independence was costly in human and financial terms. There is no such thing as a blessing as profound as true freedom that is without cost. There is always a burden.
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. Their statement was a bold articulation of Enlightenment political philosophy. With passion and conviction, the Continental Congress threw off the yoke of a colonial system they had come to see as unjust, burdensome, and tyrannical. They claimed justification for their action by reference to natural law, which originated in God, so although church and state are separate, we must remember the origin of this holiday is not entirely secular.
And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, [the 56 signers] mutually pledge[d] to each other [their] lives, [their] fortunes and [their] sacred honor. They took up a yoke ofsacrificial leadership and they suffered. Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the War, another had two sons captured. Nine of them fought and died from wounds or the hardships of the Revolutionary War. At least five lost their income and property and died in poverty.
Huge sacrifices led to the unexpected success of the American Revolution. It was a big surprise in the 18th century: a ragtag local militia defeated the finest army in the world.
Today, the unexpected is the stuff of which we are made. The United States are not monolithic, politically or ethnically. We have many voices, sometimes in conflict with each other, we can be disorganized, many leaders are ordinary people. My people came here so they could work without fear, not for the climate. Why did your people come here? For many of us, the old places, of our sentimental songs, were not so wonderful that we decided to stay there. For some of us, coming here was not our idea: about 13% have ancestors who were enslaved and brought in chains.
The richness of the US is rooted in our diversity. It is up to us – as one body – to realize a freedom not found in other places. It is up to us to ensure that all our members experience the blessing of America. It is not easy – and just like baseball, if it were easy, everyone else would be doing it.
Did you notice that Jesus is a little cranky in this gospel passage. He is complaining that the people in Galilee, who are beginning to realize he is the Messiah, are also pushing back, because he is not the Messiah they expected. He is a miracle-worker who associates with everyone – including those considered unworthy or “sinners.” Jesus is a prophet who is not ascetic. He is a holy man who fights with the pious Pharisees. He proclaims a Kingdom, but will not claim a throne. So there is grumbling, and today Jesus grumbles back. The five verses omitted from our Gospel reading name the towns that have rejected his teaching, and his reproach to them is blunt.
Jesus invites his listeners – us – to travel to a new place. Not a country or nation – a new place in our souls and hearts, where God sets the standards and people work together to share God’s blessing with the world. And he promises peace and rest to the weary when we decide to journey there. After all, Heaven is not an ideal or a dream. It is a reality made known through real acts and experiences of judgment, repentance, and redemption.
We are Christians who are Americans. Sometimes in church it is easy to miss the radical nature of this life of following Jesus, because church has been part of American culture. To follow Jesus demands that we anticipate being surprised and being open to new things: new life, new membersm and new priorities among them. We notice that we did not do it this way before. Jesus invites us to get over that.
Jesus offers universal salvation, and although grace is given freely, it is never cheap. There is a cost. There is always a cross to bear, always a decision to make. Follow Jesus and we cannot just do as we want or just take care of ourselves. We must take on the gentle yoke of Christ and figure out what God wants for all people. When we say that all are created equal – well, then, how shall we render that an incarnational truth?
Can we imagine ways in which we can be people who embrace the radical nature of freedom and invite all of our neighbors into that experience? In what ways will that change us and enrich our community of faith? In what ways will this invite us to pursue justice in our broader community and in our nation?
Last week, I invited our parish to read Dr Drew Hart’s book Trouble I’ve Seen. I repeat that invitation today. Let’s read this book and spend some time and energy figuring out how America can dismantle systemic racism, so we can be America for all people. I can think of no better time than Independence Day to reflect on our mutual responsibility to engage the ideals of liberty and justice. These blessings grow out of of faith.
Freedom is a gift and a responsibility and a burden, secured by the work of a few for the benefit of many. We cherish that. Salvation is a gift and a responsibility and a burden, secured by the work of one for the benefit of all. We must cherish this even more and share the blessing.