Sermons > Independence Day


4 Jul 2010

“For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation.” (Galatians 6:15)                                    In the name …

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once stated:  “We have a great dream.  It started way back in 1776. And God grant that America will be true to her dream.”  What I think is powerful about this statement is that it brings the ideas and the enthusiasm of that first Independence Day up into Martin Luther King’s present day.  What started at work in 1776 was still a work in progress in 1968.  In other words, Rev. King didn’t see our great national dream as something lodged firmly in the past.  Instead, he saw that dream reaching out into his present.  May it be the same with us.

The sacred words that have become enshrined in our Declaration of Independence now sit under glass and gas in the National Archives in Washington, D.C, but at the Library of Congress is the draft copy that Thomas Jefferson worked on.  The draft shows the Declaration in progress, some of Jefferson’s first ideas darkly scratched out and alternate words and thoughts added in their place.  For example, those inspired words:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are empowered by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” these words constitute some of the most edited passages of Jefferson’s draft copy.  He laboured over each of them.  These were words that gave expression to a “great dream” that was a work in progress.

  The Declaration of Independence was only a “great dream.”  When it finishes by saying, “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor,” this was not just political rhetoric.  The signers of the Declaration if caught could have been executed for the crime of treason.  Up until the time of the Declaration, the most accepted model of government was that of the divine right of kings.  It even says in the Bible:  “For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors as sent by him … Fear God.  Honour the emperor.” (1 Pt. 2:13-14, 17)  It wasn’t only political treason that the Declaration was broaching.  It was also religious infidelity.  That whole scandalous idea of “the consent of the governed” was a “great dream” that no one had tried for thousands of years.  It was a challenge to all sorts of powers that be.

And for as world-changing as the Declaration was, we have come to see in it even more than the signers could imagine.  When Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal,” that’s not exactly what he meant.  He was referring to all white men, and possibly even to all white men of property.  He fought to his dying day the idea that the African slaves brought over to America by the shipload were in any way included in this statement, and what’s even worse is that he based equality on the Creator of us all.  Jefferson must not have believed that the black man was even created by God like the white man.  This kind of fundamental inequality is why it would take the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans fighting the Civil War to finally grant that “all men are created equal” means more than all white men.  And it would take more than another half century for us to realize that “all men are created equal” really means that all people, male and female, are created equal.

This gradual unveiling of meaning is all part of that “great dream” that Rev. King spoke of.  What America is and what we can be is a work still in progress.  That’s why he prayed that America may prove “true to her dream.”  On the Fourth of July we’re not only celebrating what happened 234 years ago; we’re remembering the kind of nation that we’re supposed to be and that we’re supposed to become.  The Declaration was the death knell for the divine right of kings, even if the idea was found in isolated places in the Bible.  But the Declaration was also the fulfillment of the long-held biblical tradition of equality.  In today’s Epistle, St. Paul says to the young church of Galatia that it does not matter if a believer is circumcised or not, that a believer is Jewish or Gentile in other words.  Such distinctions belong to the past, says Paul.  The Christian church is “a new creation,” and its newness is that the old distinctions don’t apply anymore.  The newness of the church is that there’s an essential sense of equality in the church.  This is a basic tenet of our faith, says Paul.

And I know I’ve mentioned this several times before, but Hodur recognized and appreciated this “great dream” of America.  He consciously chose to bless the cornerstone of our first church in Scranton, PA on July 4th, 1897.  When he expanded the church and added new stained-glass windows, he chose to include a window that depicted President Abraham Lincoln as the Great Emancipator.  Even if symbolically, he was tying our church democracy to America’s political democracy.  Hodur knew that this Catholic reformation, this new church, could never have been born in Europe where church and state were closely linked together.  Hodur knew that it was only in America, a land whose “great dream” included freedom, equality and even the separation of church and state, that it was only here that our church could find her beginning.  So in a sense we are also a part of that “great dream” that started long ago, but continues through us still today.

On this Fourth of July, let us pray Rev. King’s words that “America will be true to her dream.”  In a world filled with dictatorships, military and moneyed-interests, let us pray for that fundamental American dream of equality for all of us and for all the people of the world as well.  Jefferson based that dream on God, that [all people] are empowered by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and St. Paul called this equality the “new creation” of Christ.  As people of faith let us hope in this dream and let us work in our lives to be true to this dream.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.  (+)

Fr. Randolph Calvo

 

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