American & Christian Freedom: Must they be separated?

given on July 4, 2010

Fourth of July!  I am ready for a picnic, but I am afraid that the mental image of such an event was imprinted from a book I read years and years ago.  The book, A Grand and Glorious Fourth of July, was sitting in our bookshelf at home when I was a teenager.  I have no idea where it came from or even if that is the published title at this point, but the image I have is right out of America’s turn-of-the-century (the 20th, not the 21st century).

The images of kids running around a huge open field with family and friends setting up picnics on the ground is truly fantasy.  I see kids in knickers.  I see puppies chasing the kids.  I think a red-and-white checkered tablecloth—fabric not plastic nor paper—and a wicker basket, accompanies every picnic.  The menu includes homemade fried chicken, potato salad, and apple pie.  You can see how clearly I have created this fantasy in my mind.  What is worse is that it ends in everybody sitting around with sparklers watching huge fireworks for hours—not just 30 minutes.  And do not forget the homemade ice cream that was cranked by everybody during the afternoon.

Does it sound like a fantasy?  Yes it is, but today we do celebrate America’s freedom from the British monarchy.  The reality of the 21st century is that the freedom established in 1776 looks very different than that founded by that first group of colonial leaders.  American freedom was first defined by the Declaration of Independence:

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. . . .

These words indicate the very beginning ideas on which America was established.  The foundations of freedom are based on the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”  The founders then went on to lay out the descriptors of freedom:

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. . . .

In order to assure these freedoms for all citizens—men, women and children—a government was determined as necessary.

—  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, . . .

Yet, all governments change.  Sometimes the change is abusive to the citizens, sometimes greed takes over, and sometimes war causes change.  Each time a government changes, freedoms are jeopardized.  The Declaration continues:

—  That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.   (accessed on July 1, 2010 from http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/ )

True, these words sound familiar and yet they are unfamiliar to us.  We learned about them in school but we do not often review them.  Remember that one of the oldest rules in learning is that you must know your history in order not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

The freedom defined in the Declaration of Independence is clearly connected to the understanding of Christian principles.  The similarity of American freedom and Christian freedom are extensive, but the generations of leaders between 1776 and 2010 have tried to redefine American freedom.  The generations have tried to place a distance between American and Christian freedom.  Is that distance necessary?

As a Christian, I see no separation between these two concepts.  What I do see is a country that struggles to preserve American freedom as it was first defined.  What I know is that as a Christian, I remain free regardless of any political structure in which I live; but I also know that following the Christian principles should preserve American freedom as designed by our founding leaders

Miss Edith loaned me a little inspirational book months ago.  It was filled with connections between America’s history and the Bible.  The connections cannot be ignored when they are so plainly published in God Bless America.  The very first page, even before the title page, quotes Psalm 33:12 . . .

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”

When a country alludes to God in its opening statement, how can it be ignored?  Even though the phrase in the Declaration does not define a specific God, history has shown this to be God as we know him through the Bible.

The little book continues to make connections between our country and our Christian faith.  Simply scanning the table of contents reveals the similar traits of being an American and a Christian.  The sections are prayer, freedom, leadership, worship, stewardship, justice, community, and service. Over the past two years of servings as your pastor, I have used many of these words to encourage the use of Christian faith in an active manner.

Return to the basic question for today:  Must American and Christian freedom be separated?  I suggest that they cannot be separated.  By placing our Christian faith first and foremost, we follow the one commandment to love one another.  By following that one, just one simple law, makes it possible for us to preserve our political freedom and to do all that we can do to preserve that freedom for others.

Look at the verses again from Galatians 6:

1-3 Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.

These words from Paul to members in a new, but established church were meant to encourage them.  Living in Christian freedom does not always come easily and yet by living Christian principles we are free.  We need to remember what God expects from us.  Paul outlines them in his instructions to Timothy:

Be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.  . . .  Keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.  Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith.

This passage, 1 Timothy 3:8-9,13, begins the section “Leadership” in God Bless America. The editors see the connection between responsible leadership of our country and the Christian leadership of Paul.  Paul lead the early Christian leaders like Timothy to demonstrate how to live out the New Covenant under any political structure.  We Americans are so fortunate that we can publically live freely as Christians.  We are so fortunate that we can demonstrate our faith in all aspects of our lives.  We are so challenged to handle the woes of today’s society, but living as Christians keeps us free.

Under the section “Stewardship,” the Biblical reference is from Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

This is our responsibility as Christians and as Americans.  We are caretakers of our fellow humans regardless of gender, age, race, or religion.  We are to love one another and to serve one another.

When Thomas Jefferson was writing the Declaration of Independence, he knew the importance of the words listed on that document.  Looking into the future, he knew there was a need for change, for flexibility, and for administration.  But he did not overlook the basic principles of Christianity as he carefully stated the foundations of a new nation, the freedoms that all humans should be guaranteed, and the responsibilities that come with that citizenship.

As is inscribed on the Liberty Bell, “Proclaim liberty through all the land and to all the inhabitants thereof.”  And who are those inhabitants?  Not only were there those who already were living on the land in 1776, but also the ones claimed by Emma Lazarus in her poem found on the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

The words were written in 1903, but the people identified in the lines are the same ones the Jesus identified in his ministry.  We, as free Christians, are to accept our responsibility and to serve all that we can.

Let us, as Christian Americans, follow Paul’s instructions to the Galatians:

9-10So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.

From the study notes in the Life Application Bible, these words sum up the frustrations we have as free Christians even in a free country:

It is discouraging to continue to do right and receive no word of thanks or see no tangible results.  But Paul challenged the Galatians and he challenges us to keep on doing good and to trust God for the results, in due time, we will reap a harvest of blessings.

Must we separate American freedom from Christian freedom?  No.  Not only no, but heck no (remember we are in church)!  No one said it was going to be easy to be an American.  No one said it was going to be easy to be a Christian.  Yet, the freedom we have is like breath itself.  We can live as we wish; and if we live as Christians, we experience a sense of freedom that defies all boundaries, even the one between heaven and earth.

Dear Father of our Freedom,

Help us to preserve our freedom here in this land of ours.  Help us to use the skills and the Golden Rule to preserve the freedoms that were set out by our founding fathers and fought for by so many, many soldiers over these past 234 years.  Thank you for demonstrating how following Christ provides us a personal freedom from all worldly things and encourages us to give to one another in God’s name.  May we each accept our responsibility as a Christian and an American to preserve freedom for all.             –Amen

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