Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sermon for Year C Proper 9 July 4, 2010

Scotland the Brave

Some of you may be wondering why we have a piper here today—
Why have Scotland represented on the 4th of July?
Isn’t this day all about us? All about America?

The answer to those questions is yes and no.

There is a deep connection
between the Episcopal Church of the United States
and the Scottish Episcopal Church.
And it has to do primarily with what happened after the American colonies
declared their independence from Great Britain.

But first a look at the events that led to this eventual connection.

During the American Revolution,
on July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted and approved
a resolution of independence from Great Britain.
After this resolution was approved,
the Congress then turned its attention to
the Declaration of Independence,
a statement explaining this decision.
Most of you know that Thomas Jefferson headed the Committee of Five
that wrote the Declaration.
Just as they do today, Congress debated and revised the Declaration
And finally approved it—on July 4th.

Interestingly, a day earlier John Adams had written to his wife Abigail:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

Now John Adams’ prediction was off by two days.
From the very beginning,
Americans celebrated their independence on July 4th,
the date shown on the Declaration of Independence.

John Adams predicted the celebration would be July 2
because that was the date the resolution was approved
in a closed session of the Congress.

It is interesting that Adams said this day of Independence
should be celebrated first by acts of devotion “to God Almighty.”
Then he goes on about parades and bonfires and games and illuminations.

And if you are wondering, as I did,
if fireworks had been invented in 1776
and was John Adams referring to fireworks
when he wrote illuminations,
then I can tell you I looked it up
and found out that fireworks
have been around since the 12th century==
when they were invented in China.
I don’t know if they had fireworks on that first 4th of July celebration—
but we have certainly made up for that in the years that have followed.

I am not sure we score very highly when it comes to first
celebrating our independence by acts of devotion to God.

It is unusual that July 4th comes on a Sunday.
If the date falls in midweek,
it tends to go by without much fanfare at all in the church.
And in truth,
because no secular event can trump a Sunday,
our liturgical calendar this year
tells us to transfer July 4th to Monday, July 5th.

But when I read John Adams letter about celebrating the 4th
(well, he said the 2nd)
with acts of devotion to God Almighty,
it seemed highly appropriate
that we acknowledge this day—this celebration—
in our worship.

The readings for today
are the readings assigned for this 6th Sunday after Pentecost.
Our gospel reading today
focuses on Jesus sending others out into the world,
out to continue God’s mission.

It is undeniable that part of God’s mission is
that all people should live as free people.
We hear that message
over and over and over in scripture—
both in the Old Testatment and the New Testament.

The writers of our Declaration of Independence based this right for freedom
on rights they believed came directly from God:

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.

Those writers of the Declaration of Independence proclaimed
that our freedom was a gift from God.
Given to everyone.

If we ourselves claim to be people of God,
and Americans,
then we can’t just rush out to the fireworks celebrations
and the picnics.
It is important to take at least a little time
to ponder how we are living into this gift, this blessing
of living as free people.
It is important to take at least a little time
to consider what we are doing in our lives, in our church, in our nation
what we are doing to bring about and assure the freedom of others.

According to those who gathered at that 2nd Continental Congress,
according to those who have lived fully into that Declaration
with respect to those who give their lives for freedom--
regardless of national origin, gender,
economic, social or political status—
has rights that are given by the grace of God—
and no one has the right
to threaten or take away
life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness.

It is something for us to seriously ponder and pray about
when we consider others who desperately desire freedom.

There is no doubt that God calls us to stand up and speak up
so that all God’s people might be free.
It is not easy and often it is not popular
to speak and fight for those who do not share the freedom
we often take for granted.

Fighting for these rights,
for ourselves and for others throughout the world,
is indeed often
like being sent out as lambs into the midst of wolves.

Fighting does not always mean bearing arms.
Fighting is not just about weapons and wars.

We fight with our votes,
We fight with our voices,
We fight with our wallets.
We fight with our prayers.

But there is no doubt—
either Biblically or in how we were shaped as a nation—
that we are called to value life,
to value freedom.
and to value happiness.
For ourselves and for others.

But what is the connection between Scotland and the Episcopal Church?

The connection is
that if it were not for Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church,
who stood up for our American Episcopal Church,
we likely would not exist as a denomination
in the United States today.

If a few Scottish people
had not cared about their brothers and sisters in Christ
in a land far away,
in a place where many of them had never been
and would never go—
a land—the new country the United States of America—
and her people-- which were at that time
were viewed as revolutionaries,
ingrates, terrorists even.

Yet Scotland looked beyond all of that
and reached out to help—in the name of God.

Before the revolutionary war,
the church here was the Church of England.
Because remember, we were part of England.
We were a colony.

During the colonial period, the entire continent of America
was part of the Diocese of London.
Although the truth is,
the Bishop of London never once visited the congregations
here in America.
There were no confirmations.
Remember? Your priest can baptize, marry and bury,
but it takes a Bishop to confirm,
to make you a full member of the Episcopal Church.

There were no ordinations.
A bishop must lay hands upon one’s head
to be ordained a priest or a deacon.
There were no bishop consecrations,
because it takes a minimum of three bishops
to consecrate a new bishop.

So needless to say,
the church in America, even before the Revolutionary War,
was none to happy that the Bishop of London
never set foot or eye upon our spacious skies,
or purple mountains majesty.
We had long been separated by the shining sea.

After the revolutionary war,
ten clergymen (and they were all men in those days)
met in Connecticut in 1783
and elected Samuel Seabury as Bishop.

Now Samuel Seabury traveled to England—
as he was elected but still needed to be consecrated Bishop—
and that takes other Bishops (at least 3).

But no bishops in the Church of England would consecrate him--
UNLESS he would take the required oath of loyalty
to the British Monarchy.
And he would not.

So Samuel Seabury went on to Scotland.

And on November 14,1784, at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Aberdeen,
Samuel Seabury was consecrated Bishop for America.
And it was this act that officially began
the worldwide Anglican communion.

Thank you, Scotland!

I know it is not the origin of the pipe tune Scotland the Brave,
but I always think of the Scottish Episcopal Church
defying the Church of England by consecrating
Samuel Seabury as our first American Bishop.
Scotland was brave indeed to do this.

The Church of Scotland felt that being bound together by God
overruled any political boundaries or national allegiances.

Over 200 years ago the people of the Scottish Episcopal Church
looked upon us as their neighbors
and reached out to us
so that our church might continue.
So that we would have the freedom
to worship as we desired.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
God only wants the best for us.
For all of us,
for all God’s people.

Those of us who have life, liberty and happiness in abundance
are called by God
to fight the good fight for those who do not.
To reach out to those who are on the fringes.
To reach beyond borders and boundaries.

This is how we continue God's mission to the world.

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