Summary: God is always giving the gift of freedom. In revolutionary times, value the past, know that the present is incomplete, step forward in faith for the future.
God is always ready to give the gift of freedom. The one thing you can be sure that God is always about is freedom, freeing His people from the things which hold them back. In every time and place, our God is working to give the gift of freedom.
When He does that, we call it a revolution. We see it as a new thing. When God’s work reaches one of those climactic moments in history, and freedom breaks loose, we call it a revolution. And it is. It is a new thing. But it is also something which grows out of all that God has been doing all along. God’s new thing grows out of God’s old thing. Like these lovely flowers, which look so fresh and new, and they are; but they have grown out of seeds that germinated a long time ago.
Now there are three things to do when you are in a revolutionary time. The first thing is to value what has been done in the past.
The second is to remember that whatever changes come about are not going to be complete.
And the third is to step forward in faith into the freedom of the future. For remember, God is always at work to give the gift of freedom. In a revolutionary moment we are to live valuing the past, seeing the present as incomplete but as hopeful, and embracing the future. When change comes, something in it will be the gift of God, freedom.
This weekend, as you well know, we celebrate Independence Day. We are remembering the American Revolution and its promise of freedom. The American Revolution illustrates what I am trying to say about great times of change. It broke new ground; those sturdy colonists, without much money and with an army fitted out with little more than patriotism, managed to overthrow monarchy, advance democracy, and set up a new form of government. A huge accomplishment.
Of course, you and I quarrel with some of the things they did. Like the fact that, a few years later, in their infinite wisdom, they carved their capital city out of the swampiest, most humid, mosquito-infested place on the North American continent and called it the District of Columbia! Oh well!
They were revolutionaries. But the ideas they believed in were not brand new. The ideas of freedom and justice, democracy and human rights, were not made up in Philadelphia in July of 1776. Those ideas originated in the prophets of Israel, eight centuries before Christ; those concepts were honed in the academies of classical Greece. They were refined in the English common law, written down in Magna Carta; they were preached in the pulpits of Protestant Christianity long before Adams and Franklin and Jefferson. The American Revolution had deep roots; and it honored those roots by doing something new.
Now I spoke of the Revolution and its promise of freedom. I used the phrase, "promise of freedom", because you and I know very well that the task of winning freedom was not completed in the 18th century. You and I know that because many of our ancestors were not represented at Independence Hall. I spoke of the ideas which they used to frame the Declaration of Independence, and I spoke of the Old Testament and of Greece and of England. Pretty European, right it? They knew nothing of being Afrocentric! And only a few of them perceived that slavery was a corrosive cancer on the American body Jefferson did say of that peculiar institution, "I tremble when I think that God is just," but the best that most could do was to agree, with total illogic, to count Africans as three-fifths of a person. Many in this room were not well represented in the American Revolution.
And, for that matter, you know that we always seem to speak about the Founding Fathers. What ever happened to the Founding Mothers? There’s a great deal that was not accomplished by the events of the fourth of July, 1776.
But I have said that God is always working to give the gift of freedom. And that when He does so, we call it revolution. The task of that moment is to value what has been done in the past, to recognize that the work of freedom is not yet complete, and to step forward in faith, believing that the God who is always doing a new thing, a freedom thing, will give us the future.
And so I’m saying that in the very fabric of an imperfect Declaration of Independence, in the sometimes crazy compromises of the Constitution, the principles of liberty and justice for all were inscribed deep in the heart of this nation. Every time we have come up on a revolutionary moment the emancipation movement, the civil rights movement … all were rooted in these ideals. God has called this nation to step out in faith to a future of freedom.