Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and His Son, Jesus our Lord, Amen.
Living outside of Philadelphia was an experience that neither Pete, Lucy Jane nor I will easily forget. To be surrounded by history wherever we turned was amazing. The small church I served in Center Square was 250 years young and had a cemetery with soldiers from the Revolutionary War buried in the far back corner. George Washington ordered their burial at the church, which served as a hospital for the soldiers fleeing the Battle of Germantown. Washington stayed down the pike at a local farmhouse which is still there today and is now a museum.
I learned a lot about our early American history while pastoring there. I went frequently to Independence Hall, Ben Franklin Historical sites, and more. Some things I learned overwhelmed me—like the absolute determination to fight for independence and the creation of a new republic out of nothing. Some things I learned reshaped my understanding of famous figures by reading about their personal lives, their personal ambitions and their feelings on slavery. Pennsylvania had always been a no-slave state. In fact, if a slave escaped and lived there for 6 months, he/she would be considered automatically free and able to live in Pennsylvania safely. Some of our founders did not approve of this and made sure that their slaves were switched every 5 months to avoid the loss of property when they came to Philadelphia for business. Who was considered “free” was a contentious subject when our country was born.
Philadelphia doesn’t shy from this history in any way. And Pennsylvania, while not perfect today, does celebrate its rich Quaker foundation concerning all people being free from bondage (Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, is a proud sanctuary city). The July 4th Celebrations that my family experienced were days to celebrate the past, give thanks to God for our blessings here as Americans, and to learn from all past mistakes to make our country stronger. I am grateful for all those who have served in our military since its creation—a nod to my great-something grandfather who mustered in Ulster County to fight in the American Revolution, my great uncles who served in World War II, and many more. I am grateful that we have recently witnessed our rights in action through peaceful protests and calls for social reform. I am grateful, I know you are, too.
I realize that the 4th is a civic holiday, and our founders desired a strong separation of church and state. As a pastor, I am for that separation. We are Americans after all, and we like our independence in all things, including how we worship and when. But I also do take some time on the 4th and give thanks to God for those who made it possible for our country’s birth and growth as a nation. I give thanks for the rights we have as citizens that other countries do not have. I do confess that our country has made serious errors in the past and ask for God’s guidance in correcting them. I seek forgiveness and then put my words into acts of advocacy and social justice for those who still are not treated fairly in our communities. I continue to learn about the past so that our future is better. On the 4th, I make a special effort to have these thoughts. Just like our own faith which is always growing and responding, our country too needs to continue growing and responding. I pray that all nations on the earth will seek peace before all things, and that all people will have the same human rights everywhere. On this 4th, join me in this prayer. And may you and your loved ones have a blessed weekend.