Celebrating Independence Day on a Sunday provides a natural springboard for sermons about the Declaration of Independence, signed by the founders 245 years ago on July 4, 1776. This week’s clergy share their diverse perspectives on sermonizing about that founding document, which mentions God four times, including in its first sentence.
The Rev. Karen Ann Campbell
Rector, Christ Episcopal Church, Sag Harbor
I'm not preaching this Fourth of July, but in the past, I've spoken about how when my children were young, the Fourth of July included making strawberry jam, eating waffles, my husband frying many pounds of chicken and reading the Declaration of Independence out loud. I wanted them to know about the sacrifices made so that we could have a huge picnic at the local U.S. Army post and hear a fantastic band performance concluding with Tchaikovsky’s "1812 Overture" — with real cannons and a terrific fireworks display.
I am aware that none of our country’s founders was perfect. The individuals involved had blinders on when it came to enslaving other humans. They left us the legacy of slavery that causes us to struggle to live into our vision for our country. Even so, the conclusion of their declaration stirs my heart. "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."
The score card: During the Revolutionary War, 17 of the signers lost all their property, nine lost their lives and four lost their sons in combat with the British. Today, will we pledge our lives, possessions and honor to make certain that all U.S. citizens are free to pursue life, liberty and happiness?
The Rev. Monte Malik Chandler
Senior pastor, Assembly of Prayer Baptist Church, Roslyn Heights
I revisit the steadfast resistance and faith of Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (Book of Daniel), who refused to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image and instead told him that their God is the only true God, and that even if the God they serve has the power to rescue them, and does not, God is still God. They did not bow down.
Likewise, our congregation won’t celebrate a holiday that in the face of police brutality, savage inequalities in education, health care and access to wealth, only serves to underscore the words of African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ July 1852 speech: "What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?"
I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety and hypocrisy. We shall not bow down!
The Rev. Donna Marie Field
Senior minister, St. Paul’s Reformed Church in North Babylon
Just because the American holiday of July 4 falls on a Sunday doesn’t mean that the Sunday Christian sermon is its focus. This is a challenge for any minister who is facing a national holiday where it is easy to commingle American nationalism with Christianity instead of solely worshipping and praising God.
The Gospel of John (3:16-18) is one of the most well-known Scripture verses. It tells the world that God, who is love, actively demonstrates this love through Jesus Christ, who offers salvation to all who profess that Jesus Christ is Lord. This is the most important message than can be given on any given Sunday, that submitting oneself to Jesus and his teaching is spiritual formation that can only start with such profession of faith.
Jesus invites all who seek a better life — a life that seeks a relationship with the Messiah in it. This submission to Jesus and his teaching seems contrary to the theme of independence on this national holiday, but in this world of broken and sinful people, who are wanting of something better, hearing a message of hope and steadfast love and acknowledging that we need this gift of grace, can be freeing.
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