Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sermon: Independence Day

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

That prayer is from the BCP & is entitled for the nation. It is one of the options for Independence day. There is another prayer listed under our Holy Days for Independence Day that begins: “Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us…”

And it is that part, won liberty for themselves and for us, as a friend pointed out that is not correct. For history reminds us that African-Americans did not have liberty at our founding but were still slaves, women were not equal partners and could not vote and others like Native Americans were forced to leave their lands. Liberty was for a precious few.

I really understood that after finishing reading, Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History. The DeWolfe family are from Rhode Island; they are also predominantly Episcopalian. 10 family members in 2001 undertook the journey retracing their ancestors steps and visiting RI, Ghana & Cuba, (Triangle Trade) they began to understand the reach of slavery and their family’s involvement. What struck me most from the book, is not only the horrible conditions of slavery but how it touched almost every part of society back then. Even the DeWolfes who refused to be part of the slave trade, still had dealings with their own family members and in their own way supported slavery if only indirectly. It reminds us that the North prospered like the South with the slave trade and its legacy sadly remains with us.

All of this reminds me that our founding fathers were not perfect, they couldn’t see the sin of slavery before themselves and get rid of it. That liberty for all would take a couple more centuries before all could taste that freedom but they did start this democratic experiment and as that collect for Independence Day also says, “lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn...”

The torch of freedom that would inspire the Abolitionists and Suffragettes, people like Frederick Douglas & Elizabeth Cady Stanton to continue the founders work so all would have freedom and liberty here. I think of Washington, Madison & Monroe the Episcopalians, Adams the Unitarian, Jefferson & Franklin the non-conformists, and the countless others who also lit the torch so that no matter what our religious faith, there is religious freedom and a separation of Church and State.

At this hour, not only are we here at worship, but so are Congregationalists across the green, Lutheran, Baptists, Methodists, Roman Catholic and Evangelical Free are also at worship. Nearby Muslim and Jews and Buddhists have also gathered for their worship. Worshipping as we wish without worry that the State might step in. Sadly, many of our brothers and sisters around the world do not have such freedom, nor do they have the liberty to choose how they can practice their religion.

These words written and signed in 1776, still hold such power and still are a torch to those around the world who seek such freedom in their lives today:
“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.”
As we continue our celebrations, we pray for those around the world, who seek such liberty and life in their homelands and we think of those who continue to fight across the sea and here at home who fight for our rights. I came across this story and I think certainly this is someone who fought in his own way for us.
He was an accountant at a hospital run by a major health care corporation. His employers had asked him to keep two sets of books, one to show the Medicare auditors for reimbursement and the other marked CONFIDENTIAL - Do Not Discuss or Release to Medicare Auditors. He refused to go along with the fraud and was fired. He sued the company for wrongful termination; in the process, he discovered that the company was doing the same thing at hundreds of hospitals.

He filed a "whistle-blower" complaint with the appropriate government authorities. The case dragged through the courts for years, and during all that time he was unemployed and unemployable before he was finally vindicated, awarded a large financial settlement and an acknowledgment of the truth of his allegations. The corporation had to pay out more than one billion dollars in fines, penalties and reimbursements.

What gave him the courage and determination to do what he did at great personal cost? He knew who he was working for. He was not working for the greedy, dishonest corporate executives who signed his paycheck. He was working for his sick and injured neighbors who sought care at a hospital where they believed their well-being would be that hospital's chief concern. As an accountant, he was working for the American taxpayers, keeping the health care provider accountable for the Medicare dollars entrusted to them.

And he was working to maintain a sense of himself as an honest man. He wrote:

"There were many, many times when I had to ask myself: Why am I doing this? You don't always know why, but you see your kids and you realize you may have lost your job, your career, most of your savings, everything you've worked for, but if you ever lose their respect, it's something that cannot be replaced. I knew that when it was over, no matter how it turned out, I wanted to be able to look my kids in the eye and tell them that truth and honesty really do matter." [Jim Alderson, writing in The Rotarian, January 2004.]
That is what we carry on today, that is what has been passed on to us, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not for ourselves alone but for those around us too. And we do it with honesty, truth, honor, and out of love for God and our neighbors. Today and everyday, may we serve God in freedom and in peace, with a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with God’s gracious will. Amen.

1 comment:

Tom DeWolf said...

Tom DeWolf here. I appreciate you reading "Inheriting the Trade." It is my hope that the experience of my family will help others in their own healing journeys.

For anyone who is interested I do a fair amount of blogging on many related subjects at http://inheritingthetrade.com/blog/.

Blessings to you and your readers.

Tom DeWolf, author
Inheriting the Trade