14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (4th of July)

Today we celebrate our nation’s 245th birthday. In the history of countries, that is a long time for a country to still be around and relatively unchanged from its founding principles. Yet, despite all of our struggles and all of the political differences that seem to exist in our country and for as much as I can’t stand watching the news or hearing people talk about politics anymore, I am grateful to live in a country founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

If you have ever had a chance to travel around the world, you realize that what we have in America is unique and there are people who can only dream of the freedoms we have. I remember the time I spent in South America. We were instant celebrities, not because we did anything, but because we came from this place called America, where we were free. Everyone we encountered wanted what we had. Yet, today as we gather to celebrate our nation’s birthday, as we gather to celebrate the freedoms we all experience, the most important of which is our right to be here today to worship, I think we have to acknowledge that the greatest threat that could ever exist to our country is the threat to freedom. If you take away our freedom, you don’t have the United States of America.

The challenge for many of us in our country is that we don’t even know what freedom is. I think if we stop and think about it, freedom is so ingrained into our minds that if we see it, perhaps we recognize it, but very few of us could actually define what it means to be free. If another person from another country came to you and asked “what is this freedom thing you have in America” how would you respond? Sadly, most people in our country would say that freedom is the ability to do whatever you want. Yet, my friends, we don’t actually like that definition. Think about all the things we see on the news that we get angry about. Isn’t it just a bad expression of freedom? After all if you and I can do whatever we want, what happens? More powerful people oppress less powerful people, you get people killing people, your neighbor might decide he wants your lawn more and so he’ll go and take it and you get fights on the streets. That is not freedom. That is tyranny or anarchy. That is certainly not what our founding fathers had in their mind and it is certainly not what countless Americans have died to protect.

You and I were given the gift of something far great simply because we born into this country. No, freedom isn’t the ability to do whatever I want to do. No, it says that the government won’t get in the way of allowing me to do what I should do. The government won’t get in the way of doing anything that prevents me from becoming the person I’m supposed to be. If you were to speak to the founding fathers and if you read their documents you realize that their idea of freedom is that nothing would impede us from becoming who God made us to be.

The problem, and I think the greatest problem for us in America, is that we have removed the notion of God from our country. If you don’t have God, you don’t have freedom. You see, our founding Fathers specifically intended that God would be at the center of our country. They understood that it was only with God at the center that every other liberty that we have would be kept in check.

The genius of the founding fathers is that they took a philosophical idea that had been talked about in the universities for a long time, and they put it into practice. A philosophical experiment that realized that each and every one of us is endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights; the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But if you pull God out of that, where do these rights come from, who says we even have them. If you pull God out of the equation, we have created these rights for ourselves, which means we can take them away. Then my friends you have tyranny; you have problems.

You know even with the challenges of our country; we still live in one of the greatest civilizations ever to exist in this world. The challenge for us is to live as worth of citizens of the gift we have been given. For you see, freedom doesn’t mean that God has no place in this country. Freedom means that God has to be at the center of this country. My friends, just as the founding fathers had to sacrifice so much for us to have what we have, just as countless Americans have had to, year in and year out, sacrifice so much to defend those freedoms that we have been given, the torch is handed on to us. What makes a country or society great? It is not that they have great leaders. No, a great society is composed of great people. A free society is composed of free people. If we want to ensure that God is at the center of our country, so that we have the freedoms that we have, our only option is to place God at the center of our lives.

So, as we stop and celebrate our nation’s birthday, I think we first have to give thanks to God for the many blessings we have been the given; the greatest of which is to gather right here to worship God. I hope we can step back and acknowledge what it means to be truly free, to put God at the center. But then as we look to the past and give thanks, as we look to the present and understand what we should have in the present, it should compel us into the future to be sure that we use those gifts of freedom, so that others may have the freedoms we have. So that others too, might be free or unimpeded to become who God has created them to be. Ultimately to ensure that we have the situation in our country that nothing can get in the way of becoming the saints, God has called us to be.

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