Anticipating the Fourth of July, today we celebrate our Independence Day. What you may not know is that July 4th is actually a feast day in the Episcopal Church. The psalms, lessons, and prayer were first appointed for this national observance in the Proposed Prayer Book of 1786. But at the General Convention of 1789, they were deleted. Bishop William White pushed for the deletion because he thought it was inappropriate, since the majority of the clergy had been loyal to the Crown. Bishop White wanted the church to be honest about who the church was, had been, and could be. Not until the 1928 Prayer Book did the liturgical observance return.
Now I am going to do something today I almost never do – talk politics. I get very wary when motions of church and state blend. The idea of honoring our Independence Day in the context of church makes me nervous. I get nervous because I often find that instead of honoring the Fourth for the freedoms we have, our nationalism becomes about pushing agendas – liberal or conservative ones, and we seem to honor superior power over the blessing of freedom from opposition.
All we have to do is look at our texts today and see how we forget. Our texts do not talk about superiority or dominance. The texts talk about loving enemies (like the British over 240 years ago, or any modern “enemy” today). The texts talk about caring for the orphan and widow, loving strangers, and providing food and clothing to the needy. If we want to honor our founding fathers, we must strive to, as our collect says, “maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace.”
One of my favorite comedians, Stephen Colbert, once said this: “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.” I know his words have some satirical sting, depending on your politics, but as we celebrate our independence and our faith fathers and national founders, perhaps the Fourth can become not about what we won, but what we owe – to the poor, the needy, the stranger … and to ourselves and our God. Amen.