[Sunday, July 3, 2011 ■ 1:00 p.m. ■ Service All Saints Church, Pasadena]
While every Sunday is a special Sunday at All Saints Church today is a SPECIAL special Sunday as we celebrate the birthday of our nation – and we remember these words from the Declaration of Independence – signed 235 years ago tomorrow:
"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.”Powerful words. “No going back” words. Words that both launched a nation and charted its course. Words that frame the very essence of what it is to be an American. Words worth celebrating on the anniversary of their signing. The anniversary of our freedom.
They are also words we are still working to live up to. For it seems that in the very freedom God has given us -- as a nation, as a church and as individuals – there is also the challenge to use that freedom responsibly … not just for ourselves, but for the whole human family.
As a nation, the freedom we enjoy was bought for us by those who went before: our founding fathers and mothers who had the courage and vision to imagine a nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal.” They made the down payment -- in blood sweat and tears -- and subsequent generations have made “balloon payments” ever since: claiming and reclaiming that vision of a nation with liberty and justice for all.
Working to include African Americans in the proposition that all are created equal during the Civil War and Civil Rights Movement – work that still isn’t done as we continue to work to overcome racism in this country.
Expanding the vision to include women in the proposition that all are created equal -- from the Suffragettes to the Equal Rights Amendment – work that still isn’t done as we continue to overcome sexism.
Marriage equality for same-sex couples; immigration reform; equal access to health care … the list goes on and on.
But the bottom line is this: No one is truly free unless all of us are – and living into the pledge to “liberty and justice for all” that began in 1776 continues today.
Just as we continue to build a nation where liberty and justice for all is not just a pledge but a reality, we continue to build a church where the Good News of God’s love is truly available to all. Too often that work the church is called to do is hampered by internal squabbles -- quarrels about power that masquerade as debates over doctrine; fights with each other that so consume our energy we have nothing lift to give to the work of calling others to Christ.
But there are both words of hope and an example to follow in the words we heard this morning from the great American hero President Abraham Lincoln. We may be divided in this country on many issues, but the challenges we face are nowhere near what Lincoln faced as he worked to rebuild the nation after a bloody civil war.
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.That is the work we are to be about … in our country and in our church. Binding up wounds. Caring for widows and orphans. Working for lasting peace.
That was a tall order for a president trying to heal a nation in 1865 and it’s a tall order for us trying to heal the world in 2011. And yet we belong to a God who tells us over and over again that nothing is impossible. And we follow a Lord who loved us enough to become one of us to show us how to love one another. Even the people we’re not interested in loving. From today’s gospel:
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Let the love you extend be full just as the love God extends is full.Jesus also said “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me -- for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” -- words of promise that there is nothing we have to bear by ourselves: nothing too heavy for Jesus to bear with us.
“Come to me.” Jesus’ words remind me of the words on the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuge of your teeming shore.
Send these the homeless, tempest tossed, to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Words of welcome. Of invitation. Of hope. Of healing. Just as the words on our Statue of Liberty remind us who we are when we live up to our American ideals the words of our Lord of Love remind us who we are when we live up to the ideals he calls us to as Christians.
And he reminds us of the freedom we find – not in a place, but in a Person – in the One who guides us, strengthens us, feeds us, sustains us.
In a moment, we will gather around this altar to be fed -- to celebrate the freedom we’ve been given in Christ and to nourish us to go out and do the work we’ve been given to do: “born again” to be Christ’s Body in the world.
To love not just our neighbors but our enemies. And to work to be a nation where liberty and justice for all is not just a pledge but a reality – not just on our birthday as a country but every day!