Contend, O Lord with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me. Take up shield and buckler; arise and come to my aid. Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me. Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.” Let those be ashamed and dishonored who seek my life. Let those be turned back and humiliated who devise evil against me.” Psalm 35 from The Book of Common Prayer
This Psalm has special significance to us today because this was read on the brink of war with Great Britain as part of the opening of the Continental Congress on September 7, 1774. The reading served to inspire the colonists to have faith in God. God had put them in a particular place in a particular time, and they had to redeem their present situation and provide a framework for future Americans. When the Founding Fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence, they were not only writing for themselves. They were writing for the generations of the future as well– they were writing for us who sit here today in the freedom of worship. They were putting together a long-lasting influence upon the entire world. The Founding Fathers wanted America to shine like a beacon to the whole world as an example of how to govern, live together, and respect the rights of others. Oppression of any kind, especially but not limited to religious oppression, was simply not acceptable. The Founding Fathers created a core of ideals within America which has made it the most unselfish and generous nation on the planet.
There is so much that makes us proud to be Americans. Our nation’s roots were planted with an unbelievable vision for the future! We are the ones who benefit from the fruit of freedom, and when we remember our nation’s earliest days and embrace those courageous values, we nourish the soil for a future harvest of Americans to rise up with that same revolutionary spirit of patriotism that gives every American citizen a mystical bond. Our worship exemplifies the freedom to sing, pray, and thank God for the bravery and wisdom of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Today is a beautiful remembrance, and no one can avoid the emotion this day evokes. We can understand why Alex de Tocqueville, that famous French philosopher, tried to find the power behind America’s victory and finally found it in the church after missing it in industry and the cademy. In church we do not have to apologize when we admire the Founding Fathers’ spirituality. Their spirituality was their greatest strength. Their courage erupted from their spirituality. They knew what they were doing was right in the eyes of God, and that propelled them forward with a determination that the world will always admire.
The Declaration, and all of their work in the revolution, began with God and ended with God.
It began with:
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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.
And the Declaration concluded with….:
And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
The Creator’s gift of rights to the people is protected by the Creator’s guidance… When our Founders recognized the weight of responsibility that came with the gift of being a child of God, yes, they were ready to sacrifice everything in order to preserve that gift in all of its dimensions.
Disputes of trade, taxation, or polity fell under the greater umbrella of the rights God intended. The colonists heard this message from the pulpits. Here are three instances that David Kopel provided in his article about the religious roots of the revolution:
“About a month before the battles of Lexington and Concord, Rev. William Emerson preached to the Concord militia that their victory against the larger British army was guaranteed, just as God had protected little Judah from a larger army. He challenged the British: “It will be your unspeakable Damage to meddle with us, for we have an unconquered Leader that carries his people to Victory and Triumph.”
William Gordon urged Americans “not to fear to bleed freely in the cause,” for their cause was “not of a particular people, but of mankind in general.” And although “the country should be wasted by the sword,” a war would preserve for future generations “the most essential part of the fair patrimony received from our brave and hardy progenitors—the right of possessing and disposing of, at our own option, the honest fruits of our industry.”
In March 1775, Oliver Noble preached that “the Cause of AMERICA…is the cause of GOD, never did man struggle in a greater, or more glorious CAUSE.”
We can admire and respect the intellectual and spiritual freedom the Founders built. Yet we must remember that all freedom still stands under God. There is a moral imperative that calls America to lead the world to respect and help others. America feels called to protect itself and other weaker nations from tyranny.
Someone asked John Adams what the chances of success were since America was facing the most powerful empire with the greatest navy on earth. Adams stated that failure would come not by lack of might or power, but from lack of virtue. Lack of virtue! The Declaration was penned with that in mind. Somehow being connected to God was the beginning and the end of true freedom. The book of Galatians in the New Testament was written to clearly illustrate that fact.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (5:1)
Striving toward lives that follow the greatest commandment is what separates America from the rest of the world, and one does not even have to be a Christian to live what Jesus taught when he was asked what the greatest commandment was:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40 )
The philosopher Viktor Frankl wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space, and in that space lies all our freedom….” in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Our inquiries, our disappointments, our despairs, our joys, hopes, and our quandaries should all pass God’s space of freedom because God wants to guide our freedom. Too many times our decisions in life are quick reactions that do not allow “freedom’s space.” Both as a country and as citizens, American decisions should happen with genuine prayer, reflection, and contemplation with God. The space before freedom is enacted should be God!
The Founding Fathers saw future generations living in that space of freedom. They wrote that they sacrificed “…our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” in order for freedom to take root in America. Let us thank God that we have the glory and honor to walk in their footsteps and live our lives as Americans. What an immeasurable gift we have been given, by our Founding Fathers, and by God. God bless America! Amen.