Sunday, the Fourth of July, 2004
Free or Die!
ulling out of McDonalds this week I noticed an out of state tag with the motto along the top border which read, “Live Free or Die!” I reasoned that that must be the state motto of New Hampshire. The tag number was 296, not GRF-296, but just 296, New Hampshire is not that big of a state, about ¼ the size of Metro-Atlanta. But they are a great, proud and historic state. I did a Google search when I got back to the office and in 28 seconds it shot up over a thousand references to “Live Free or Die!” So, I changed my sermon title. It is the first time that I have used a toast as a sermon title, but this is a very special toast given by Revolutionary War General John Stark in 1808. He was unable to attend the banquet given in his honor by men who fought beside him for freedom from Great Britain , but he sent a toast, the full text is, “Live Free or Die; Death is Not the Worst of Evils!”
We must remember that our freedom was bought with a price that our forefathers and mothers were willing to sacrifice everything for their freedom. Subsequently, many have paid the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of others, in world wars, and in many smaller wars. All who died defending liberty, wherever the battle raged, are true patriots: Let freedom be extended to all people everywhere. Every person is out neighbor.
And where did this concept of freedom, liberty originate? Our Patriotic National Hymns may give a clue: “My Country, ‘Ties (is) of (from) Thee,” The folks who founded the Jamestown Colony, in what was to become a part of Virginia, felt deeply enough to risk their lives that it was God's will for them to find a place where they could live free or die trying. Our nation was founded by people who were seeking to establish what some called, “A New Israel,” a free government ruled by God's Will.
The old King James language, which the first American read from, says, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” (5:1) These folks interpreted this text spiritually and also practically. They realized that the Apostle meant that our hearts are set free from the Old Testament Law, “if you are led by the Spirit, you are no longer subject to the law.” (18) We now are free to live by the Grace of Christ. The New Living Translation says, “So Christ has really set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don't get tied up again in slavery to the law.” No longer would our colonists pay heavy taxes to King George, III. Our forefathers were Christian believers whose great fear was being caught again in the grip of bondage, and they would fight to preserve liberty. It was integral to their faith experience in Christ.
There is also a dual meaning when St. Paul goes on to say that we should, as a result of being in Christ, “love our neighbors as ourselves,” (NRSV 14) This meant for the colonists to love those who came across the dangerous Atlantic on a small ship with them, but they also knew that our neighbors include all fellow travelers earth. Therefore, another's lack of liberty is our concern. We can't turn our eyes from those we are supposed to love, and proclaim the good news too.
Then, the last two verses of this Independence Day text indicates that through the Passion of the Christ, the price for our liberty has been satisfied. Thus, we can live free of the guilt of sin for we have already been set free in our souls, and that that liberty is transferred to our social and political lives too.
Independence Day is a reminder each year of how the faith of our fathers has paved the way for our turn as being the protectors of liberty. You are at church so you have not missed it, but some folks are eating barbeque, riding around in circles in a motor boat in a small lake, or some other activity that we associate with The Fabulous Fourth, three day weekend, and forget. Thus, our kids might never know; but, freedom never skips a generation. Indeed some of us have never had our freedom restricted.
Marilyn and I test drove a SUV this week. We took turns driving, checking out the front seat. But then we decided to sit together in the back seat. We shut the doors and felt that the area was not cramped and would work out fine for transporting small people. Then when we attempted to get out, the doors were locked. We tried everything and the doors would not unlock. I was getting a little claustrophobic when I noticed a red button on the key chain marked “emergency.” I mashed the button and the car salesman came out of his office, around the corner in the rain, and stood looking for a minute before he realized that the former owner of the car had set the “child safety” locks and we would have to be set free from within.
I was glad we had that experience, in a way, because that is exactly how we are rescued from bondage in our souls. Then, as a result of finding liberty, we become the rescuers of others in slavery: This basic to Christian evangelism and missions. Our job is to share liberty. Sometimes that job is difficult.
The fifty-six men who put their lives and fortunes on the line by signing the Declaration of Independence paid a great price for freedom. Five were later captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons by death. Two sons were taken prisoner. Nine of the fifty-six died from wounds or hardship from the Revolutionary War. Most of the signers never recovered physically from the war, but I have never read one instance of even one who recanted. How will we choose to serve liberty?
General Stark has startled many drivers. Ever since cars were required to have license tags New Hampshire plates have trumpeted forth his words “Live Free or Die!” After all, death is not the worst thing that can happen to us.
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor