Independence Day Celebration
Readings-Deuteronomy 10: 17-21; Psalm 145; Hebrews 11: 8-16; Matthew 5: 43-48
These readings for the Celebration of Independence push us forward rather than allow us to look backward.
First, Deuteronomy. Our God loves strangers and executes justice for those with little hope or standing, the orphan and the widow. So, we as the People of God are also to love strangers from around the neighborhood, around the nation, and across the globe.
Psalm 145 reminds us that God is “gracious and full of compassion…of great kindness”. We as the People of God are to be the same, full of compassion and kindness.
Hebrews reminds us of the faith, the trust, of Abraham. “He looked forward”, and “from a distance” saw the promises of God being realized. We the People of God as descendants of Abraham look to the future.
From the Sermon on the Mount, we hear Jesus encouraging us to “be perfect…as [our]heavenly Father is perfect”. Living the perfect life is to love, to love neighbor, and to love enemies as God “makes [the] sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous”.
Folks, we have a long way to go, we have a long way to stretch. We cannot rest!
Our collect is not all that helpful. It makes it seem like we have arrived. “The founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us.” Not so fast. In the days immediately following the first 4th of July, if you did not own property, you did not count. If you were a woman, you did not count. If you were a person of color, you did not count, in fact, you were probably enslaved.
Yet they articulated a vision that we still pursue. As Deuteronomy declares:
In these, the United States of America, our eyes have seen glorious things that God has inspired our nation to do. Those glorious things we have seen have pulled us forward to stretch toward the perfect love that extends to all.
In 1861, Julia Ward Howe composed the closing hymn of today. The chorus of her hymn was the concluding line of Martin Luther King Jr’s sermon in Memphis, TN on 3 April 1968. The chorus of her hymn frequently finds its way into the sermons of Michael Curry, our current Presiding Bishop.
[God’s] Truth is marching on! We cannot stop it, we can get out of the way, or we can join with it. God’s Truth is marching forward.
Originally there were six verses. One omitted verse is as follows:
I have read the fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel, “As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal”; Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel, Since God is marching on.
The blue coats of the Civil War marching with fixed bayonets were the heroes who crushed the serpent of slavery with their heels, just as Mary, the mother of Jesus, is depicted with her feet planted firmly on the Garden of Eden serpent.
The original final verse of her hymn is as follows:
He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave, He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succor to the brave, So the world shall be His footstool, And the soul of Time His slave, Our God is marching on.
The question for the People of God in every age is, are we marching with our God whose Truth is marching on?
At the base of the sculpture of a fallen soldier who gave his last full measure confronting the evil of Nazi Germany at the American Cemetery in Normandy, France are these words:
We want to be counted among the People of God stretching forward, marching with Truth. In the words of another well-known hymn: