Summary: 4th of July sermon looking at how God was active in the birth of our nation
Heroes of Our Nation
Hebrews 11:1-2, 13-16, 12: 1-2
In the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, VA, there's a special display for a rickety, home-made aluminum kayak. This tiny, makeshift boat seems oddly out of place in the midst of displays for impressive Navy vessels and artifacts from significant battles on the sea. But a bronze plaque tells museum visitors the story behind this kayak's heroic makers. In 1966, an auto mechanic named Laureano and his wife, Consuelo, decided that they could no longer live under the oppression of Cuba’s totalitarian regime. After spending months collecting scrap metal, they pieced together a boat just barely big enough for two small people. Then Laureano jury-rigged a small lawn mower engine on the back of the kayak. After months of planning and on a moonless night, they set out into the treacherous straits of Florida with only their swimsuits on. They had enough food and water for two days. After 70 hours, the U.S. Coast Guard rescued the couple just south of the Florida Keys. Was it worth the risk? Laureano said, “When one has grown up in liberty, you realize how important it is to have freedom. We live in the enormous prison which is Cuba, where one’s life is not worth one crumb. Where one goes out into the street and does not know whether or not one will return because the political police can arrest you without any warning and put you in prison. Before this could happen to us, we thought that going into the ocean and risking death or being eaten by sharks, is a million times better than to stay suffering under political oppression.”
In the 11th and 12th chapter of Hebrews, we are called to remember the great heroes of the faith and to remind us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. The eleventh chapter is called the “Faith Chapter” and lists people who are great examples of faith including: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Rahab. Then in verses 32-34 he adds: “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah, David, Samuel and the prophets.” All were ordinary individuals of faith, used by God in extraordinary ways to accomplish His will. And that is the story of the birth of our nation as well. The names are different but include great examples of faith like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Noah Webster, Ben Franklin, Benjamin Rush, William Penn, James Wilson and George Washington. The 4th of July is a time we need to remember those who went before us, fought for our freedom and allowed God to work through them. What we find is that God makes a habit of doing the impossible through ordinary people like you and me. The secret of living a life that makes a difference is allowing God to work through you, like our forefathers did. There are four things we need to give thanks for today.
First is their vision. (Verses 1) Like Laureano and Consuelo, our nation was founded by people escaping tyranny and oppression. But they were also seeking religious freedom. They had a vision of a land where they could practice their Christian faith without opposition or oppression. The founding of our nation was primarily the pursuit of God, not gold and riches. Those who sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 signed the Mayflower Compact proclaiming that they had come to the new world for "the glorie of God and the advancement of the Christian faith." This was reflected in their first communal actions which was to have the first public building erected be a church and the first public exercise was the worship of God. When sorrow came they gathered at the church to appeal to God for help. When bountiful harvests filled their barns they gathered at the church for thanksgiving to God. God was the center of their lives together. In 1643, as more and more people arrived on these shores, they joined together to form “The New England Confederation” and wrote the very first constitution in the New World, which began with these words: “Whereas we all came into these parts with one and the same end and aim, namely to advance the kingdom of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and to enjoy the liberties of the Gospel in purity and peace…" So we give thanks for their vision of a nation birthed out of religious freedom.
And that leads us to our second reason to give thanks today and that is for their faith. We enjoy religious freedom today because there were those before us who stepped out in faith, sacrificed everything, and moved to a new and foreboding distant land. As the original settlers died off, many of their descendants were more concerned with increasing their wealth and stake in this land than with being faithful to God and His Word. And other colonists who arrived came for reasons other than their Christian faith and religious freedom. For example, England emptied its prisons by making it possible for prisoners to come to the New World as “indentured servants.” At the same time, the King of England granted vast tracts of land in the New World to his supporters which became plantations. And then slavery was introduced into the colonies so slaves could work these plantations. The spiritual atmosphere deteriorated rapidly, churches were dying and many who had once sought religious freedom for themselves were now being intolerant of others, evidenced by the Salem witch trials. The end result was by 1730, only 10% of the Colonists attended church at all. That which had begun “for the glorie of God and the advancement of the Christian faith” had almost disappeared from our land.