Collect for Independence Day: Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch fo freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Beloved People of St. Martin’s,
Our Book of Common Prayer’s lectionary recognizes Independence Day as a holiday, even though the Episcopal Church includes countries outside the United States. The Gospel appointed for this special day is, wonderfully, Matthew 5:43-48:
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun riseon the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
I don’t know if there could be a more perfect choice for a day in which we are called to remember the ideals we pray that our country reflects in each and every day. The reminder of praying for enemies as fervently as we pray for friends reminds me of Abraham Lincoln’s conclusion to his First Inaugural Address delivered on March 4, 1861 — when, even though he had not taken office, seven slave-holding states had announced their secession from the Union. Lincoln endeavored fervently to avoid the impending war which loomed and to hold together our fragile, fragmented country. He concluded then with this plea:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Nonetheless, war came, and threatened to tear our country asunder. With the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1963, Lincoln declared flatlythat the fight was not merely toward preserving the Union, but to ending the heinous practice of slavery within the United States. Four weary years after his first inauguration, President Lincoln again stood to take the oath of office after his re-election. In his much briefer Second Inaugural speech, delivered mere weeks before he would be assassinated, President Lincoln concluded thus:
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
The cherished ideals of forbearance, charity, and unity that President Lincoln enumerated as being in the best tradition of American values are reflected in our gospel reading from Matthew assigned for this day. They are ideals that we are also enjoined to strive toward as Christians — taking seriously the idea that we can be led by the better angels of our nature toward fulfilling our baptismal promises, made to both God adn to each other in our relationships with each other and with other nations.
May we, on this Independence Day, recommit ourselves particularly to seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves; to striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. With malice toward none, but charity for all.