July the fourth, 2021. It has been 245 years since the Declaration of Independence which separated us from England and King George III. As Benjamin Franklin was coming out of the Constitutional Convention some years later, a woman asked him, “Mr Franklin, what kind of government have you given us?” “A Republic, madam,” he answered. “If you can keep it.” And since those days we have been involved in a struggle to live up to the words, a more perfect union, establish justice, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity. The United States was born under a dream of a better life for everyone. But over the years we have had to redefine “everyone”?? And what liberty, i.e. freedom, means, and taking care of ALL the people, and ensuring a JUST society. And the whole world has watched us down through ages and copied us and come here to make their home. Because this was America and this was better. There are multitudes of stories of what these people found when they arrived — the struggles, the prejudice, the poverty. It seems before they could really call this home, everybody had to shed a little of their blood in some form to make this dream a reality.
I have been reading the wartime sermons of Peter Marshall, the pastor of Riverside Presbyterian church in New York City and also chaplain of the US Senate during World War II. His sermons were legendary as he called to the American people that the country was struggling. The war was a last resort for the hopes and dreams of humanity everywhere. We said we were fighting for liberty, but Dr. Marshall noted in our own country people of color and indigenous people were not free to vote or experience economic opportunity. Dr. Marshall said that God was calling his people to accept the gospel message of loving God and loving your neighbor to create a world where everyone could live without fear. His sermons from those pivotal years in our history ring out loudly today. “Our Government is in danger of control by corrupt party machines — cynical, ruthless, self-seeking, lovers of power and authority, which should challenge every true patriot.” We are fighting the same battles today as political parties lash out at each other in a stream of hate-filled words trying to undo any good the other party has done. Humanity cannot advance when this is the path that is taken. This is not what the founding fathers and mothers intended.
It is worth thinking about on this July 4th and asking the question, “Will we turn from our rebellious and stubborn ways?” Could there be a rededication to the ideals that the original signers imagined when they put their names to the Declaration of Independence? They pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to get the dream moving toward reality. We are not there yet, but there is a spirit in the American dream which holds to the promises of “liberty and justice for all.” May it happen soon.