“Happy Dependence Day!”
Read John 8:31-36
[Disclaimer: I read an anonymous sermon earlier this week regarding related to this week’s celebration of Independence Day and the text I just read. Some of what I will share today was inspired by that sermon.]
What sort of images come to mind when you hear the National Anthem? We’ve all been at special events where a team of fighter jets streak across the sky with precision with a tail of smoke behind them at just the right time when we sing, “And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air.” Or we’ve watched a program on TV where images of mighty military power is displayed as our anthem is proudly played or sung.
Have you ever wondered why “The Star-Spangled Banner” is our National Anthem?” Did you know that the tune is an old British drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven?” Anacreon was an ancient Greek poet who was renowned for his drinking songs and odes to love. In the mid-1700s a gentlemen’s club called the Anacreontic Society was formed for aristocrats to gather on Wednesdays to combine their musical appreciation with eating and drinking.
Francis Scott Key, a 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, wrote the lyrics of a poem entitled, Defense of Fort McHenry, which come from a poem he wrote on September 14, 1814, after witnessing the bombardment of the fort by British ships of the Royal Navy in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812. Key was inspired by the large American flag, the Star-Spangled Banner, flying triumphantly above the fort during the American victory.
It wasn’t until 1931 under President Woodrow Wilson and congress that the Star-Spangled Banner became our official national anthem. Personally—and I mean no offense to Francis Scott Key, or to any person who claims these United States of America their home—I think we could have done better.
For instance, what’s wrong with “My County Tis Of Thee?” (aka America) Let’s sing that first line together: “My Country Tis of Thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
Then there’s “God Bless America”…land that I love. I think my favorite is “America, The Beautiful?” Remember the first verse? O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain. For purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain! America! America! God shed his grace on thee. And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!
Tuesday, we will celebrate Independence Day. The more accurate term is the “Declaration of Independence Day.” How many of you have read the Declaration of Independence in its entirety?
Some years ago, on the 4th of July an enterprising news reporter in Madison, Wisconsin, handed a slip of paper to 122 people on the streets of Madison. He asked them their opinion of the words written on it. These were the words : “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable 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. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is right of the people to alter or abolish it.”
Some of the folks said that they thought it was very radical, much too radical. Some said it was silly idealism. Quite a few said that it was probably written by some communist. Others thought it was the work of some counterculture group. They were only 13 out of 122 people who recognized it as part of the Declaration of Independence.
I took the time to read the complete document this week and here’s what I discovered. The fundamental premise on which the Declaration stands or falls is a religious appeal. The appeal of the Declaration of Independence is an appeal to the ONLY Authority that could possibly substantiate our declaration, an appeal, as the document puts it, “to the Supreme Judge of the world.” The truths that it says are “self-evident,” are self-evident only because Almighty God has already established them in His Word. Those who wrote and signed our D.O.I. were depending totally on the protection of Divine Providence for the support and the preservation of those principles.
It seems that the main thrust of the Declaration deals with the right of human beings to liberty. The chief struggle of human history has been the struggle for freedom. The Magna Charta stated it back in 1215, becoming the cornerstone of English liberty. It said: “A free man is to be free.” It was the battle cry of the French Revolution: “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality.” It was even in the Communist Manifesto (although communism never delivered the freedom it touted): “Workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.”
And there is the promise of Scripture Jesus himself: “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free … And if the Son makes you free, you will be free, indeed.” What was Jesus talking about? Freedom from Roman rule? Freedom to self-govern? No, Jesus is speaking of a much deeper independence that is based on utter dependence on the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
The Truth which liberates us is none other than the truth of God in Jesus Christ, the knowledge of which comes through discipleship. Jesus is proclaiming that freedom comes not through independence, but through dependence upon him and his word. That’s why today, I want to declare, “Happy Dependence Day!” The Bible never speaks of freedom as “doing things our way” or “doing our own thing.” We end up slaves to our own wants and desires, slaves to sin, as the Gospel calls it.
Listen to how the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of The Holy Spirit, puts it: 20When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. 21And what was the result? You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. 22But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:20-23 NLT
Freedom in the knowledge of Christ is release from bondage to the self and, at the same time, the recognition of a new master. Freedom is found through living under orders, the order of the Cross. It is the freedom of necessity, the necessity to follow Christ.
Freedom and responsibility are inseparable. On July 3, in 1776, George Washington wrote a letter to his wife. In part, these were his words: “In a few days, you will see a Declaration setting forth the causes which have impelled us to this mighty revolution and the reasons which will justify it in the sight of God. I am fully aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost to maintain this Declaration and support and defend these states; yes, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory.” The Father of our country was no naive dreamer. He knew the cost of freedom in toil, blood and treasure.
Even more significant than the freedom of a nation, the cost of our freedom from sin and death was paid with the toil, blood and treasure of the Prince of Peace, the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ.
Another great president spoke these words of freedom at Gettysburg: “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.” Lincoln closed his short address with these famous words: “…We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Liberty and responsibility go hand in hand. Listen to what the apostle Peter said regarding our freedom and responsibility: 16Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God (1 Peter 2:16 ESV). And Paul tells the Galatians something similar when he says: 13For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. Galatians 5:13 NLT
Whatever else the establishment of the United States was, it was a CHRISTIAN EXPERIMENT. When the pilgrims came to America, it took them 23 years to pay for their own passage. They were blown 500 miles off their course, and so they didn’t land in Virginia; they landed in Massachusetts. But when they finally stood on that rocky coast, they fell down on their knees and kissed the earth, and they wrote for all of history to find: “We establish this state to the glory of God and the spread of the Christian religion.”
The United States certainly was no experiment in democratic government. That had been tried 20 centuries before in the Greek City States. If you visit that part of the world, you can see the ruins, the remnants, of the glory that had once been those states. But they failed, and they were destroyed. Why? Because their democracy had no religious impetus. Freedom was not coupled with moral responsibility. The states became rotten because the people were rotten.
There was only one thing that made America an experiment that was unique in the pages of history. It was a CHRISTIAN democracy. There was only one thing over the years that held this nation together– WE WERE A NATION UNDER GOD. This was the motivating power. This was the inspiration. This was the goal of the experiment. Lose that force, and you lose the nation.
General Omar Bradley once said: “America today is running on the momentum of a Godly ancestry, and when that momentum runs down, God help America.” If we’re not building one Nation Under God, then we are destroying it.
Washington knew this. In his Farewell Address to the nation, he said: “The foundation of the republic is morality, and it is foolish to suppose that we can have morality without a religious impetus.”
I wish I could say with complete confidence that the citizens of America would return to our Great God and become citizens of heaven first. If we did, then I am confident that the grand experiment in Christian democracy would not only thrive, but it would expand to offer the same freedom to all the world. But I can’t say that today.
What I CAN say is that, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. I CAN believe that, as for this house of worship, we can declare our freedom from slavery to sin and death and our total dependence on Almighty God!