Sermon Archives

Sunday, July 5, 2020
Independence Day
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
The Great Experiment

Oh, God, because without you, we are not able to please you. Mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may end all things direct and rule our hearts, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

First off friends. I hope you have enjoyed this holiday weekend. I pray that it’s provided you some time, a bit of time in fact, to unwind. To put aside the pressures of work and hopefully the anxieties of COVID-19, which tragically still surround us.

Now, like any birthday celebration, the annual observance of Independence Day provides us an opportunity, collectively and individually, to celebrate the birth of this nation, great experiment of democracy.

Birthdays, however, invite us to look beyond the moment of our birth to the full arc of our human maturation. The lifelong movement from our infancy to full selfhood. To celebrate one’s birthday is at its best to celebrate the movement from complete dependence to mutual interdependence with one another.

At their best, the birthday celebration is a recognition, personal and public, that who we are is a composite of years, not simply a moment in time. A progression of successes and failures that quietly shape our identity and with attention, gently form us into a unique image of our creator.

The same of course, maybe said of our annual observation of Independence Day. At their best, these annual celebrations are more than mere reminders of our American foundation, worthy of celebration no doubt, but incomplete if left there.

Like you and like me, our nation was created in the flash of a moment, but her formation, her maturation into that more perfect union for which she was created, has been a journey with the same fits and starts that we ourselves have encountered along the way. And so American history is an imperfect history. The great dream of American independence and human equality was blunted by the sin of racism and slavery, patriarchal supremacy and economic inequality.

And while we have made great progress in pursuit of the American dream, which by the way, seems not so much to be about personal wealth, but about a society marked by radical equality in which all live in tranquility and with security.

The recent events of this year remind us that much more remains in our national maturation. For while many of the great atrocities of our founding are now behind us, the ravaging of indigenous populations, the dehumanizing of black bodies and souls and slavery, the diminishing of women’s voice and identity, we still live in a society in which vast swaths of our society live not in tranquility and possess little to no security. Be it in the food that they seek for their table, the health care that their bodies require, or simply the freedom to take a run through a neighboring town.

As we participate in our national celebrations this year, we are wise to look not only to America’s founding but to her progress; to our communal maturation, where we will find much to celebrate and sadly, still much to lament.

But what does all of this have to do with our spiritual journey as a Christian people? Well, much, I believe. For starters, the work that remains is principally spiritual work. As much as we discuss policies and funding changes to our public institutions, the fundamental work of any human maturation, individual or communal, is spiritual work. The public policies we discuss communally, much like the personal choices we make individually, are always trailing indicators of the heart from which they emerge.

It was in fact, the heart of white America that began to be transformed over 300 years ago, that marked our collective transformation from a national slave state to one that ratified the abolition of slavery and the equal rights of black women and men.

It was the heart of white America that developed the fortitude to recognize his past failures, painful as that is for any one of us to admit, in order to work for meaningful changes to our collective society.

It was in fact, the heart of white America that had acknowledged our national sin in order to repent of the past and make a new future for all citizens and it will be the heart of white America that has the courage to admit that, that work is yet incomplete.

Fortunately for us, there was also the heart of black America. For it was the heart of black America, which had the courage to stand tall in the face of generations of abuse and yet proclaim her dignity and her worth.

It was the heart of black America, which possessed the capacity to respect the dignity of every person she encountered, even the human dignity of one hidden behind a mask or spitting hatred into her face.

It was the heart of black America, which has modeled the heavenly capacity for grace that sees in the center of the capacity for transformation and boldly invites a new being to be formed.

Friends, the past months have revealed great cracks in our American society and great minds are at work discussing changes for our collective society but human maturation, personal and communal is more than a policy change. It is the development of the human heart and that work demands spiritual capacity, the spiritual capacity of courage, humility, grace, and hope.

We must be about that work here in this place, in our homes and within our community and most especially within this church, in order that our society might mature and progress nearer to that dream of an American society in which all are created equal before God. Amen.