Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (The Collect for Independence Day)
Last Saturday we celebrated America’s birthday, Independence Day, and rightly so. The founding of our new nation was, and is, something to be celebrated. Never before in the history of the world had a nation come into being built on the principles of the equality of all men and the “unalienable Rights [of] Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” As we all know, those words have had to be expanded over the 200+ years since they were first written-slavery had to be done away with so that all men, regardless of the color of their skin, might be included; and “men” had to be expanded to include women as endowed with those same inalienable rights; and these ideals are still works in progress. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson, sometimes called the “most democratic of the [Founding] Fathers,” wrote in a letter to James Madison
, “no society can make a perpetual constitution or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation.”
The earth belongs always to the living generation.
It is our responsibility, then, as citizens to always review and reimagine what those principles of equality and the unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness mean and to whom they must be extended. Even more so is it our responsibility as Christians. In the Gospel reading for Independence Day
, Jesus reminds us to, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . . for [God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” I would go a step further and say that God makes the principles of equality and the unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness also to “rise on the evil and the good, and . . . on the righteous and the unrighteous.” It is not for us to judge; we are called only to pray.
This brings me to those words of one of our nation’s most cherished anthems, “God Bless America
.” For a long time I didn’t like hearing this song at all-I feel that it is so often sung not as a plea but as a demand, or as a fait accompli
, a done deal-but that’s because it is so often sung without its first verse:
While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer. That prayer being that God would bless America, not that God has already blessed America. As citizens and as Christians, it is our responsibility to pray for God’s blessing on America and to work toward that blessing through ever expanding the ideals of equality and the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, even to those we call our enemies.