Today, our nation celebrates Independence Day, the day where we commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the sure sign of our nations freedom from the oppression that was being experienced under the monarch of the United Kingdom. On this day, 241 years ago, the founders of our nation shed the labels of the British Empire and declared that they were the United States of America, a new nation where religious freedom, freedom of press, and freedom of expression could flourish. A nation of immigrants, where all those fleeing tyranny and oppression could find hope, prosperity, and a new life for themselves and their prodginy.
In many senses, it was a nobel goal, and a momentus day. It laid the foundation for a nation that would dramatically alter the history and trajectory of the world. It commemorated the dawning of a new day in the world, a new project of democracy and liberty, a reason for oppressive empires around the world to begin shaking as they watched this fledling nation grow and succeed.
On the other hand, we do know that the founders of this nation were very imperfect people. No, they were more than imperfect, they were deeply broken and unjust individuals in many ways, who bought into the belief in European Supremacy, and saw all non western, non-European people as something less than human, something to be exploited, used, and disgarded when their usefulness was up. They bought into a belief that God was on their side, and would give them the power and blessing to conquer this new land, to exterminate the indigenous peoples who had been living here for thousands of years, in order to establish what they believed was the dawning of the New World Order- the Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven.
So even as we examine Independence Day historically, its important to realize that while we are all, in some ways, benefactors because of the men and women who traveled across the ocean and declared independence in this new land, these actions were done in such a way that exploited, murdered, ransacked, and pillaged the lands, cultures, and legacy of the Indigenous people of this nation- a sin that is completely unjustified and a sin that has not been atoned for.
And as we reflect on Independence Day here in America, 241 years after the adoption of the Declaration by our forefathers, we would also do well to take a long, hard look in the mirror of our national consciousness and ask, “Are we truly a free nation?”. Are we a nation that lives up to the ideals that this country was founded upon? Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for everyone who enters into this land? Equality, dignity, and equal protection under the law for every citizen of this nation?
While we may have freed ourselves from the rule of one oppressive empire, is it possible that we as a nation have become the very thing from which we ran? Or worse, have we become the more powerful, more influential oppressive empire?
I do not seek to answer these questions for us this morning. But I do invite each one of us here to consider as we celebrate this week by drinking beers, eating hotdogs, laying on the beach, and watching fireworks, to consider what it is were actually celebrating.
Just this week the Supreme Court declared that immigrants and visitors from a number of Muslim-dominant countries would be banned from entering the United States. Think about that- our nation was literallyfounded to be a safe-haven of religious freedom and expression for all people and yet somehow, two and a half centuries later, we have become a nation whose Federal Government discriminates against visitors and immigrants based on the dominant religion of their country of origin.
Just a few weeks ago, a ruling was upheld that made it legal for public buisinesses to discriminate against LGBT+ people simply based on their sexuality or gender if the business owner or employee believed that persons existence was sinful. A nation founded by people who were fleeingfrom discrimination based on their choiceto not believe in and belong to the Church of England now legislates discrimination against LGBT+ people simply for being who God made them to be.
If we really think about it, on this Independence Day, we as a nation might find ourselves less free than we have in a while. But even as we reflect deeper, we may discover that since our nations start, this “freedom project” has been stained by bigotry, discrimination, and greed. While our forefathers may have been free from the opreesive grip of one empire, they quickly developed and implemented another oppressive empire.
The Scriptures teach us that true freedom comes only from living in step with the Spirit of Christ- for where the Spirit of Christ is, there is liberty. Our nation needs a little more of the Spirit of Christ, don’t we? We need to lean in and listen to the life and teachings of Jesus and ask ourselves what it would look like if we took them seriously and implemented them in our world. What would it look like if we embodied radical grace, equality, and generocity for everyone without exception? What would our nation become if we each spent more time imporving ourselves than critizing others? What would happen if we put others needs before our own, and sought justice in every circumstance? Could perhaps then we taste true, enduring freedom?
Again, I am not here to answer these questions today, but simply to submit them to us all for consideration on this day. And let me be clear- we have great reason to be thankful. We do live in one of the most advanced, equal, and innovative societies that the world has ever known. It is a blessing to be an American, and despite our sins and grave evils, we have become a force of liberation and healing for many in the world.
So as we go about this day, we do have reason to celebrate. We can celebrate that original vision of our forefathers of a nation where all could believe, practice, and live however they so desired without fear of persecution from the government. But in the midst of our celebration, may we be mindful of the truth beneath the surface, the reality that so many people of color and other minorities face in this nation every day- a reality that is far less than dignity and equality and justice.
It is indeed my prayer that God blesses America- bless us with open eyes, open hearts, open hands, open borders, and open arms to be the nation that welcomes, empowers, and blesses all who grace the shores of this land.