CELEBRATION OF FREEDOM
THIS SERMON WAS GIVEN ON 07-02-16
On Monday will be our national observance of what is commonly referred to as the Fourth of July or, as is seen on most calendars, “Independence Day.” We celebrate American Independence Day on the Fourth of July every year. We think of July 4th 1776, as the day we declared our independence from England.
Every year around the 4th of July Americans rehearse in many ways the history of how we became independent from England and began the process of developing what has become the United States of American. In keeping with this tradition, I want to share with you some of the history associated with our becoming a nation and show some of the parallels with an event that occurred some four thousand years ago and another event that occurred some two thousand years ago.
Actually, independence from England was unanimously approved not on July 4th but on July 2nd 1776. A committee of five had already drafted the formal declaration and readied it for the whole of the Continental Congress to vote on. The term "Declaration of Independence" is not used in the document itself. John Adams actually wanted July 2nd to be Independence Day.
John Adams, who was a member of the drafting committee, was so excited with the vote on July 2nd that he wrote his wife back home in Massachusetts a letter saying the following:
"The second of July 1776 will be the most memorable day in the history of America; I believe it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival, with shows, games, sports, balls, bon fires and illuminations, from one end of the country to the other, from this time forward and forever more..."
After some debate about wording, the original document submitted by the committee of five was approved on July 4th 1776 and this is the date that appears on the handwritten copy displayed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. John Adams envisioning of a July 2nd celebration with shows, games, sports, balls, bon fires and illuminations (fireworks) became a reality in our annual Fourth of July celebration.
It is interesting that the thirteen colonies had already been at war with England for a year when the Declaration to form a government independent of England was ratified. It was Thomas Jefferson who composed the original draft of the Declaration in June of 1776. It wasn’t delivered to England until November of 1776. After the declaration was signed, couriers took copies of it to George Washington who was with his troops in New York and on July 9th the declaration was read before the militia troops who were out in the fields.
The Declaration justified the independence of the United States by listing a long list of colonial grievances against King George the third and by asserting certain natural and legal rights, including the right to revolt. Having served its original purpose in announcing independence from England, references to the text of the Declaration were few for the next 87 years until Abraham Lincoln referenced some of the core statements in the Declaration in his Gettysburg Address.
You will remember that Lincoln began his Gettysburg Address by saying “Four score and seven ago.” In saying this he was referencing the signing of the Declaration of Independence which had taken place 87 years earlier. In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln alluded to some of what the Declaration stated. Lincoln began his speech by saying:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Here is what the Declaration itself says:
“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."
Lincoln concluded his Gettysburg Address by saying:
“that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
This was an apparent allusion to the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence which states:
“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the concent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
As important a document as the Declaration is and as important a date its ratification was, it didn’t become celebrated as a National holiday until the US congress made it as such in 1870, nearly 100 years after its signing.
Of additional interest is that our Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States was first formally adopted by the US congress in 1942 with the words “In God We Trust” added to the Pledge in 1954.
It was in 1887 that our constitution was ratified and as the years went by it was amended to include a number of additional articles including what is referred to as the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. These amendments guarantee a number of personal freedoms, limit the government's power in judicial and other proceedings and reserve some powers to the states and the public.
It must be understood that to declare independence from what was at the time the greatest Empire on earth, must have taken a great deal of courage. The colonists entered the war without a Navy or an Army. Their fighting forces consisted only of militia units. What’s more, only 1/3 of the colonists fully supported the war effort. Only about 1/3 gave their full allegiance to the cause of complete freedom from English rule. About 1/3 of the colonist population actually supported England during the revolution. Another third remained relatively neutral.
Fifty-six men signed the Declaration of Independence. These men gave their full allegiance to becoming independent of British rule and many of them paid a great price for their allegiance.
Five were captured by the British and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. One of the signers, Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships sunk by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts and died in poverty. Another signer of the Declaration, Thomas Nelson, had his home taken over by the British General Cornwallis. Nelson gave permission to George Washington to open fire on his home. The home was destroyed and Nelson died bankrupt. Signee John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields were destroyed. For over a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home only to find his wife had died and his children were no where to be found.
While many of the 56 signers of the Declaration suffered greatly for their allegiance to the cause for independence, others survived the war and its devastation to become leaders of our country. Two of the signers became Presidents, Ten became US Congressman. Nineteen became Judges and sixteen became Governors.
We can all look back on the founding of our nation and take pride in the courage, tenacity, and allegiance of the colonists. These colonists faced tremendous odds and yet came away victorious. Their resolve to form a new nation has allowed multiple millions of people to live in a country that despite its many faults, still remains the first choice of where to live as witnessed by the many immigrants who have come here both legally and illegally over the past 250 years.
I mentioned earlier we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. By doing this we pledge allegiance to what that flag stands for or at least what it is suppose to stand for. We pledge allegiance to the government which that flag represents. While it is important to express allegiance to our government, it has become increasingly more difficult to express allegiance to some of what our government stands for.
When we find there to be conflict between ethical/moral standards promoted by our government and ethical/moral standards established by God we have no choice but to give our primary allegiance to God’s standards. When we accepted Christ as savior we in essence took a pledge of allegiance to Christ. To pledge allegiance is to pledge loyalty, commitment, faithfulness and adherence. These are all synonyms for allegiance.
When we came to Christ we in essence declared a spiritual independence. When the colonists signed the Declaration of Independence, they were saying to the British that they would no longer be held in bondage to what they saw as the British rule of tyranny. When we came to Christ we were released from the bondage of sin. Sin held sway in our lives with its ultimate penalty of eternal death. We were in bondage to death. Because of what Jesus accomplished in going to the cross, we have been released from the bondage of death. We have been set free.
I mentioned earlier that only around 1/3 of the colonists were totally committed to the cause of freedom from British rule. Only around a third gave their full allegiance to the cause of freedom and were willing to sacrifice everything to gain that freedom. At the start of the war various leaders stood up to rally the people to do what it takes to bring freedom to the colonies and not shirk from the responsibility that lay before them. You all remember the name Patrick Henry. On March 23, 1775, Henry gave a major speech and concluded it with these statements.
“Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace-- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
Henry’s proclamation is reminiscent of a proclamation made many years before the American Revolution. This proclamation was made by a leader of Israel. In Joshua chapter 24 we see it recorded that shortly before his death, Joshua gathered the people together and proclaimed unto them all that God had done for them in bringing them to the Promised Land. Joshua then made this iconic statement:
Joshua 24:13-15: So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.' "Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
Like Patrick Henry many years later, Joshua presented the people with a choice. With Henry it was the choice to continue living under tyranny or doing what it takes to throw off tyranny and take hold of liberty. Henry said, “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Joshua said “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” “But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
While we live in a much more complex world from that of Patrick Henry, we as a nation still have the choice of liberty or death. We still have the choice before us of preserving freedom or allowing tyranny to creep in and take over. We also have the same choice presented by Joshua thousands of years ago. We can choose the liberty of freedom from sin and its consequence of eternal death by remaining loyal to the teachings of Christ or we can choose not to remain loyal to Christ and place ourselves in jeopardy.
Now it is easy to sit in a congregation like this and hear about our need to be obedient to the teachings of Jesus and commit in our minds to strive to do just that. It is another thing to leave this place of worship and quickly turn from such commitment.
I am sure there were those that heard Patrick Henry say what he said and immediately committed to joining in the war effort. I am sure that some of those same people bailed out when the going got rough or when the enthusiasm generated by Henry’s speech wore off. As already mentioned, only about a third of the colonists fully committed to the war effort. We know from Scripture that a similar thing happened in Joshua’s time.
When the Israelites heard Joshua’s speech, they reacted with enthusiasm and were ready to commit to God
Joshua 24:16-18: Then the people answered, "Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! It was the LORD our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the LORD drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God."
After Joshua’s death the Israelites did follow God for a while but it didn’t last very long. All you have to do is read through the book of Judges and you will discover the extent to which the Israelites failed to obey God as they had promised Joshua. It didn’t take long for the Israelites to break their vow to obey God.
Judges 2:8-13: Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten. And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.
Over the years, many have responded to an alter call, or a radio or television preachers request to give ones life to Christ. Many have come to say "I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and I receive Him as my Lord and Savior." Many repent of sin and are baptized into Christ Jesus. In repenting of sin and being buried with Christ in baptism one is making a declaration of allegiance to Christ and obedience to God.
Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Receiving Christ is the easy part. Remaining loyal and committed to the teachings of Christ is the difficult part. Searching the Scriptures for knowledge and understanding as to how we are to live is becoming increasing more rare among Christians, even among Christian ministers who are suppose to be the Sheppard’s of the people. The result has been a gradual acceptance by Christians of behavior contrary to the laws of God.
Two weeks ago I gave a sermon dealing with what the Christian response should be to the LGBT agenda. We briefly discussed the recent US Supreme Courts authorization of same sex marriage as legal throughout our country. We discussed how same sex marriage which encompasses same sex sexual relations is clearly contrary to what the Scriptures teach as to what God intended and expects as to sexual behavior. However, I would venture to say if you were to ask the average Christian as to what the Scriptures have to say about these issues they would have a hard time telling you.
A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute showed that 62% of white evangelical Protestants and 54% of nonwhite Protestants oppose same-sex marriage. What this also apparently tells us is that 38% of white evangelical Protestants and 46% of non-white Protestants either support same sex marriage or are indifferent to this issue.
The Scriptures are quite clear as to homosexual behavior being behavior contrary to God’s will. Yet it is becoming apparent that an increasing number of those who call themselves Christian are seeing homosexual behavior as being acceptable. What is really scary is that 58% of Roman Catholics support same-sex marriage even though the leadership of the Catholic Church is in general vehemently opposed to same-sex marriage.
Support for same-sex marriage is growing within some evangelical Christian communities where younger members who have gay friends no longer see opposing gay sexual relations as prohibited by their faith. The disconnect between what the Bible teaches and what people believe is becoming wider and wider. It’s instructive that in public discussions of homosexuality there is hardly a reference to what the scriptures say about this issue. Most discussion of homosexuality revolves around civil rights, equality of choice and other such issues.
Some will point to our Nations Independence document as supporting freedom of choice as to sexual behavior and behavior in general. It is pointed out that this document states “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." It is concluded that the right of liberty means the right to choose how we behave sexually or in any other way for that matter. The absurdity of such argument should be apparent.
We earlier sang the song “America the Beautiful.” We sang the following lyrics: "America, America, God mend Thine every flaw. Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law." The lyrics speak of self control and liberty in law. Liberty can only be in the context of self control and law. Law must define the parameters of liberty. If liberty is to be defined as a right, it can only be a right if grounded in the constraints of law. When it comes to human sexuality and human behavior in general, it is God who defines the parameters of such behavior.
All this should tell us that we need to be sure we remain grounded in what the Scriptures teach about proper human behavior. It is important that we as Christians carefully study the Scriptures to learn what constraints God has established for human behavior so that we can conduct our lives accordingly. The failure of many Christians and Christian leaders to do this has led to wide spread acceptance of behaviors that are clearly contrary to what the Scriptures reveal.
It is also important that we remain grounded in Christ by regularly acknowledging the great sacrifice that Jesus made so that we can be reconciled to God and live for all eternity in God’s presence. In this fellowship we have been doing just that by on the first Saturday of the month reflecting upon the sacrifice of Christ by participating in a sharing of the bread and wine. The bread and wine are symbols of the broken body and shed blood of our Lord and savior who was willing to die so we could live. Today we will once again partake of the bread and wine which symbolizes what Christ did some 2000 years ago to facilitate our salvation.