Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
July 1, 2018
Text: II Corinthians 8:9, O.T.: Psalm 130, N.T.: II Corinthians 8:7-15
This week we celebrate the 242nd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration’s inspiring words still stir the American soul. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal by their Creator and are endowed with unalienable rights, among them being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
This declaration from our nation’s Founding Fathers defines our national identity. Every American consciously or unconsciously subscribes to this belief.
Thomas Jefferson first penned this faith statement. Subsequent generations have tried to live it. Our national unity rests in our collective belief that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are personal endowments granted to all by God the Creator. It separates American democracy from others.
Americans remember less the closing statement made by the signers of our Declaration of Independence. “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.”
No great ideal stands the test of time without the commitment of free people to defend it. No great principle for living together endures without the sacrifice of believers for the good the ideal represents.
It was relatively easy for the Declaration of Independence’s signers to claim life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are endowments of Creation. It was much more difficult for them to defend their claim with their lives and honor.
There are parallels between our national life and the life of Christianity. Two weeks ago, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. convened its 223rd General Assembly. Our Church and America are formed by declarations that act as confessions of faith. National and Church unity depend on each declaration becoming personal confessions. Our national confession declares life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are divine rights granted by Almighty God in Creation. The Church’s confession declares Jesus Christ is God’s Son in whom there’s forgiveness of sins, and eternal life as gifts from God the Redeemer.
People freely accept both declarations to form a faith community. Immigrants seeking citizenship are more acutely aware of the national confession of faith than we who are born into American life. They swear an oath to our national declaration to become citizens. It is a national truth they believe.
Converts to Christianity are more acutely aware of the truth lying behind Christian community than those born into Christianity. They’ve intentionally abandoned other beliefs and ways of living to accept Jesus Christ as God’s Son. They swear an oath that Christ is Lord to be baptized into the Church.
However, no one would accept either the nation’s or the Church’s confession of faith if it wasn’t defended by their people. The nation’s confession of faith was defended by 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Each original signer was willing to give up their liberty to own property and acquire economic prosperity, to give up living, to give up their honor, to defend this confession of faith. Each believed Almighty God granted life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to every person in the colonies – even if it was a truth that everyone didn’t enjoy.
Thomas Jefferson, for example, was one of many slave-owning signers who wanted freedom for himself. Slaves had to wait. Women lacked the same legal status as men when the Declaration of Independence was signed.
But the confession was America’s promise of hope for the future. Its truth drew people to these shores, the truth that held promise – even to slaves and women. The confessional truth of the Declaration of Independence could not stand simply as a statement of conviction. It was defended by its signers
Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, lost his ships, home, and properties during the American Revolution. He died in poverty. The British looted the properties of Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnet, Heyward, Rutledge, and Middleton.
Thomas Nelson, Jr.’s grand estate sat in Yorktown, Virginia. He knew the British high command had taken his home. Nelson instructed George Washington to turn his cannons loose on his residence. There’s evidence today that cannon shot hit his home from the direction of the colonists’ lines.
Neither John Adams nor John Hancock’s homes in Boston were destroyed, nor was Jefferson’s Monticello. But, John Hart was driven from his dying wife’s bedside. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and gristmill were laid to waste. He lived for more than a year in forests and caves.
Abraham Clark had two sons captured and imprisoned. Rev. John Witherspoon saw a son die at the Battle of Germantown in October of 1777. The Presbyterian minister followed the path of Almighty God, who watched His son die on the Cross defending the world’s hope.
The Founding Fathers personally accepted responsibility to defend America’s confession of faith in God’s blessing. They were following Jesus Christ, who accepted a life of poverty to defend the truth of God’s grace.
Christ accepted suffering and death for God’s promise to forgive sins. His poverty offered the future promise of eternal life as the riches of God’s blessing.
Christ’s humility on the Cross modeled the cost of discipleship for future Christians. Christ’s graciousness from the Cross became the example of discipleship for future Christians. Christ’s defense of God’s goodness in the face of the Cross’ injustice inspired His followers to be Christ’s examples of goodness to a disbelieving world.
Throughout history Christ’s followers willingly sacrificed their liberty to own property and to be prosperous. They gave up their life and honor in defense of Christ’s confession of faith in our merciful Father.
The Apostles Peter and Andrew accepted the Cross. The Apostles Paul and James the Greater were martyred. The Apostles Thomas and Matthew’s martyrdoms, as well as that of Luke, the writer of the Gospel of Peace, defended the confession of God’s promise in Jesus Christ.
Through two millennia, Thomas a Becket, Sir Thomas More, John Wycliffe, John Huss, Patrick Hamilton, James Guthrie, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Mother Theresa were just a few Christians who became poor that you and I might be rich in Jesus Christ.
Wherever the truth of God’s benevolence in Christ inspires people, there are men, women, youth, and children willing to become poor in order for future generations to be rich in Christ.
We live during an era in the Church’s life, as well as in our national history, when we must not shy away from defending the two great confessions of faith that are our inheritance. America’s honor doesn’t rest on earlier generations’ faithfulness to defend our national confession.
Likewise, the number of Christians willing to serve the confession of Christ as Lord cannot be counted by those who have already been raised to eternal life through Jesus Christ. Across every part of Christ’s communion in America younger generations are being called by Christ to become poor that future generations might become rich in Him.
Friends, we live in an America where the twentieth-century Jewish novelist Ayn Rand represents the modern view of our inherited rights. She claims reason is the only means to acquire knowledge. Religious devotion and altruism are unnecessary. Serving God is out. Rational self-interest is in. Loving your neighbor as yourself; doing unto others as you would have them do unto you is for fools.
Ayn Rand’s definition of liberty in the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged will not benefit America’s next generations. Ayn Rand is not cut from the same cloth as the Founding Fathers. Ayn Rand’s idolatry of self-interest doesn’t benefit either the Church’s next generations, or a disbelieving world that desperately needs a loving community.
Rational self-interest justifies injustice for the good of protecting yourself. Reasonable people with only self-interest as their moral principle will do whatever makes sense to them to get what they want.
Christ calls us to discipline our wants to represent God’s goodness. Self-discipline is the root of self-sacrifice. Self-discipline is the root of happiness. Without self-discipline, we can never find happiness in a world of freedom. Once we get what we want with our freedom, we will want something new we don’t have. Without self-discipline we endlessly chase after unfulfilled dreams.
Liberty was defended with the sacrifices made by the nation’s Founding Fathers so future generations could be responsible for the nation’s good. American liberty has always been a call to responsible public service to defend our national confession.
Liberty in Jesus Christ was defended by the Apostles so future Christians could be responsible for God’s hope in the world. Liberty in Jesus Christ is always the freedom to declare forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name for the world’s good.
This year the General Assembly of our Presbyterian communion contemplated Christian discipleship in our post-modern world.
Let us pray that Christ’s example is the inspiration for our Church to defend His name in this world. May our General Assembly commissioners be willing to give up their life, fortunes, and honor to defend Christ’s confession in a culture of self-interest.
May we who are gathered in worship today be equally committed to give up our life, fortunes, and honor in defense of our confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord in a nation worshipping self-interest.
We are inheritors of the greatest confession of faith offered for the world’s hope. We have received from earlier generations’ poverty riches of faith.
Two hundred and forty-two years from now, the world will look back on this age. What will the history books say about us?
How will you and I, and our children be measured by future generations? Will they see in us the defense of faithfulness to the confessions of faith that are our sacred inheritance? Will they see us become poor that future generations become rich in the confessions that inspire us?
Will they describe how we stood side by side to call the world together for peace and reconciliation through the confessions that are our sacred endowment?
Let us give them proof that stands the test of time. Let our example show future generations what inspired our ancestors to come to these shores as disciples of Jesus Christ – to the glory of God and the hope of the world!