Sunday, July 17, 2011

Love Wins!

A sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Delray Beach.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Delray Beach, Florida
5 Pentecost - Proper 11 - -Year A - July 17, 2011
Genesis 28: 10 - 19a; Matthew 13:24-30,36-43
Preacher: The Rev. Canon William H. Stokes, Rector

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth….Matthew 13:41

            Does the name Rob Bell mean anything to anyone?  Rob Bell is the 41 year old founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He was inspired to name his church Mars Hills in honor of the place where Paul reportedly delivered his famous speech in Athens about “the unknown God” (see Acts 17:23). 
            Today, Mars Hills Church in Grand Rapids has between 7,000 and 10,000 worshippers at its two services per weekend.  They were up to 11,000, but I gather some have left because of Bell’s so-called “liberalism.”[1]  Some of the controversy is pretty recent.  Rob Bell is causing quite a stir, and especially in Evangelical church circles.  
            It all started earlier this year with the publication of his book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven. Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.[2] In the wake of the book’s publication, Bell received a great deal of media attention.  He was the subject of a cover story in Time Magazine this past April[3] as well as of Christian Century Magazine this past May[4].  What’s the big deal?   What’s so controversial? 
            In his book, Bell explores the several ways the Bible understands the word “heaven,” but that’s not what is provoking the conservative Evangelical backlash.  What’s provoking the backlash among theological conservatives is Bell’s questioning of traditional dogma concerning hell and punishment and God’s wrath.
            Bell was inspired to write Love Wins following an incident at his church...Here’s how Bell describes the incident.  He writes: “Several years ago we had an art show at our church.  I had been giving a series of teachings on peacemaking, and we invited artists to display their paintings, poems, and sculptures that reflected their understanding of what it means to be a peacemaker.  One woman included in her work a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, which a number of people found quite compelling.  But not everyone.   Someone attached a piece of paper to it.  On the piece of paper was written: ‘Reality check: He’s in hell.’”[5]

            “Really,” Bell writes in response to that note.  “Gandhi’s in hell?  He is?  We have confirmation of this?  Somebody knows this?  Without a doubt?   And that somebody decided to take on the responsibility of letting the rest of us know.”[6]

            This prompted him to ponder a series of questions: “Of all the billions of people who have ever lived,” he writes, “will only a select number ‘make it to a better place’ and every other single person suffer in torment and punishment forever?  Is this acceptable to God?  Has God created millions of people over tens of thousand of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish?  Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God?”[7]
            This last is a critical question, and as the book plays out, it is clear that Bell’s belief in a loving God negates the possibility of God acting in hateful and heinous ways.  Bell rejects traditional views of Hell and Punishment, and most particularly any exclusivist Christian claims which declare Christians are in and everybody else is out.   This has led to the primary charge that conservative evangelicals have leveled at Rob Bell; that he is a “universalist,” someone who claims in some sense that all human beings can come to salvation, living in ultimate harmony with God as if that’s a filthy word and concept.
            Actually, Bell challenges the “universalist” label because he continues to insist in his belief in a Trinitarian God and in Jesus Christ as a part of that Trinity and he understands that “When you’ve experienced the resurrected Jesus, the mystery hidden in the fabric of creation; you can’t help but talk about him.  You’ve tapped into a joy that fills the entire universe, and so naturally you want others to meet this God.  This is a God worth telling people about.”[8]
            In a critical response to Bell’s book and teaching, R. Albert Mohler, Jr. president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary stated that Bell’s book is “theologically disastrous.”[9] He added, “Any of us should be concerned when a matter of theological importance is played with in a subversive way.”[10]   [I can’t help wondering, wasn’t that precisely what Jesus was doing during his ministry on earth?] Mohler declares, “When you adopt universalism and erase the distinction between the church and the world, then you don’t need the church, and you don’t need Christ, and you don’t need the Cross.”[11] 
            It strikes me that the primary impulse behind Mohler’s comment and thinking is fear....He is afraid that Christianity will lose its influence if it doesn’t have the coercive factor of hell and fear....I don’t agree with that conclusion and I don’t accept it. 
            I believe a Christianity based on Christ and Christ’s love for the world is compelling and exciting.  We don’t need the fearsome coerciveness of hellfire and brimstone to be transformed and transforming in the world.  I’m in total agreement with Rob Bell when he writes, “I believe that Jesus’s story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us.  It is a stunning, beautiful, expansive love, and it’s for everybody, everywhere.  That’s the story.  ‘For God so loved the world...’ That’s why Jesus came.  That’s his message.  That’s where the life is found.”[12] 
            I really like Rob Bell’s book and I pretty much agree with everything he wrote in it...We will feature it in September as the last in this year’s Summer Book Discussion series.  
            Actually, in some ways, I’m surprised Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived has gotten as much attention and press as it has....Bell is saying a lot of what many of us in main-line Christianity have been saying for years.....But, then again, as Jon Meacham notes in his April 25 Time Magazine article about Bell’s book and its impact, “Particularly galling to conservative Christian critics is that Love Wins is not an attack from outside the walls of the Evangelical city, but a mutiny from within...a rebellion led by a charismatic, savvy pastor with a following....”[13] Meacham adds, “it is difficult to imagine that an Episcopal priest’s eschatological musings would have provoked the volume of criticism directed at Bell which threatens prevailing Evangelical theology.”[14] [Meacham is an active Episcopalian].
            I bring up Bell’s book because today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 13 is a judgment parable.   In Matthew’s Gospel, it follows immediately after the so-called Parable of the Sower that was last week’s Gospel reading (see Matthew 13:1 ff.)  Here, sowing image is used again, but this parable has much more of an edge.  
            A man has sown good seed and gone to bed.   While he was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the seed.  In an agrarian age, messing with a person’s crops could be life threatening and Jesus is playing upon that image.  But of course the parable is not really about crops and a harvest; it’s about the kingdom of God and judgment.
            In his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, biblical scholar Douglas Hare offers some interesting insights.[15]  He notes that in the parable itself, “emphasis is placed upon the farmer’s patience.”[16]  Observing that separation of the weeds from the wheat is postponed until the harvest is ripe, Hare writes, “Perhaps Jesus used this parable to point out that human beings are not competent to make the kinds of judgments implied in separating the wheat from the tares; in plucking out what they think are tares, they may very well be pulling up wheat.  Only God can make such judgments,” Hare writes, “and in due course this will be done.  In the meantime, we must be more patient with one another.”[17]  “Taken this way, “Hare observes, “the story becomes a parable of grace,” adding,  “In the strange world of the parable where separation is graciously postponed, it may even be possible for weeds to become wheat.”[18]  
            There is another interpretive possibility, however.  Hare notes that this is revealed in verses 36 – 43, where Jesus goes into a house and explains the parable to his disciples. Hare suggests that this section reflects the concerns of the evangelist Matthew and his church.[19] 
            Hare explains, “Matthew is greatly disturbed by the mixed state of the church which contains many who enthusiastically call Jesus ‘Lord, Lord’ but who refuse to follow his ethical teaching.  By means of this interpretation [that is the explanation in verses 36 - 43], Matthew assures himself and others that a day of reckoning will come to those pseudodisciples; the glorified Christ will send forth his angels to purify the church of all who disregard moral law.” [20]
            But Hare makes an important observation: “Remarkable in this [latter] interpretation,” he writes, “is the absence of any reference to the householder’s patience.  What was central to the parable is ignored in the allegorical interpretation.”  “Perhaps,” Hare writes, “Matthew was less pleased than Jesus with God’s long-suffering!”[21] And this gets us back to Love Wins and Rob Bell.
            Early in Love Wins, Bell rhetorically asks, “Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?”[22]  He continues, “This doesn’t just raise disturbing questions about God; it raises questions about the beliefs themselves.  Why them?  Why you?  Why me?  Why not him or her?  If there are only a select few who go to heaven, which is more terrifying to fathom; the billions who burn forever or the few who escape this fate?  How does a person end up being one of the few?  Chance?  Luck?  Random selection?  Being born in the right place, family or country?  Having a youth pastor who ‘relates better to kids”?  God choosing you instead of others.  What kind of faith is that?” Bells asks, “Or more important, What kind of God is that?”[23] 
            Furthermore. as he asks quite provocatively, “Whenever people claim that one group is in, saved, accepted by God, forgiven, enlightened,  redeemed – and everybody else isn’t – why is it that those who make this claim are almost always part of the group that is in?”[24]
            In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus seems to tell a parable about a patient and long-suffering God....It appears that Matthew couldn’t leave it at that; he needed to “explain” the parable and give it a harder and more judgmental edge; a pretty common failing which Matthew falls into several times in his Gospel.[25]  The phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” appears 6 times in Matthew’s Gospel, but only once in Luke and never in Mark, the oldest Gospel and the one which served as a source for Matthew.   What’s that tell you?  Whose phrase is “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” Jesus’ or Matthews?
            I prefer to think that Jesus left the parable more open ended...That he didn’t go into the house to explain it; its meaning was pretty evident in its original form.  The 2x4 wasn’t necessary.
            I’m with Rob Bell...I believe in a God who is Love (See 1 John 4:8, 16); I believe in a patient and long-suffering God who is pulling for all of us; who wants us all to be reconciled to him or her and to each other; I believe in a God who wants us to help him, or her, bring heaven to earth, understanding that “Heaven is that realm where things are as God intends them to be.”[26]  I believe in a God who invites us into the depths of a relationship of love and into a discovery of what heaven means through Jesus Christ....
            In this view the message of Christ is necessary and essential because the cross points to the potential for wickedness and evil in this world even as the resurrection declares that wickedness and evil can never and will never be victorious.  Why do I believe this?  Because like Rob Bell, I place my life and my convictions in this God who I believe with all my heart is Love.  For me, as with Rob Bell, this God and this Love wins!  This Love always wins!  And in this winning love, we win too!!

[1]    For additional biographical information, see “Bell, Rob”  on Wikipedia – The On-Line  Encyclopedia at

[2]   Bell, Rob Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (EPub Edition New York: HarperOne – A Division of Harper Collins Publishers, 2011)
[3]   Meacham, Jon “What If There’s No Hell?”  Time Magazine – April 25, 2011 – p. 38ff.

[4]   Marty, Peter “Betting on God’s  Love” The Christian Century – May 17, 2011 – pp. 22 ff.

[5] . Love Wins e-book edition (Kindle location 80 – 85 ff.) - Chapter 1 “What About the Flat Tire”
[6] Love Wins e-book edition (Kindle location 85 – 93 ff.) - Chapter 1 “What About the Flat Tire”
[7]   Love Wins e-book edition (Kindle location 85 – 93 ff.) - Chapter 1 “What About the Flat Tire”
[8]   Love Wins e-book edition (Kindle locations 2183 - 88) - Chapter 7 “The Good News Is Better Than That” 

[9]    See Meacham p. 40

[10]   See Meacham p.40

[11]   See Meacham p. 40

[12]   Love Wins e-book edition (Kindle locations 33 - 39) – Preface  “Millions of Us” 

[13]   Meacham p. 40

[14]   Meacham p. 40
[15]   Hare, Douglas R. A. Interpretation – A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville:  John Knox Press, 1993)

[16]   Hare, p. 155

[17]   Hare, p. 155

[18]   Hare, p. 155

[19]   Hare, p. 155

[20]   Hare, p. 155

[21]   Hare, p. 155

[22]   Love Wins e-book edition (Kindle location 93 - 98 ff.) - Chapter 1 “What About the Flat Tire”

[23]   Love Wins e-book edition (Kindle location 93 - 113 ff.) - Chapter 1 “What About the Flat Tire”

[24] Love Wins e-book edition (Kindle location 107 - 113 ff.) - Chapter 1 “What About the Flat Tire”

[25]   For examples, see Matthew 8:11 – 12; 13:47 – 50; 22: 11 – 14; 24:45 – 51; 25:14 – 30.  

[26]   Love Wins e-book edition (Kindle locations 574 - 582) - Chapter 2 “Here Is the New There ”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Death of Marat

The Death of Marat
écrivant pour le bonheur du peuple

What was Marat thinking
as he sat in his tub
before rudely interrupted
by Charlotte Corday?
Was his mind fixed
on The Revolution - 
Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité
Jacobins and Montagnards    
and headless roi
c’est l’etat  no more
when virgin Caen sister
walked demurely
through his door?

Did his thoughts drift
to alpine days
and boyhood dreams
in Neuchatel;
strolls with Father
along the lake
discussing matters
Were there regrets
at this late date?

Did he pause to study
soap bubbles
in refracted light,
ou nouvelles découvertes
sur la lumière;
diversion from
incessant itch inflamed
hiding in the sewers
of Paris
for the cause?

Was he aroused
by…other things;
tumescent rush
beneath the board;
had he misconstrued
Marie-Ann’s blush   
for passion of  
another sort
while she played games
parading names
nine inch kitchen
blade veiled  
beneath her corset?

When did le docteur
become aware
Mademoiselle’s knife
had cut the air?
Did he observe
it gore his chest
was he distracted
by her list
when vulnus punctum
could not be ignored
as his blood poured
out while Simonne sipped tea,
jealous in the other room
until she heard his dying plea
Aidez-moi, ma chère amie!

Could he have known
that Jaques Louis
would frame the scene,
entombing him
for posterity
a pair
with Lepeletier
gone missing?

What was Marat’s final conclusion
when he slumped in his tub
and his towel-wrapped head rolled
to the right  
and his arm dropped down
while his hand
clutched his pen,
vivid, dramatic horror,
pitiful sight?
Was his mind fixed,
Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!
or...did he curse
his mortalité,
l'ange de l'assassinat
and the God-damned

                   © W.H. Stokes
                   June 2, 2010

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Becoming the American We Dream

The following sermon was preached at St. Paul's the weekend of July 3.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church - Delray Beach, Florida
3 Pentecost - Proper 9 - Year A (RCL) - July 2/3, 2011
Romans 7:15 - 25a; Matthew 11:16 - 19, 25 - 30
Preacher: The Rev. Canon William H. Stokes, Rector

            Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest….”                                                                                                                         Matthew 11:28
            On Friday, the government of Minnesota shut down because the Democratic Governor and the Republican controlled legislature could not reach a deal on the state budget.[1]  Both sides agree that the budget needs to be reduced in a significant way.  They disagree about how this is to be accomplished.   The Governor wants to increase tax on the wealthiest Minnesotans; the legislature refuses to allow the question of increased taxes to be put on the table.  In the meantime, many state residents are experiencing what for now are inconveniences and what could well become, for many, severe hardships.
            At the federal level; the President is locked in a battle with the Congress, most specifically, the House of Representatives over the federal budget and the national debt which has soared out of control.  It is apparent to almost everyone with any sense that federal spending must be drastically reduced, but, again, there are bitter, ideological disagreements about how this is to be accomplished.[2] 
            The President and most Democrats adamantly feel that revenue, in the form of increased taxes, at least for the wealthiest Americans; must be put on the table.  The Republicans, who control the majority of the House, refuse to allow the question of increased taxes to be put on the table feeling any increase of taxes will undermine the growth of the economy at a time when the economy needs all the energy it can muster. 
            The issue of raising the national debt ceiling has been thrust into the midst of this issue as a means of leverage; the Republicans tying authorization of raising the debt ceiling to the budget debate in a way that many people of different political stripes consider a very dangerous game of chicken.  The sad and sorry truth in the Minnesota government shut-down, and the federal debt and debt ceiling controversy, as well as in many of the very serious political conflicts abounding in the nation today, is that partisanship, as well as special interests - are driving the behaviors and actions of our governing leaders and they seem unable to transcend this for the sake of the nation, the states and the people. 
            This incapacity to work it out has the potential of doing great damage to us all.  Where do we stand as Christians in all of this?  Should our Christian faith inform our understanding or posture at all?  Needless to say, I don’t think our faith can be compartmentalized.  Christianity is a way of life; therefore our faith informs every aspect of our lives, including our politics and our sense of citizenship.
            Without question, Reinhold Niebuhr, theologian, ethicist and political philosopher was one of the great thinkers of the modern age.  Early in his ministry, Niebuhr was described as a “leftist liberal.”[3]  In the 1930s, with both communism and fascism on the rise, his thinking shifted dramatically to what many described as neo-orthodoxy and theological and political pragmatism.  Niebuhr famously observed, “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s capacity for injustice makes democracy necessary.”[4]  As we prepare to celebrate our Nation’s birth, it’s an opportune time to reflect on democracy and citizenship and what it means to be a Christian in our American context.
            Despite Niebuhr’s statement, “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s capacity for injustice makes democracy necessary,” he was not naive about democracy and did not wear rose-colored glasses where democracy was concerned.  In a chapter titled “Man and Society: The Art of Living Together” found in his now classic 1932 book Moral Man & Immoral Society, Niebuhr analyzed power and the use of coercion in modern society and offered a sober and cautionary assessment of the western democratic situation.  His words speak as insightfully and truthfully to our own time as it did to his own.  Niebuhr wrote:

“The rise of modern democracy, beginning with the Eighteenth Century, is sometimes supposed to have substituted the consent of the governed for the power of the royal families and aristocratic classes as the cohesive force of national society.  This judgment is partly true but not nearly as true as the uncritical devotees of modern democracy assume.  The doctrine that government exists by the consent of the governed, and the democratic technique by which the suffrage of the governed determines the policy of the state may actually reduce the coercive factor in national life, and provide for peaceful and gradual methods of resolving conflicting social interests and changing political institutions.  But the creeds and institutions of democracy have never become fully divorced from the special interests of the commercial classes who conceived and developed them.  It was their interest to destroy political restraint upon economic activity, and they therefore weakened the authority of the state and made it more pliant to their needs. With the increased centralization of economic power in the period of modern industrialism, this development merely means that society does not control economic power as much as social well-being requires; and that the economic, rather than the political and military power, has become the significant coercive force of modern society.  Either it defies the authority of the state or it bends the institutions of the state to its own purposes.  Political power has been made responsible, but economic power has become irresponsible in society.  The net result is that political power has been made more responsible to economic power.  It is, in other words, again the man of power or the dominant class which binds society together, regulates its processes, always paying itself inordinate rewards for its labors.”[5]

            Niebuhr well understood a basic fact and reality of the human experience: Sin.  Human beings are sinful.  In understanding this, Niebuhr was consistent with Christian thought from the time of Christianity’s inception.  Certainly St. Paul had a deep awareness of the reality of human sin and articulated the conundrum that so often confronts us as human beings:  I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate! (Romans 7:15).
            What a keen recognition about human behavior and instincts.  How complicated we are:  having knowledge of right and wrong and good and evil, but also psychologically and spiritually complex; marked and marred by hidden motives and a subconscious that often is at work in subtle and sometimes despicable ways inclining us to self-interest and selfishness….None of this undermines the goodness and rightness of morals and values in and of themselves....What it does, however, is make clear our vulnerability as agents of the moral right and of the moral good. Paul expresses this:
Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.  But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do....Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members (Romans 7:16 – 23).
            Just at the point Paul seems to throw up his hands in disgust at the recognition of his own sinfulness; he acknowledges the one thing that can draw him out of the conundrum:  Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24 – 25).
            As Christians we bring a positive resource and value to the table of the moral and of the civic life: We bring the grace and power of Jesus Christ, our Christian faith and all that comes with it....We bring a vision of the kingdom of God, of the “City upon a Hill, referred to in 1630 by Governor of Massachusetts John Winthrop[6], an image later invoked with hope and solemnity by President Ronald Reagan[7].   
            In his 1630 address, “A model of Christian Charity,”  Winthrop outlined the characteristics of this City and its inhabitants:  “We must, “he wrote, “entertain each other in brotherly affection.  We must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities.  We must uphold familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience, and liberality.  We must delight in each other, make each others’ conditions our own – rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body.  So shall we keep the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace[8] 
            Needless to say, this is an ideal, even Utopian vision…It’s an ideal dream….And it must be acknowledged that Christians and the Christian Church are not above the same moral challenges and predicaments, the same propensity to sin,  that face all human beings and institutions.  Any serious reading of Church history makes this clear.  But this same serious reading of Church history, indeed of Scripture itself, also makes clear that the higher calling and values of which the Church and the Christian faith is a repository, are the very resources that have been used to reform us, and that have often helped to reform society throughout history.  These continue to be a tool and resource for us and for personal growth and improvement and for growth and improvement of civic life and citizenship...
            These higher calling and values are summed up in the Great Commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.[9]  The Christian faith brings us the value, the deep value of love; sacrificial love.  This does not mean that we are to disregard our own needs; after all, love of self is included in the commandment.  But, as John Winthrop’s words make clear, we are always to regard our neighbor’s needs at least as important and significant as our own.  We are always to have a deep and abiding concern for the common good.
            Perhaps this sounds obvious and trite, but in a society that has increasingly emphasized individualism at the expense of society; and selfishness at the expense of altruism; this is no easy matter; which is why the additional resource we as Christians bring to the table is equally important:  the capacity to recognize and name sin and our human propensity for it; individually and corporately.
            This country needs us, as Christians who are citizens, to be faithful, knowledgeable and strong in our convictions and also in our capacity to be rigorous in seeing ourselves honestly and clearly, with as critical an eye and understanding as that of Reinhold Niebuhr.  This country needs us to be courageous enough to name and confront sin and selfish interests at work when and where we see them, and especially when these undermine the common good and the common welfare, thereby promoting injustice.
            Reinhold Niebuhr felt strongly that the individual person has a greater capacity and potential to behave morally and altruistically than any collective of human beings....He felt that the greater the number of human beings involved in a collective; the greater the chance they would act out of selfish motives and interests, including and up to the collective of the nation and the less likely it was that individuals in that collective would have the moral strength and courage to stand up to the collective even when it was committing great evil.[10]  I find myself provoked and challenged by Niebuhr and, overall, in general agreement with him.  Certainly, the rancor and partisan behavior, and the frequent serving of greed and self interest at all levels of today’s politics underscore the truthfulness of his observation.                  On the other hand, although it may begin with an individual of conscience, I think it takes the strength and numbers of a collective, a critical mass, to stand up to the evil of a collective.  I also think our history and core values and core documents as Americans, when read in the light of our Christian values and truths support this.     
            “We the people of the United States…”our Constitution begins. It is about us as a people, as nation....It is a Constitution that had and has, as its primary intention, our life together as a community, a nation of people....The Constitution was drafted to help us “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of our liberty....”[11]  These values are consonant with the commitments of our Baptismal Covenant -“to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being;” and “to seek and serve Christ in all persons loving our neighbors as our self.”[12] 
            Independence Day is a day to remember and celebrate what is best about us as Americans.  It is a day to revere the core principles, highest values and deepest altruism that led to the founding of this country and that have sustained us as a Republic and a people ever since and to recommit ourselves these........We are not perfect and it is likely we never will be, but that shouldn’t stop us from striving to be perfected. 
            We have been blessed with a vision, with dreams of liberty and justice  for all people....It is a wondrous vision; it is a daring dream....During this July 4th observance, as we celebrate Independence Day and our nation’s founding, let give thanks to God for the blessings and liberty we enjoy.  Let us also remember our hope and our solemn calling to work toward becoming the America we dream.

            Let us pray:

Lord God Almighty, in whose name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.[13]

[1]   See Davery, Monica – “Minnesota Government Shuts in Budget Fight”  - NY TImes, July 1, 2011 at
[2]   See Landler, Mark et al “In Defecit Plan, Taxes Must Rise, President Warns” NY Times – June 29, 2011 at
[3]   See Wikipedia “Reinhold Niebuhr”  at
[4]   See Wikipedia “Reinhold Niebuhr”  at
[5]   Niebuhr, Reinhold Moral Man and Immoral Society:  A Study in Ethics and Politics  Introduction by Langdon B. Gilkey (Louisville:  John Knox Press, 2001 - Original copyright Reinhold Niebuhr 1932) p.  14-15.
[6]   Winthrop,  John “A Model of Christian Charity (1630) – found in A Patriot’s Handbook:  Songs, Poems, Stories and Speeches Celebrating the Land We Love Editor:  Caroline Kennedy  (New York:  Hyperion Books, 2003) pp. 32 – 33.
[7]   Ronald Reagan – “Farewell Address to the Nation”  - January 11, 1989 See
[8]   “A Model of Christian Charity”
[9]   See Book of Common Prayer 1979 – p. 351.
[10]   See, for example, Neibuhr p. 9 beginning “”Most rational and social justifications of unequal privilege are clearly after thoughts etc...”
[11]  “Preamble” to The U.S. Constitution
[12]  See Book of Common Prayer 1979 – p. 304 – 305.
[13]  Book of Common Prayer 1979 – p. 242.