I hope all of you are enjoying your 4th of July, American Independent Day, weekend. This can be a great time to be with family and friends and neighbors to enjoy great food, games, lots of conversation and catching up with how everyone is doing, and somewhere in there celebrate the birth of, the start of, our country, and declaration of our independence from England.
But, the church lectionary waits for no secular person or event, as we have in today’s readings nothing that remotely has anything to do with this holiday weekend. I read these all carefully, and got no inspiration at all to connect them with this special weekend. And, you know what, that is not right, because I want more to talk about our national holiday, and what it means to all of us, both religious and non-religious Americans. I don’t want to talk about the rise of King David, with the hand of God leading the way, or Paul explaining how his weaknesses are made perfect by the power of God, or Jesus telling his apostles how to go out into the surrounding towns and minister two by two.
From the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, Independence Day of the United States is a federal holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, by the Continental Congress declaring that the thirteen American colonies regarded themselves as a new nation, the United States of America, and no longer part of the British Empire. Independence Day is commonly associated with fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, and political speeches and ceremonies, in addition to various other public and private events celebrating the history, government, and traditions of the United States.
Oh, here is an interesting fact: most historians have concluded that the Declaration was signed nearly a month after its adoption, on August 2, 1776, and not on July 4 as is commonly believed. Here is another one: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the only signers of the Declaration of Independence later to serve as Presidents of the United States, died on the same day: July 4, 1826, which is the recognized 50th anniversary of the Declaration.
In this definition of Independence Day, did anyone hear any mention of the following words—God, Jesus Christ, Christian, or even religion? I wonder where some people have gotten the idea that God and being Christian and American and Independence Day go together. In one of its very early years, 1779, July 4th fell on a Sunday, so the holiday was celebrated on Monday, July 5th. In the past there has been a saying that something is as American as “baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet’. Again, no mention of God here! But, according to a recent public opinion poll, there is a very narrow vision of who is “truly American.” High on the list of very or somewhat important characteristics are people who:
· Speak English: 89 percent say this is very or somewhat important.
· Believe in God: 69 percent.
· Were born in the U.S.: 58 percent.
· Are Christian: 53 percent.
Regardless of the really hard push for the past 200 years (and especially the last 40 years!) to connect God and Christ as especially blessing our United States, its revolution and breakaway from the British, its declaration of “manifest destiny” in fighting elsewhere around the world, and taking what they wanted because God had declared them the new anointed nation of Israel—is just not valid! There is nothing that shows the United States was built as a Christian nation, or even a Judeo-Christian one. More realistically, those “Founding Fathers” of the United States did NOT want this, as the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights was written to ensure that neither could religion and government be tied together, not could government come down on any religion. Now, having said that, we know what has happened over the course of US history—with discrimination of Jews, Catholics, and lately Muslims—some with government support.
Does this mean that religion (for us especially the Christian one which we profess) and government cannot co-exist successfully? Certain they can! But it means we go back to the roots of the 1st Amendment and carefully work for this purpose.
In the past week or so, our country has had some of the most interesting Supreme Court decisions of the past many years, in the midst of a very divided court between liberals and conservatives, as it seems our country is too. Decisions about legal marriage without discrimination against gay couples, Affordable Health Care allowed to continue as it was intended, and fair housing laws left intact with a perspective that even unintended discrimination is not acceptable. Also, the government setting laws regulating companies that add to our environmental woes struck down, and some drugs used to execute criminals approved as not being cruel and unusual punishment. It doesn’t matter where you stand on these decisions—I’m sure no one got everything to fall exactly as they wanted.
What do these decisions mean for us as Americans AND Christians? The answer might be found in another action in the past week that is close to us as Episcopalians. Bishop Michael Bruce Curry of the Diocese of North Carolina has been elected and confirmed as the next Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Curry, who will be the first African American to lead the church, was elected on the first ballot by the House of Bishops with 121 of 174 votes, and in the House of Deputies with 800 of 812 votes.
The presiding-bishop elect, who will assume his duties on November 1, spoke of his love for the church. “This is the church where I learned about Jesus,” he said. “My grandmother used to say, ‘We have a good God,” and we do. “We’ve got a society with challenges around us. … But nothing can stop the movement of God’s love in the world.”
Curry, 62, has served churches in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Lincoln Heights, Ohio, and was rector of St. James Church in Baltimore when he was elected bishop in 2000.
Curry is known as a dynamic preacher. At the church’s General Convention in 2012 he delivered a stirring sermon urging Episcopalians to become Crazy Christians. The sermon spawned a book of the same title in which Curry wrote: “We need some Christians who are as crazy as the Lord. Crazy enough to love like Jesus, to give like Jesus, to forgive like Jesus, to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God— like Jesus. Crazy enough to dare to change the world from the nightmare it often is into something close to the dream that God dreams for it. And for those who would follow him, those who would be his disciples, those who would live as and be the people of the Way? It might come as a shock, but they are called to craziness.”
Do you feel called to craziness?