Summary: In this diverse nation, Christians will sometimes feel as though they are suffering the slings and arrows of misunderstanding, hostility, and persecution. Jesus promises that those who are so misunderstood, will be the bearers of eternal light.
Blessed are the Persecuted
Four hundred years ago, they were beginning to come. From Spain, France, England, and Holland they came. They came searching for riches, fame, and glory. They came because of the innate curiosity of human beings. They came because they shared the most human of desires: to see what is around the next bend, over the next mountain, or beyond the horizon. They were willing to face the peril of the seas, the unknown of the American wilderness, strange and threatening natives, and their own limitations. They arrived on the northern New England coast, in Virginia, in the Carolinas, Georgia, and on the Florida peninsula.
As the migration from Europe began to grow, they came seeking freedom. Those who were oppressed by governments, by the established church, by poverty, and by circumstance came hoping for a new life.
The Puritans came; the Quakers came; the Congregationalists came; the Baptists came; the Methodists came. They came desiring to worship as they pleased and to live out their lives before God in the manner they deemed most worthy.
As the colonies grew, so did the desire to form a new nation. Unjust taxation, non-representation in government, suppression of ideas, and persecution of those who dared to disagree; these all became part of the social, political, and moral landscape. It finally became so intolerable that good citizens felt justified to band together for the purpose of forming a new nation.
On July 2, 1776, in Philadelphia, the Continental Congress adopted the resolution, introduced by Richard Henry Lee and John Adams, which actually declared independence from Great Britain. It declared, in part, ``that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.’’ The Declaration, which explained why the Colonies (now States) declared their independence, was adopted by the Continental Congress July 4, 1776. The leading draftsman was Thomas Jefferson, assisted by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman. A portion of the text follows:
The Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies
In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
The Declaration ends with these stirring words:
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.
We stand here today, 229 years later, and give thanks for the vision, the wisdom, and the sacrifice of our early American mothers and fathers. We are grateful that we have been granted the privilege to live in such a place as this: a place of freedom, of laws, of justice – a place where we can worship without fear. We owe a profound debt of gratitude to those who through the generations have been willing to place the welfare of the nation above their own comfort and safety. We owe our prayers to those who this very day, stand in harm’s way as they serve the nation we all cherish.
As we worship here today, I pray that we might remember not only the nation, but the Lord without whose grace, we would not stand. Let us never forget that as precious as our homeland is, as thankful as we are to live in the finest democracy in world history, as wonderful as the blessings of political liberty are: our first and foremost allegiance is to almighty God. The democracy we revere can only be strengthened when we seek God’s presence in our individual lives as well as our corporate gathering.