Independence Day and Local Greatness…
This week we are celebrating Independence Day! We mark our freedom from foreign rule. We commemorate our right to self-governance … 242 years. On July 2, 1776, right across the river in Philadelphia, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence. Two days later delegates from the thirteen original colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence: “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.” And the fight for that independence was well underway.
Two impressions arise from reading the poetic flourish of Jefferson. First, he describes this new project as an experiment which may not endure. Second, the independence of the colonies, or the “free and independent states,” in his own words, also echoes strongly. At the time, the colonies did not even share a common currency. Each colony had been founded for its own reasons, which lent each a unique personality and composition. Pennsylvania was Quaker; Maryland was Catholic; New England was mostly Puritan.
We have come a long way. We now stretch from “sea to shining sea,” have the world's largest economy, and the largest military. Perhaps that means we also have the largest responsibility to battle against tyranny in order that others may enjoy “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But we must recognize that these brave Americans, declared their own freedom and fought off their own oppressors. As Americans, despite our lofty altruistic desires to extend democracy and selfgovernance, our attempts to create the conditions for freedom around the globe have not been met with glowing success. Results are mixed. The desire for freedom and the form that a government may embrace must well up from its own people, if it is to endure.
Despite how far we have come, it is important to recognize our humble roots, and to embrace them. In the Gospel today, Jesus is chided as the carpenter's son; his own people take offense at his new and powerful teaching because they recognize his humble roots. And so, because of their lack of faith, Jesus could perform no mighty deeds. They were expecting greatness to come from afar. They wanted a powerful and royal Messiah, not the carpenter's son. But with our history here in America, we can see clearly that greatness can come from humble roots. Greatness is not imported from distant lands. Greatness is born and raised right here. Imagine what would have happened if the people of Nazareth would have said, “Isn't this awesome?! It is Jesus – a local boy – who is teaching us and performing mighty deeds through the whole region!”
The greatness of America is a local greatness, a greatness born from humble roots, from people who wanted simple things: “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And these fine individuals determined that self-governance was the best way to ensure those basic goods. If we are expecting great things, we need not look around the world. I dare say, not even to Washington. Let us look to our brothers and sisters of Maple Shade. Look local. And let us work to empower those great things to take root from right here, from the midst of our little parish.
May God bless you and your families! May God bless our nation! And may God bless the great gift in our midst that we must protect and nurture: “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.