This morning we celebrated Independence Day, and the God from which our liberty comes. This was my message:
There has been a lot of talk about 1776. Certainly, some important things happened back then. But I want to go back a bit further. A whole lot further. All the way back to the beginning of time. For in those days when the Lord created the heavens and the earth, God gave to us, and to all humanity a couple of very precious gifts. First was life itself. Not just the form of life, when we were formed from the dust of the ground. No! True life. When the Lord held us in those divine hands and brought us close enough for God to breathe his breath, his Spirit into us. The Sistine Chapel depicts the spark of life moving from the finger of God to the lifeless body of that first human. That is not what scripture says. We were not kept an arm’s length away from the Lord. It was close, and precious, and intimate. What a gift!!
To follow up came a second precious and powerful gift. The Lord gave us the ability to choose what we would do with our life. Oh, there were rules. God said that these are boundaries that you should not cross, and if we cross those boundaries there will be consequences that we have to deal with. But the choice to stay between the lines or to go beyond them would be up to each individual.
In a relatively short we had to start dealing with the consequences of the choices and actions that each one made. We offended God and learned to hurt one another in multiple ways. So over time some cultural norms began to come into place. It was necessary to move away from the chaos we were creating and toward a little more order and peace. Much, but not all of that, was related to fairness and respect. And when individuals believed that they were not being treated fairly, or if they sensed they were being disrespected, life could quickly become disorderly, destructive, and even violent. And that continues to happen to this day.
I don’t really know when or how individuals assumed positions of authority and control. Who would make and manage the rules of society, but I think that, like kids on a playground, the biggest and toughest were the ones who were in charge, who assumed control. And they remained in control until someone bigger and tougher came along to take them out.
Of course, when one gets power, it is not given up too easily. So, it didn’t take too long for someone to figure out that they could use the power they accumulate more power. And they could use all of that to defeat anyone who dared to come against them. And since there was no longer any to challenge their rule while they were alive, that power, that control stayed with them until their death. And then it would be simply handed down to another in the family.
Looking over a history of governments, it is easy to come to an understanding that rulers who come to power or remain in control through threats and fear are not good. And often it is immoral when leaders seize power or are appointed to positions of authority rather than being chosen by those who would be governed by them. For often those in control begin to assume that they are inherently better than any other. They consider themselves elite as they looked down and disrespect any who do not think or act as those in power believe they should.
Humanity has found a variety of ways to divide ourselves, and, to value some groups more than others. We are divided by the family we grew up in, the nationality of our ancestors, the pigment of our skin, our gender, and our values and beliefs. Some have even used certain scriptures, not all of them but those which that had carefully chosen, to list their personal hierarchy of who is best and who is worst, who is acceptable and who is not. And yet we hear Peter say, “God is no respecter of persons. God shows no favoritism to one individual over another.” Paul wrote that God doesn’t play favorites. There is no Jew or Gentile, no slave or free, no male or female. In God’s sight we are all the same. And by the gift of God, each one has the freedom to choose what we believe, and how we will act. And in the end, each will have to deal with the consequences of the choices we have made and the lines and boundaries we have crossed.
A few hundred years ago a number of individuals began to look around the world and they began to see all the immoralities and inconsistencies. How some had power and authority, not on anything that they had done to deserve it, but simply because of where and when they were born. And they could command and control the lives of others simply because that is what they wanted. But some said, “This is not right. Let us go back to the beginning and look at the instructions that the Lord, our Creator, had given us.”
And so it was written, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men, all people 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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men (humanity), deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to 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.”
Thousands of years after humans began to walk on the earth, some chose to live in the gift of liberty and free will that the Lord has given us since Day 1. These are the principles on which this nation was founded – that all are created equal, and that we have the liberty to choose the way we shall live, understanding that with our choices, we have the responsibility to live with the consequences of what we have done.
These days I have heard some proclaim that nationalism is becoming a new religion; that we are making this nation our God. How foolish. For the honor the nation because the principles on which it was founded have been handed to us from God. And if we continue to follow the divine principles, the nation should honored. But as Ronald Reagan once said, if we fail to be a nation under God, we will be a nation that has gone under.
Still others say that we have failed to live up to the principles of our founding and therefore the nation should be torn down to begin again. I agree that we have not lived up to these principles any better than when God first gave us this gift of liberty. For all have fallen short of the glory of God. All have sinned. But in grace, God has not given up on us. And with grace, we should not give up on the principles, for the principles are still strong and true and righteous. They cannot be abandoned. In fact, those principles of equality in creation to choose life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness need to be renewed in our hearts and minds. That we might look to God, our Creator, and learn to make the right decisions, the righteous decisions that do not cross lines of disrespect, destruction, and division; that we might truly be the people, individually and collectively, that God created and called us to be. I believe that is the will of God, for each of us and all of us! And in your life, and in our life together, may it be so!! Amen!
Chuck Sprenkle, Contributor. Lead Pastor – Asbury United Methodist Church