St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Our Architect and Builder”
Collect: 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.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old-- and Sarah herself was barren-- because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
It is good to be home. I love to travel, explore, make new friends, but there is a comfort in the familiar. We had a wonderful adventure, and we will be scheduling a covered dish to talk about it soon. Dick and Sandi made me promise before I left. Close to 12,000 miles later I have experienced things that are far bigger and grander than a boy from Newport News is used to having had happened.
In the usual seat of our Senior Warden and his wife, last week I had the King of the Ashanti Nation smile and affirm my words at the Anglican Cathedral in Kumasi, Ghana. When I found out for sure that the King was to be there, one of the members of our group quoted this verse for me: “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:11-12 After that I remembered that even the King puts on his pants one leg at a time.
Ghana is a beautiful country and a gracious people. Looking at how things are there, and how things are here, the differences are striking. The similarities more so. But if we look at what is different or wrong, instead of finding our common ground, we can be frozen to inaction. In that line of thought, and hearing the words of our founding fathers in Facebook posts and comments it struck me what a venture of faith our American Experiment was.
The Puritans we call the Pilgrims (note the religious name there) were coming to create for themselves and for their kids a better life, after abuse and threats in England. They fled here for the betterment of their lives, in hopes and dreams for their children. This was an act of deep faith. So many died. So many faced unbelievable hardships, but in this new land they found welcoming faces and gracious hospitality. Was it always this way? No. No human interaction and especially institution is without its flaws, for we are a flawed and sinful people.
But as more came, they came in faith as well. Jamestown in 1607 sought wealth, but also to bring the faith they held so close and so dear to the New World. One of the first things they did was to build a church in the fort, and a priest came in the second year. This was an act of faith, to go into a barren wilderness (or so the Londoners thought) and start fresh, both for themselves and their Company.
And if you follow the trail of pilgrims and outcasts, miserable and hopeful souls who fled to our “teeming shores” you will see faith, stepping into the unknown over and over again.
We see from the winning side of history the founding fathers and uphold their bravery. But rarely do we speak fear of a band of farmers, lawyers, and tradesmen coming together to declare Independence from the world’s superpower at the time. They were committing Treason, if you were a Tory Loyalist. They were Revolutionaries, if you agreed with them. Benjamin Franklin in his wit and honesty said to his fellow rebels, “We must all, indeed, hang together, or we will, most assuredly, hang separately.” There is faith even in their fear, faith in the Providence of God to bring them to this place and side with them in a likely conflict.
And think about it, 243 years ago, in Philadelphia, 56 bold souls had the audacity to say that what brings us together is not necessarily blood, or lineage, or land. They stepped out on faith, and following the words of one of their youngest, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, (Edward Rutledge of South Carolina was the youngest, by the way) and they had the audacity to exert a statement of faith. Yes, faith.
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.
They were saying that God gave us all certain things, and that this is apparent to any person with eyes. And that people set up Governments to make sure we were allowed to follow these God-given rights. And when the government does not enable and encourage this, and even hinders it, then that government should change.
This was an idea. They had the audacity, and the faith, to follow this idea. They tried to found a country on an idea. And this was a first. Others had imposed laws, or ideas, on a formed people, but here they were forming a people around a unifying principle, a statement of faith at that.
In our Hebrews reading today, the call of God to Abram was on a similar unique status. I loved the verse, “For [Abram] looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” And I think, and I admit it is a statement of faith, that the founding fathers thought the same of what they were doing. They dreamt of a city built on their ability to embody the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Abram stepped out on faith to follow the call of God to an unknown land amongst an unknown people.
Faith is exactly that. Stepping into the unknown and putting all our weight down.
Abram did it. The Founding Fathers did it. We all do it, when we live by faith.
Now living by faith is never perfect, nor is it easy. The hypocrisy of those same founding fathers which is “self-evident” to us can be what we focus on, but I would invite you not to stay there. They stepped out on faith, and they invite us to do the same. The American Experiment is not done. Far from it.
Yesterday at Hanover Courthouse there was a gathering of people holding a rally for the KKK. Seven and a half miles from here. Seven and a half miles. I traveled close to 12,000 miles to work on racial reconciliation and yet in our own backyard there is still so much work left undone.
We hold these truths, to be self-evident, that all people are created equal. Male and female, rich or poor, black or white or any of the fascinating hues God made us. We have come so far, thanks be to God. And we have so far to go, God help us.
Three nights ago I sat on the other side of the Atlantic, looking south from the coast of Mother Africa. As I heard the crashing waves, I thought of the souls that we thought were ours to use as we please, even while we claimed “that we hold these truths to be self-evident.” We can see it as a failure, or we can see it as first steps bringing the path to us today.
We use a phrase in our liturgy taken from St. Paul in Galatians: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son…” You see, we follow a God who plays the long game. God paints God’s dream for the world across eons. God’s hand can move at a glacial pace. The call of God that Abram followed comes to us today as well. The longing for freedom and justice that the founding fathers felt, that I believe came from God, comes to us still today.
If the Architect and Builder of our faith and of our national vision is God, then we can rest assured of two things. “The One who began a good work in you is faithful to complete it.” Philippians 1:6 and “Unless the Lord builds the House, those that labor labor in vain.” Psalm 127:1
God bless us as we answer the call of faith. The one of Abram, and the one of this Nation built on a Notion. “For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
Each and everything we do, each step of faith, each step toward justice and freedom for all, brings us closer to the design of our architect, a more brick that we have placed for our Master Builder. We are not done, and God is not done with us. God bless us, and may God bless America! Happy Independence Day! Amen