Independence Day sermon: Church and Country

Posted 7/13/19

I was looking at some of the historical documents in our Prayer Book this week and I noticed a couple of very interesting dates. The first one is in the front of the prayer book where the Episcopal …

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Independence Day sermon: Church and Country


I was looking at some of the historical documents in our Prayer Book this week and I noticed a couple of very interesting dates. The first one is in the front of the prayer book where the Episcopal Church ratified the original version of what you have in front of you that we use on Sundays as the source for our services each week, as well as for baptisms, marriages, funerals, and ordinations of clergy. The original adoption of the US prayer book was October 6, 1789.  

We all know that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, but some of us who aren’t so great at remembering dates from our American History classes may have forgotten that our Bill of Rights was finally adopted by the US Congress on September 25, 1789. 

The original Constitution created a radical new form of government that put the power in the hands of the people. The Bill of Rights is the amendment to that original constitution that established our so cherished liberties of freedom of speech, religion, assembly and due process. George Mason was the one who originally proposed that they be written. James Madison of Virginia was the primary drafter. And did you know that they were both Episcopalians? The founding of our church is wrapped up, intertwined, and inseparable from the founding our country. And the founding of our country is wrapped up, intertwined and inseparable from the founding of our church.  

Christ Church in Philadelphia was frequented by members of the Continental Congress as well as George Washington when he served as president. It seems to have been the home church of Ben Franklin; he was known to have attended there, and he and other founding fathers are buried in its courtyard. 

During the 18th century, its congregation was one of the most prominent congregations in the colonies. Its rector was the Congressional Chaplain and many of its members were tied to the Continental Congress. After the revolution, it was the site of the convention where the Episcopal Church broke away from the Church of England.

Pohick Church in Northern Virginia was probably considered the home church of George Washington and George Mason. It also was an Anglican Church which became Episcopalian after the Revolution. And apparently George Washington must have served on their version of the vestry in that he was the one who headed up the campaign to raise the funds to build the new church because the English destroyed much of the original church during the Revolutionary War.

Alexander Hamilton attended Trinity Wall Street. It was also an Anglican Church before the Revolution which then became an Episcopal Church. The original building was less than 500 feet away from the Federal Hall where the Bill of Rights was drafted and adopted. 

It is clear that the work of our Founding Fathers in forming their new country and government reflected their beliefs in God. Listen to these words in our Declaration of Independence:

In the introduction: 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.  

And in the closing paragraph: And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

We also find their faith our Bill of Rights the very first amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Compare these words to those of St Paul in his letter to the Church in Galatia:

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. . . (Galatians 5:13-15)

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. . . (Galatians 6:9-10)

And finally, recall the following from our Baptismal Vows in the Episcopal Church Book of Common Prayer also adopted in 1789:

I have had the good fortune to be around a lot of young people over these last few weeks and months. Here in Jasper, in the Virgin Islands, at the St. Mary’s Food Bank, and at Camp McDowell. Also, last Friday I got to host six kids from the Virgin Islands who are in town for senior camp at Camp McDowell.  

No matter where kids are from or the circumstances of their lives and families, I noticed how in many ways they are all very much the same. They all unanimously love sweet treats.  They all squabble among themselves and they all boss each other around. They are curious, I have tried to answer some great questions these past weeks, and I have recognized the innocence behind some of those questions. They all love to play; they all seem to like the water, and swimming. And they universally love being out of school.  These are children living in a land of freedom and opportunity and promise. They feel it instinctively — sometimes it is us adults who do not.

I am an optimistic person and I am generally optimistic about our church, locally, nationally, internationally and ecumenically — which is just a fancy way of saying I’m not only optimistic about the Episcopalians, but also those people who go to the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, and the non-denomination mega churches which I love to call Six Flags over Jesus.

I am also generally optimistic about our country, which is filled with the people who go to those churches. Our country and our churches and the people who fill them do not always get along. We have deeply divided political opinions, but so did our Founding Fathers.  They disagreed with the King in England, but also with each other. But you can tell by the words I just read from our Country’s documents that they had high regard for God and they had high regard for individuals.  

I am certain they learned the same scriptures in Sunday School that we hear today, that we are to love our God with all our heart and soul and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. I have no doubt that our churches can influence our kids not just in the stories of God, but also in how we can treat each other, especially when we disagree. We as a church and as individual Christians, can teach our children to be peacemakers, to respect one another no matter our differences, to stand up for what is right, to protect those who are poor, neglected, oppressed, and overburdened. To teach kids to work in the good, as opposed to continually wallowing in the bad.  

None of this is necessarily the platform only of the Democrats. None of this is necessarily the platform only of the Republicans. Since the founding of our country, it is in our churches where opposing political parties, Federalists, Jeffersonians, Whigs, Republicans and Democrats have met and prayed together. It is in our churches where we learn the ultimate law of loving God and our neighbor. It is in our churches where we gather together, in times of war and times of peace. It is in our churches where big questions like Civil Rights can be eventually worked out.

The Founding Fathers knew as they signed the Declaration of Independence that they were starting a revolution which put their lives and their families and their homes at risk, but they vowed to stand together and work together and fight together for the common good.  And Americans through the ages have deeply felt and lived carried on this code of honor, in times of war and times of peace.  

In closing, may we never forget especially the men and women who have died so that we can live in freedom. Beginning with the Revolutionary War through today, US military records state that 1,498,240 US military men and women have died for our country, most of those in the Civil War, WWII and WWI. Over 2.8 million were injured and over 40,000 ended up missing in action. May we therefore always keep in our prayers, all the brave souls who serve our country to keep our peace, as well as our political leaders, our government, and our elections, so that we can live into the freedom of our lives, as we and our children pursue life, liberty and happiness.