The Rev. Daniel P. Coughlin
First of all I would like to thank Dean Baxter for his gracious invitation to preach today and the vestry for their selection of the Scriptural texts we have just heard. Certainly these treasured lessons from both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures throw a unique light upon our celebration of Independence Day during this millennium year.
My brothers and sisters in Christ,
Around the time of our nation’s bicentennial I visited the beautiful country of New Zealand doing some workshops. There I met the Archbishop of Auckland, John McCarthy now deceased. I have never forgotten an image he used for the United States of America. Since I have moved to Washington the image has returned many times to fascinate my imaginings.
“Dan,” he said, “It is not by accident that both coasts of your country have been built up. You are a bridge.”
A bridge from east to west? From old to new? From Europe to Asia? This is our “manifest destiny” as a nation to be a bridge?
But no one lives on a bridge. It is for trafficking, marketing, movement. No one stands still for very long on a bridge.
Ever since then I have wondered. I wonder today: As a nation are we a bridge in the mind of God? From here, now–to what? And since we are received as such a powerful nation, do we need a better theology of power to answer the question?
We truly are a magnificent edifice, built solidly on the beliefs of the founders of this nation and the signers of the Declaration of Independence. As a “free standing people” and as “this noble experiment” is our expanse only from coast to coast? Are we hesitant to glance north and south as well? Or are we a bridge to an entirely new understanding of self-governing people the world over?
My brothers and sisters, the Scriptures today seem to challenge us as a nation to be so much more–if only we would acknowledge that “our architect and maker is God.” Left to ourselves we are in tension with ourselves and with others, often frustrated because we feel so powerless. But if we see our strength, our full potential, our unrealized hopes still hidden for the most part in the providential plan of God–we are so much more than we seem at first sight.
Since revolutionary days we have sought freedom and the way of peace. Even during our worst war, our own civil war, we sought to expand human freedom. Caught in the warring expansion of the world we have sought the road of leadership–beyond selfishness to a broader vision of the world. Ours has been a constant calling to stretch ourselves beyond the common good here at home to a universal good that binds all in the human family together in the common interests of a fragile planet.
Because of our founding principles, powerful structures, civilian government and desires for noble character–we are constantly trying to move from being a people of violence to being a people of virtue. We know our power comes from within us not from outside us. Once power is seen as something outside ourselves we have moved away from God and we are moving toward destruction.
Those who have proceeded us lived by faith and also died in faith. They did not receive what we have. They lived on promise. They believed the promise possible and “greeted it from afar.” They may have had loftier ambitions than we because they desired more lasting things for themselves, their children and their nation. Instead of immediate satisfaction to every whim, they sought satisfaction in learning and in hard word. Instead of the acquisition of wealth, economic surplus and wider markets they hoped for integrity, mutual trust and contentment in family life. Never ashamed to be rooted in God and called by their God, they prepared for us a place; yet they looked beyond the place they were, because they never forgot they were once aliens themselves. Instead, they would always be sojourners, bridging with justice an outreach to the unwanted child and befriending the foreigner. They knew we were all once aliens ourselves. We all came from another place. We are all destined for another place. But while here we have much to accomplish, to keep the dream of this nation alive and to establish our ways in God.
Whenever we fear anything or we think we have accomplished anything ourselves–we are reminded: “God is your glory, it is Your God who has done for you those great and terrible things that your own eyes have seen.
The gospel speaks in futuristic terms because it wants us to see everything new. Authentic Christian awareness will look beyond friends and come to love enemies. Called to an understanding beyond our neighbors we begin to understand the ways and motivations of our persecutors. To offer an openness that extends beyond brothers and sisters, greets the stranger until he or she is no longer strange but one of us. Such is the calling to be God’s household, children of our heavenly Father, truly members of one body, the Body of Christ still living and active in the world.
Jesus’ command to those who would be his disciples cuts to every human heart for it cuts through loves and hatreds, predilection and prejudice. We have no choice. At times it may seem we are no better than bill collectors or unbelievers when it comes to family matters and the way we treat those who treat us well. That does not seem to bother the Lord of this gospel. But when we mentally draw lines, that’s another matter. The full extension of the Christian bridge will never be measured.
We may not be perfect–the perfect citizen, the perfect Christian, parent or child. That does not matter to the Lord. We need be only like our Father in loving.
This is how we prove ourselves as Christian Americans in a new millennium–we prove ourselves by proving to others that we care–we love–we prove we are children of our heavenly Father.
I would like to call forth parents, theologians, teachers and CEO’s of industry–true believers everywhere here in America, both Christians and believers of other faiths. Together let us reflect on the power of this nation and develop a theology of power, so that as Americans we may know our true destiny for the future. America: a powerful bridge to the future.
On this millennium celebration of Independence Day we are still mindful of the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Those who shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world.”