Saturday, July 03, 2010


For a sermon on the Fifth Sunday after Trinity click here.

[American] Independence Day, July 4

Deut. 10:17-21
Matt. 5:43-48

This year Independence Day falls on a Sunday, and in the U.S. we have propers for it in the Book of Common Prayer. The idea is to have a service of Holy Communion on this national birthday no matter what day of the week it falls on. I believe that is appropriate, for among other things we can say about the Eucharist, by its emphasis on Christ's sacrificial death, this service is a very real and supernatural way to offer intercession. Prayers of intercession are prayers beseeching the mercy of God on behalf of others; and it is by Christ's once for all offering up of his own life as the full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world, that we have the basis both for asking mercy to be shown to each of us, and for mercy to be granted to those who do not yet know Him.

My family is in the habit of watching the musical 1776 on Independence Day. When it was first released in 1970 (or 1971) some people were shocked and offended because the Founding Fathers were depicted as real human beings with real faults, facing real dangers, and striving at times with each other. They were demythologized, with their own words as recorded in minutes, letters and dispatches, used to create dialogue and song lyrics. The result is that they were not portrayed as gods, but as mere men. The effect of that creates more genuine feeling and a sense of patriotism than the mythologized version that had grown up in popular imagination, and that was in fashion for a long time.

Indeed, they did stand on principal, they did believe they were signing their lives away possibly in a lost cause to take a stand for human liberty. The men who signed the Declaration of Independence expected to be hanged as traitors by the British army. They did pledge their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. Some of them lost their fortunes, but none of them lost his honor. Providentially, they survived, and several years later a good number of them, along with a few others, created the greatest legal document in history, the Constitution of the United States.

As a student of history I object to the popular term, the American Revolution; for it was not, properly speaking, a revolution inasmuch as the king and the Parliament were not overthrown. They continued to hold power, but not in America. The war was fought for Independence, to return the former colonies, now states, to the Rule of Law. When we call it a revolution we suggest that it has something in common with the evils of the French Revolution, or the Communist Revolutions; modern bloodbaths and tyrannies. Those revolutions were about destruction, and about forcing untried and unproven methods on unwilling people, and they all resulted in tyranny and went down in flames as failed experiments aimed at the impossible goal of perfecting humanity.

But, the War for American Independence was not about perfecting humanity; it was about simple justice, a thing that cannot exist apart from liberty. After the war, and after years of trying to get by with the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution of the United States was written. However, in a sense that was indeed revolutionary, more so than the War for Independence. For what was overthrown by our Constitution was the entire system of dominance and rule by power that had always enslaved mankind everywhere, and that continues to enslave mankind in much of the world.

Europeans think we are a young country. In fact, if we think more clearly, America is the oldest of nations. For, when Europe was still dominated by the childishness of class structures and nobility, belief in a condition of lower classes from which no one could escape, a notion that some people are born better than others, western civilization finally grew up over here. When our civilization finally matured, the result was the Constitution of the United States. So, we may be a young country, but we are also the oldest, the most mature of countries. America is the grown man that learned the lessons of a foolish and largely wasted youth.

Yes, I could go on with sincere praise for our Country, founded on genuine ideals and a genuine morality. I could point out also that we have been given a heritage that is wiser than the driving forces that unleashed terrible consequences on France, Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea and other nations. Those revolutions were not based, as our Constitution is, on an ideal of human liberty, but on ideology that mankind can be perfected in this life. Their ideologies are absurd by nature, and impossible. Our Constitution is down to earth, practical rather than high minded. It was based on a Christian doctrine, namely Original Sin; as such the Constitution restrains the power that individuals in government could so easily inflict on us, violating justice by the exercise of raw power as governments are want to do.

Contrary to that, ideology (not idealism, but ideology) is utterly unrealistic, and cannot, by its nature, achieve good results. Ideology cannot produce justice, but always only injustice. Mankind cannot be perfected by force. No government can create a perfectly just and good society full of enlightened people. But, liberty and justice can exist, however imperfectly, by God's grace and by Rule of Law.

Ideology is obsession with method. Even when the method fails, the ideologue is satisfied because the method is all he can understand. When the experiment fails, the ideologue cannot see it, does not know it, and will not admit it. When any good thing happens without his method, the ideologue cannot see that either, and seeks to destroy the good because he does not have enthusiasm for anything but the method he is committed to, results notwithstanding.

American Law has never been based on ideology, and should not become based on it. Instead, we have a realistic Constitution that works in the real world-that is, when it is followed.

As I said, I could go on with sincere praise for our Country. I can fly a flag and sing patriotic songs with the best of them. But, I have also a duty when standing in the pulpit, to speak prophetically. I think our country has been good and just in many ways, and that Americans want to be just. However, from the start we have had our own national sins.

When I lived in Arizona, in the town of Fountain Hills, a nearby Reservation of the Yavapai-Apache Nation would shoot off fireworks every year in January. I learned why. Shortly after he took office in 1981, President Reagan wrote an Executive Order that overturned a plan to flood the reservation land; this plan had been devised and approved by Congress, so that Phoenix valley businessmen could profit from a local water supply. The plan had been in the works all during the 1970s. But, the new President, that Washington outsider Ronald Reagan, would have none of it; he decided it was time, finally, to honor U.S. treaties with the Indian nations. Not until 1981 did our government actually honor those treaties as a matter of policy. That was quite a long wait.

This country allowed slavery, mistreated the aboriginal peoples we call the Indians, and today allows abortion on demand, which is simply a form of murder. Last year we learned that forty percent of American children are born out of wedlock. We have people trying to overthrow the institution of marriage, destroying the very meaning of the word. Always, there has been sin and injustice, a simple fact that cannot be undone by either ideology or by valid and true ideals.

A true love of our country does not allow us to look the other way. True love of country compels Christians, as it did Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple in the nineteenth century, first Episcopal Bishop of Minnesota, to pray and work for the highest ideals of Christian morality and for the implementation of that justice and liberty our Constitution is supposed to protect. It compels such endeavors, not merely on behalf of our own interests, not merely on behalf of the interests of our own kind, but on behalf of those who are in need, such as the Dakota, Chippewa and others to whom Bishop Whipple took the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and for whom he was an advocate by speaking to the highest officers in the United States Government, including such men as President Lincoln.

I would say that the people most unprotected, most helpless, without voice and without recognition of their God-given Constitutional rights, are children in the womb scheduled to be murdered by abortion.

In that light, I say that our country has no hope except in God. Each of you should be praying every day for those in government, for those who minister in the Church, and for all sorts and conditions of men (see I Tim. 2, cp. the Daily Morning and Evening Prayer offices). Whether or not you like the President, you must pray for him. He is a mere man, and his job is a heavy burden I would not want to bear; for every word of criticism, you had better have two words of prayer. You must pray for all in both houses of Congress, and in the government of this state. You must pray for the bishops and other clergy of the Church who are God's spokesmen to you and to the Church, and you must pray for all those who are in need, especially those in need of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who need the light to break through to their lives, who are not here with us, but should be and can be.

Hear the words of St. Paul:

"I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." (I Tim. 2:1-5)

Our liberties that were won in the War for Independence are a great heritage. The Constitution that was later drafted and ratified is also a great gift that has been extended to you. Our potential is great, but so are the spiritual and moral dangers we face. If you love this nation, if you have the kind of patriotism that is deeper than flag waving and emotional songs can stimulate, the kind of patriotism that a Christian ought to have, I urge you now and every day to pray. Be an intercessor, and lift up your voice to God for His mercy on this nation and for a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we cannot produce, that the hearts of this people be turned to God by repentance and faith. Pray with faith, that God wills it.


Canon Tallis said...

An excellent sermon, Father. I hope that every minister of the Church points out that this nation began at Jamestown and that the faith of the those who came to settle it was that of the Church of England. It was also the faith of George Washington and many of his officers. And it is that same faith which we in the Continuum hold, preach and live. No one should feel closer to the ideals of those who declared for independence and liberty or have greater reason for bestowing them upon our children and grandchildren because their ideals which they learned from the Old Testament and the New through the use of the Book of Common Prayer are also our own.

Mark VA said...

From the RC perspective:

Cannon Tallis wrote:

"... this nation began at Jamestown and that the faith of the those who came to settle it was that of the Church of England"

Please allow me to remind you that after the first ship arrived in Jamestown, the subsequent Jamestown resupply ships also brought small groups of German and Polish artisans. The Poles, being Roman Catholic, were not required to attend the otherwise compulsory Anglican services. I wonder if the Germans did or did not.

As far as our first president is concerned, whom I very deeply admire, please remember the scolding order he wrote forbidding any celebrations of the "Guy Fawkes day" by some misguided officers in the continental army. Whether George Washington died an Anglican, is perhaps a debate for another time.

Anglicanism without doubt was the dominant religion in the colonies for a period of time - but it coexisted with others.

Anonymous said...

As I celebrated yesterday July 4, using the Propers for Trinity V, I was struck by the words in the Collect, "that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by thy governance..." Were those words somehow echoing in the Deistic brain of Thomas Jefferson when he wrote the beloved words, "When in the course of human events"? I calculate (with the help of Google) that in 1776 Trinity V fell on July 7, after he had written the Declaration. But the resemblnce is tantalizing, nevertheless.

Theodore Harvey said...

As an Anglican monarchist who despite remaining in the Canterbury communion has often agreed with this blog on other points, I must object to this sermon. You appear to have no consideration for the Tory/Loyalist point of view. Does the intransigence of such Anglican clergymen as Rev Charles Inglis (who preached obedience to the King at Trinity Wall Street even when George Washington was in the congregation) not move you at all? Was not King George III himself a devout Anglican and a more pious Christian than most of those who rebelled against his authority?

I have never understood how the American Revolution--and yes, it was a revolution, since before it the residents of the 13 colonies were subjects of the Crown and prayed for the King at church and after it they were not and did not--can be reconciled with Romans 13 or I Peter 2. Nor can I understand how any traditional Anglican can be content with the awkward substitution "O Lord, Save the State" for "O Lord, Save the Queen [King]" in the Morning & Evening Prayer liturgy, which irks me every time I go or listen to Evensong in this country.

I particularly resent the insinuation that Europe's pre-revolutionary acceptance of hereditary nobility and titles made its glorious civilisation somehow inferior to America's. There is nothing un-Christian about such earthly distinctions, which the Church quite properly sanctioned for centuries before the ascendance of the same liberals and modernists that have compelled Continuers to separate from Canterbury. Hereditary nobility and royalty were every bit as closely linked to all that was beautiful in European culture as the Church was, and it is not a coincidence that hatred of one has often gone hand in hand with hatred of the other. Europe is surely poorer without its kings and queens, its few royal survivors too often now dismissed as irrelevant relics (though I would certainly prefer them to a president). An Anglican clergyman--even if American--should know better. God Save the Queen.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Theodore Harvey:

The idea of being born into a class, assigned a position as inferior or superior, is against the teaching of Christ. It is perfectly in accord, however, with the Paganism that preceded the Church, and in accord with the Hindu caste system. There never has been any justice the old European class system; it was always ridiculous at best.

Furthermore, in America the legalities were clear: The colonies had been granted charters giving them each a legislature and governor, and keeping them free from taxation without representation. American Independence restored legal rights.

And, if it was a revolution, pray tell, when did the American Army invade London and overthrow King and Parliament?

You won't get us Americans to disown our heritage, so it is wise not to try