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Freedom and Responsibility

July 1, 2012

Sermon:  Freedom and Responsibility
Text:  Galatians 5:1, 13-14


Our sermons this summer have focused on the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  We have concentrated on what Paul calls the Fruit of the Spirit.  Today, we will consider another function of the Spirit: freedom.

I invite you to look at three verses with me from Galatians 5, beginning at verse 1 and then skipping to Verses 13-14:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…You were called to be free, but do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.  Rather serve one another in love.  The entire law is summed up in a single command.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

Do you get e-mails that have, perhaps, a Christian theme or a patriotic theme?  I receive them often.  Sometimes those e-mails carry the message at the end, “If you really love this country, or you really love Jesus, you’ll forward this e-mail to ten people.”  Hardly anything makes me press the delete button any quicker than that message.  Wondering why, I asked myself if it is because I am just a rebel at heart.  No.  The reason goes much deeper.  I do not want my love for God, my love for Christ, or my love for this country to be reduced to whether I forward an e-mail.

In the last few days, I have thought about what kind of legacy, what kind of heritage, I want to leave for my grandchildren.  You can understand why when you consider the fact that Clare and I have reached double digits.  We now have eleven grandchildren, but who’s counting?  I think of these children brought into this world and think, What, as a grandfather, do I want them to inherit?  What do I want for my grandchildren when it comes to this country?  Those questions are the basis of my sermon this morning.

Students were asked to copy excerpts from the Declaration of Independence on a computer.  Leaving the excerpts untitled and unsigned, the students took them to shopping malls, trying to determine if customers would agree to sign their name to the document.  Many, many people refused because they said that it was too radical, too subversive.

I am not going to read the entire Declaration of Independence, just a section.  You may want to read it in its entirety later.

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind require that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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…We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of their intentions…

At the end was written, “And for the support of this declaration, with the firm alliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

It is no wonder that the people in shopping malls would not sign this subversive document.

The Constitution, adopted September 17, eleven years later, is not so subversive.  This shortest and oldest written constitution of any major nation is a document that preserves.

We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity (my grandchildren and your grandchildren) do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The first ten Amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights.  Have you read them recently?  We hear about them all the time.  The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition.  The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms.  The Third protects us from the quartering of troops in our homes.  The Fourth Amendment protects us from illegal search and seizure.  The Fifth guarantees that we can have a trial by a jury of our peers, that we do not have to incriminate ourselves, that we do not have to worry about double jeopardy, that we can have due process of the law.  The other Amendments all reserve other rights for us.

One very wise school teacher assigned her students the task of learning the Bill of Rights.  She then asked them to write a corresponding Bill of Responsibility.  If we have rights, it makes sense that we have incumbent responsibilities.

Let’s consider three examples.  The freedom of religion means that the government cannot designate an official religion of the United States of America.  The government cannot stop people from practicing any religion they choose.  If we think about that right, what is our responsibility as American citizens?  What is our responsibility as Christians?  If we are going to enjoy this freedom, what kind of responsibility must we assume?

Consider the freedom of speech.  The government cannot keep people from saying what they think, as long as it is not slanderous.  That right applies to many forms of expression, including artistic expression.  If we, as Christians, have freedom of speech, must we observe some parameters?  Must we be careful about the words we speak?  I was taught that, yes, we must be careful about the statements we make.

Third is the freedom of assembly.  We not only have the right to gather here to worship, but we also have the right to gather in protest.  We are permitted to have rallies or marches.  We can meet together for political causes without government interference.  The Constitution protects all of these rights.

When I think about my grandchildren, I want them to be aware of their rights.  I want them to understand the blessings of liberty.  I want them to know that if they enjoy these rights, they must be responsible citizens.

In 1956, Paul Harvey, in one of his Rest of the Story broadcasts, gave a moving editorial about the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  All three of the rights named here are rights exercised by the signers of the Declaration.  On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted.  Ben Franklin, seventy years old at the time, was the oldest among the fifty-six signers, all of whom were educated and well-respected.  Eighteen of them were under the age of forty while three were in their twenties.  Almost half were judges and lawyers.  Eleven were merchants, and nine were landowners and farmers.  Twelve were doctors, ministers, or politicians.  With a few exceptions like Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, all men were of substantial wealth.  All but two had families.

Principle, not property, brought these men to Philadelphia.  Each signer had more to lose from revolution than they had to gain by revolution.  John Hancock, one of the richest men in America, already had a price on his head.  He signed the Declaration, using enormous letters and saying that His Majesty could now read his name without glasses and double the reward on his head.  They were exercising freedom, but they understand responsibility. These men knew the risks.  The penalty for treason was death by hanging.  Ben Franklin noted, “Indeed we must all hang together; otherwise, we shall most assuredly hang separately.”

All of the signers became the objects of British manhunts.  Some were captured; some had narrow escapes.  All who owned property and families near British strongholds suffered terribly.  Frances Lewis, a New York delegate, saw his home plundered and his estate completely destroyed.  His wife died from the brutal abuse of the British.  William Floyd, also a New York delegate, was able to escape with his wife and children across Long Island Sound to Connecticut.  The family lived there as refugees without income for seven years.  When they returned home, they found only devastated ruins.  John Hart of New Jersey witnessed Hessian soldiers ruin his farm as his wife lay on her deathbed.   Hart escaped into the woods and slept in caves across the countryside while being hunted.  Emaciated by hardship, he risked his life to finally return home to see his dying wife.  He found that she had already died and been buried.  He never saw his thirteen children again.

What about those signers from South Carolina?  Thomas Lynch, Jr., served as a company commander in the Patriot army.  His health was broken because of exposure during his service.  The doctor ordered him to seek a cure in the West Indies.  On the voyage, he and his young wife drowned.  In the siege of Charleston, the British captured Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton, and Thomas Haywood, Jr., – the other South Carolina signers – and completely devastated their plantations.  They were exchanged for British prisoners at the end of the war.

One of the most gripping stories involved Thomas Nelson, a signer from Virginia in command of the Virginia Militia at Yorktown.  When the British General Cornwallis moved his headquarters into Nelson’s palatial house, Nelson cried, “Give me the cannon!”  He fired on his own magnificent home, smashing it to bits.  He had raised $2 million for the Revolutionary cause by pledging his own estate.  When the loans came due, a newer peace-time Congress refused to honor them.  Nelson’s property was forfeited, and he died impoverished at the age of fifty.

Of the fifty-six men who signed the Declaration, nine died of wounds, five were captured and imprisoned with brutal treatment, several lost their lives, and others lost entire families.  Twelve signers had their homes completely burned; seventeen lost everything they owned.  Not one single man, however, reneged on his pledge.  They made no idle boast when they signed.  Thomas Jefferson, who penned the Declaration of Independence, composed one of the most magnificent closing lines in history: …with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor.”

I want my grandchildren to know this story about the signers of the Declaration.  I want them to know the sacrifices made to protect the freedoms we enjoy.  Beyond that, I want them to know that we have an incumbent responsibility that accompanies freedom.

Daniel Hutson was imprisoned in England because he was a debtor, a Baptist, or maybe both.  Once released from prison, Hutson immigrated to America in 1728.  When he arrived in Baltimore, Maryland, the ship’s captain bound him over to a wealthy colonial plantation owner as an indentured servant, a common method of paying for passage to the new world.  At the end of seven years of service, Hutson was given clothing, a few farming implements, and fifty acres of land in what is now known as Barnwell County, South Carolina.

The saga of Daniel Hutson and many like him has been repeated oft-times in the history of the United States.  Immigrants have found a place if they were willing to work hard.  African slaves in the old South who came to this country against their will and Latino farm workers in the Southwest labored in sun-baked fields of prosperous landowners to sustain life for themselves and their families.  Asians, Europeans, and a variety of ethnic groups seeking a brighter future came to our shores.  They all became a part of the melting pot that is America.

The American work ethic is a treasured value.  Auto workers in Detroit, coal miners in Appalachia, textile workers in the South, and others in the workforce have been recognized as the backbone of America.  Those who “tote the barge and lift the bail” and those who wrangle cattle in the Great Plains are admired.  John Henry, swinging his nine-pound hammer, and Paul Bunyan, wielding on over-sized ax, are immortalized in legend and song.  We value people who work hard for a living.

Two months ago, our son Kris and I traveled to Clinton, South Carolina.  Kris found a minivan he wanted to buy.  He looked among dealers here in Spartanburg but found the best buy online.  He made arrangements to meet the owner, a man from Greenwood, South Carolina.  He wanted me to drive him to Clinton so that he could drive the van back home.  The man selling the vehicle also needed somebody to accompany him to Clinton and give him a ride back to Greenwood, so he brought a friend.

The four of us met at Fatz Restaurant on the interstate in Clinton.  The two men were both American citizens, employed in Greenwood, and Islamic.  The man from India works for the Fuji Corporation in Greenwood.  The second man, originally from Pakistan, is an employee of the United States Postal Service.

As we sat across from each other at a table, carrying on a conversation, I tried to think what this meeting of buying an automobile from an Islamic man from India would have been like for my grandfather.  What would it have been like for my dad?  I was not even sure the meeting was a good idea, but I admired the way Kris – who had traveled around the world, who had spent two weeks on the Ganges River, who knows people from India – handled this transaction.  Our conversation was delightful, and the men paid for our coffee.

Emma Lazarus wrote a poem, a part of which was inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:  “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

We currently have an interesting debate occurring about the high rate of immigration in the United States.  In 2009, the New York Times carried an article about the discussion among members of Congress. Senator Pete Domenici made an impassioned speech on the Senate floor, recounting the arrest of his mother in 1943.  Alda Domenici, the mother of four and a PTA president, was an illegal immigrant from Italy.  Senator Arlen Specter acknowledged that his parents had emigrated from Russia.  Senator Jon Kyl revealed that his grandparents came from the Netherlands.  Senator Mel Martinez told how he had fled Cuba when he was fifteen years old and how he had lived in orphanages and with foster families until he was reunited with his family four years later.

Like many of our national quarrels, the debate over immigration seems to revolve around the issue of the economy.  Do immigrants take away jobs our citizens need?  Do they perform jobs nobody else wants?  Does immigrant labor help the economy by increasing productivity?  Do immigrants over-tax the health and welfare services provided by the government?

A seafarer from England, Captain William Lawton settled in the Lowcountry of South Carolina twenty miles north of Savannah.  An English soldier named Rainey traveled with General Oglethorpe as a guard and eventually settled in Augusta, Georgia.  Three Scots-Irish lads left Belfast in Northern Ireland and sailed to the Quaker colony of Pennsylvania, eventually making their way down the Carolina Wagon Road to Chester, South Carolina, and settling along Fishing Creek.  They established the Neely family in the back country.  Jacob Lange emigrated from Switzerland, eventually taking up residence in Saluda County, South Carolina.  The Mitchell family came from Scotland to Lexington County, South Carolina.  It is from these immigrant families that Clare and I are descended.

My grandchildren came from immigrant ancestors.  I get my middle name, Hudson, from the indentured servant Daniel Hutson, another of my ancestors.  So, I want my children to know the price of freedom.  I also want them to know that freedom involves responsibilities.  Freedom is not just for us.  We are not just Americans.  We are also Christians.  Our Christian faith tells us that the freedom we enjoy in the Holy Spirit is freedom for everybody.

As I was leaving this building last Friday, I stopped under a shade tree.  You remember how hot it was that day.  These men, all Latinos, were putting a roof on our building.  Two men – Jorge and Juan – could speak English.  I do not know their original country, but I assume they have a green card since they are working for a very fine construction company.   They were climbing on a roof when the temperature was in excess of 100 degrees.  I had been praying for those men before I knew their names.  I pray for the workers who are here working on this project every day.  I do not want a single one to get hurt.  I stopped and thanked the men for the work they are doing for this church.  Their work ethic is something to be admired.

What do I want for my grandchildren?  I want them to know that we have “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

As Christians, we know that liberty and justice through Christ Jesus.  That, my friends, is our greatest allegiance.  I love this country.  I pray for this country, and I pray for this world.  I hope you do, too.  I firmly believe what the Scripture says that if we pray and seek the face of God, He will heal this land.  That is my prayer.

Kirk H. Neely
© July 2012

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