Sermon for Sunday, July 2, 2017
As I begin, I celebrate the 150 anniversary of the independence of Canada with my Canadian friends and I hope these words speak to their experience as well.
Tuesday is the fourth of July, a day of great joy. We celebrate our freedom from tyranny and we celebrate the freedom to make choices. On this day, July 2nd, independence was proclaimed. On the fourth, the final text of the Declaration of Independence was approved. Our country declared freedom from Great Britain and thus began this great experiment in democracy; this effort to see if we can offer freedom to all while continuing to live together as one country. That freedom has been tested many times over the years. The freedom that we experience is a gift, a gift from those who've gone before and prepared the way for us. It is a freedom that we hope to give to those who follow us: our children and grandchildren.
On the fourth of July, three things are utmost on our minds. First, we remember the gifts we have been given. Second, we are thankful for all that has been done for us. Third, we are inspired to do our part so that these gifts will continue. Those same three thoughts (remembrance, thankfulness, and inspiration) are true of our relationship with God and all three of them are key points in today’s lessons.
As citizens, we remember the gifts that we have been given and we remember our freedoms. We have the freedom to choose our religion and the freedom to choose our own job. We have the freedom to travel where we would like to go and the freedom to eat what we want. We have the freedom to spend time with those we like and the freedom to spend our money on whatever we choose.
As Christians, we also remember freedom that we have been given. We find that freedom described in Paul’s letter to the Romans. We have been freed from sin. It is a gift we received from Jesus Christ. Our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection overcomes the tyranny of sin and death.
While Paul’s prose may be confusing at times, his message is not. In our baptism, we have been taken into the death of Christ. The water of baptism is a sign of the cleansing that occurs. As we share in the sacrifice that Jesus made, we are cleansed from sin. We are raised to the newness of life. It is a freedom that we receive, a freedom from sin and a freedom to live in the glory of God’s creation. I feel the peace of God when I remember that I am free to live a holy and Godly life.
I hear about freedom in two verses of the Psalm, “Happy are the people who know the festal shout! they walk, O Lord, in the light of your presence.
They rejoice daily in your Name; they are jubilant in your righteousness.” Our joy is complete because we know God. We shout for joy remembering the gift of God’s love.
As citizens, our memories cause us to be thankful for the freedoms that we receive. We are thankful for the founding fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence. They suffered greatly for the choices that they made. Our freedom comes to us because others fought for it. And we are thankful that our leaders were able to design a republic that continues to offer us freedom after so many centuries. People around the world are so wishful for that freedom that they will go to great lengths to come here and experience some part of that freedom.
Thankfulness is also a theme in our readings. We are thankful for the love of God as it says in the Psalm, “Your love, O Lord, for ever will I sing” We are thankful as described by Paul, “But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart and have become slaves of righteousness.” Thankfulness for God’s blessings is such an important part of our worship service. We say, “It is truly right to glorify you, Father, and to give you thanks.”
What words would you use to describe your thankfulness? Would you choose the words of Meister Eckhart, a German theologian, who wrote
“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” Would you use the words of the Native American Tecumseh,
“When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.” Many songs have been written that speak of our thanks to God. My favorite words of thankfulness come from a song I learned in college. It begins with this for Gods creation.
Thanks be to God for roses rare, for skies of blue and sunshine fair; for every gift I raise a pray’r, thanks be to God!
Thanks be to God for lovely night, for mystic fields with stars bedight, for hours of dream and deep delight, thanks be to God!
But the words seem to get more personal.
Thanks be to God for love divine, the hopes that round my heart entwine;
for all the joy that now is mine, Thanks be to God!
On the fourth we remember famous figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. But there are some lesser known figures that we might remember. Let’s consider Roger Sherman who served on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence.
His biggest contribution was called the Great Compromise, which established a proportionally represented House of Representatives and the Senate to represent the state much of what we have today. Thomas Jefferson described him as “a man who never said a foolish thing in his life.”
While we know of the apostles, there are many disciples of Jesus whom we don’t know. Perhaps, they are the little ones referred to in today’s gospel. Just as Roger Sherman played a critical role in the early days of this country, there are some unknown disciples who helped spread the word of Jesus. We all know that the people following Jesus grew dramatically and it was probably helped along by every one of the current believers from Saint Paul and Peter down to the quietest person who may have just been there to welcome people. We are thankful for all who went before us, who brought us the gospel of Jesus.
Given our remembrances and our thankfulness, we are called to action. As citizens, we respond by doing everything we can to support this country. As Christians, we do everything we can to live our lives as Jesus taught us. Today, we are encouraged to provide hospitality. Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Jesus asks us to welcome those who are followers of Jesus. As people of the desert we truly understand the final words of today’s gospel, “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple-- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” What more can you give to someone in the desert than a cup of cold water?
And these readings suggest the importance of the children to us today. In the gospel of Mark, we find a parallel story. “Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’” I believe Jesus wanted us to include the little children when he referred to welcoming others and receiving a reward.
In the previous chapter of Matthew, Jesus told the apostles to go out and proclaim the words of Jesus. They were told to stop in at whatever house they came to and if they were welcomed there, then God would send grace upon that house. Jesus seems to be reiterating that proclamation today. We never know when someone who is with God will come and visit us. We need to be ready with open arms to welcome them.
This week, as you celebrate Independence Day, I would ask you to also remember the freedoms that you have received because of the sacrifices that Jesus made for us. I would ask you to be thankful for the freedom from sin that you received in your baptism. And I would ask you to be inspired by the grace of Jesus to offer hospitality to all, particularly those who proclaim the gospel of Jesus in their lives. All this we do to be faithful followers of Jesus. Amen.