Rev. Tony Romaine
Let me begin by reading some names:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry, Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery, Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott, William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris, Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark, Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross, Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean, Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll, George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton, William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn, Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward Jr., Thomas Lynch Jr., Arthur Middleton, Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton…
John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson
Perhaps you did not know until you read the more familiar names, but these are the original signers on the Declaration of Independence. The very people who wrote:
“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.
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.”
If we may re-write this for our context, we might say that all persons are created equal , but other than that, we would not change a thing from this preamble to our Declaration of Independence. Because, we truly do believe that we are guaranteed rights by God to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Furthermore, we would agree that it is not mankind that endows these rights upon us, but God. Not a soul here would dispute this. Now, we can parse words and argue about what life is, what liberty is, and what happiness is; but we cannot parse that all people are given these rights by God and no one should be allowed to hinder what God has created.
When our fore-fathers were drafting these arguments to present as a Declaration of Independence to the most powerful military, navy, and government in all the world. They were doing so as a tiny group of colonists. They were doing so as a secret organization working through back channels and barrooms, churches and people’s homes. And they were doing this because they could no longer live under the conditions which kept them from truly living their lives.
But little did they know that their declaration would echo throughout history as not just a document that would affect the course of American history but the course of humanity. To be certain, our fore-fathers were not the first in time to consider what natural laws handed out by God were unalienable and protected by natural powers and not destructible or deniable by humanity.
But, to place it in a document and deliver it to the world, to stand up against royalty, and to write it down is what makes it a lasting and memorable event.
It makes me think of a small group of people huddled together and awaiting instructions by their teacher about what to do and where to go. I am reminded from our Gospel today of the words, “See I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” For the disciples that would be what it would feel like. I can only imagine them listening to Jesus in a small tent gathered around and hearing that they must go out and spread and share the Good News. That they must declare to the world, to a Judaic world, that the world must change. That the ways of humanity are detrimental to humanity, that there is one called Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life, and that Jesus came as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets…and that what this all means is that we are to love God and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. No matter the day, no matter the person, no matter the sickness or ailment, no matter what…just as Jesus teaches.
In other words, these disciples were going to be telling the powers of their day, the Jewish rulers and the Romans, that there is one God, that God has come in the form of Jesus, and their current world is going to be turned upside down. Just as our creators of our declaration of independence, the disciples would be declaring to the status quo that it is not the way things should be and times were in need of change, that God created all people to be loved as Jesus loves and it is up to us to proclaim and live this way.
Fast-forward to today…do we live in a world that protects life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
When you read the news or watch tv, do people seem happy?
Does our current state of affairs in the United States offer people the freedom of liberty?
Are people allowed to live a life they wish to free from persecution, entrapment, or unjust laws?
Are we loving God?
Are we loving our neighbor?
Abraham Lincoln called the Declaration of Independence “a rebuke and a stumbling-block to tyranny and oppression.” I think this could also describe our Gospel, the Good News we are called to share with the world. Jesus’ message of love for God and neighbor guarantees all people the created Spirit, that God-spark inside us all, to be recognized and loved. That all people are not just created equal and free, but that we are all indeed created by God to be who we are, loved for who God made us to be, and are guaranteed not by man, but by God, those rights there within.
Furthermore, we are called by Jesus to share this News with this world and to change our world for the better. We are called to be the lambs led amidst the wolves, we are called to declare to the world that we will no longer live under the tyranny of hate or the oppression of fear. And we are called by God to be the hands and feet of love which this world needs now more than ever.
And if you think that you cannot do anything about the current climate, if you think you cannot affect change, remember the handful of disciples Jesus sent out to change the world, remember the names I read at the beginning of this sermon today and look around you…for amongst you God has placed the people who will change the world. Because without the efforts and actions of the few; the many; the status quo, will not change. Before there ever was John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson as we know them, there were the fifty-some other people working right along side of them. And to think that they were not afraid of the effects that might happen to them at the hands of their enemies would be false. Which is why the final statement in the Declaration is this: “— And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
And so let our lives be committed to each other in service of God. Our fortunes given to benefit our neighbor. Our sacred honor, that above all else, we declare God’s love of all people to all people; let this be our declaration to the world, Amen!