Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day 2014

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Did Thomas Jefferson, the principal, but not the only hand behind that Preamble realize the weight and significance of those thirty-six words? I think not, for despite the linguistic beauty and balance of those famous lines, they contain nothing that was original, or even remarkable.

Jefferson admitted this. He later wrote honestly of this work, the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, stating that it was:

Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.

Yet the Preamble, and the words that followed were to change the course of history. And in more ways than we might think. This was no mere separation from Great Britain and all that that implied. It was the beginning of a new era, and new nation, and a new vision.

Thank God for the newness of it all! Cessation from Britain could have been concluded in a different way, substituting one system of corrupt government and institution for another. If that had happened, this weekend and holiday would have hollow cause for celebration. But thankfully that was not the case.

Those who wrote and those who signed the Declaration of Independence did so out of necessity. They’d had enough and were not prepared to take any more. But in founding the new nation, and fighting for their freedom, they announced to the world, in particular the European powers, that they were acting out of a sense, not only of genuine grievance, but also a declared hope in a better future. For all people.

We mustn’t pour too much personal glory on the fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence. They were no saints by any stretch of the imagination, and some by even the standards of their day had colorful financial backgrounds. Many had both wives and mistresses. Some were commented upon for acts of violence towards their domestic staff. Most were slave-owners, but again let it be said that they were men of their day. Over half of them were Anglicans, eventually to be called Episcopalians – so at least the country got off on the right foot!

Who ever they were, whatever their background, what they agreed was that the new nation, still as yet to be fought for, would be one which demanded high ideals of its citizens. Ideals and standards which are enshrined to this day.

The relationship of July 4th, 1776 to the United States of America may be likened to the relationship between the Day of Pentecost and the Christian Church. Both mark points of beginning and inspiration for the future. Both are, broadly speaking, birthdays.

But just as the Church does not simply look back to Pentecost but rather looks to it as continually inspiring the present day as the Holy Spirit continues to be poured out in the world, so the United States ought not to regard the Declaration of Independence as a mere historical document.

Just as the Church without the spirit of Pentecost is void and without substance and purpose, so also is the United States – unless it continues to bring to life in each generation those brave and bold words adopted and signed by the Continental Congress in 1776.

That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights.

The making real of those words is an endless challenge, and one which involves all. Let’s celebrate that challenge in whatever way we choose.

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