Sermon Given at the Alafia River Rendezvous on January 22, 2006
We are all gathered here because we share a common love, the love of history. Now to most of the world that are not camped with us this Sunday, we are those strange people who are willing to forgo the comforts of civilization, skip our daily showers, and do without modern comforts. Yet, if you have experienced the quiet of a nighttime campfire, the fellowship of the frontier, you know that it is the world around us that has forgone the experience of a rendezvous. The question here is whether there is any real value in what we do? When viewed from the heavens, does our God smile or laugh? My message this morning is to look at three gifts that the world is given through history. Three gifts that each of usu can embrace and share with those around us.
The first gift from history is that we are defined by it. Yes, I would claim that each of you is who you are because you received information from the past. It came as stories of your ancestors. Where they came from, how they lived, how they suffered and even how they died.
Genealogy begins in God’s Word. There we can see that our Bible is passing on to us those events that foretold of the Messiah, His life, His death and our ultimate salvation. It was David’s genealogy that would cascade through history until the birth of Christ. It would be Solomon’s experiences that would be written into the Book of Proverbs. The experiences of history’s wisest man, passed on to each of us. Maybe it is the letters of the Apostle Paul that define the very essence of Christian beliefs. But this is a message about pre-1840 American history so let’s go back to 1776.
On the day of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, August 2nd, General Washington had only 10,000 men under his command. Off the coast of New England, more than 130 British ships sat at anchor. The Signers of our great Declaration had already received word that those ships contained 42,000 sailors and soldiers who were awaiting an order to join the British forces already ashore. The British forces represented the most powerful nation on Earth, and their task was to crush the Colonial rebellion and arrest each of the signers as traitors. Every man who put his pen to the Declaration that day knew that he faced the wrath of all Britain and would be considered traitors to the Crown.
Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, five were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the revolutionary army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the fifty-six fought and died from wounds or hardships resulting from the Revolutionary War. That is one out of two or 52% to be exact. Would you have signed that day? Yet, this would be become the history that defined a nation, our nation, the greatest nation on earth.
I remember my family stories as if they were told to me yesterday. Four weeks after I was born, my father went off to war. I was three years old the day he returned. We met and shook hands for the first time that day. My father’s gift to me was a knife that his brother had made for him and my dad carried those three years while he was in the service. It was a simple enough gift that would help define my interests for a life time. Family stories, I have a 1,000 of them. What about your own heritage? Each one of us has a journey that is unique. God calls us to share it.
Now history’s second gift is that it points you. Whether or not we recognize it, we are all on a journey. Each of us is a traveler in time, with fate defining our circumstances and destiny defining our journey’s end. But it is history that provides each of us our road map. As George [sant-I-la] Santayala, a famous Spanish philosopher once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
I would propose that life’s journey is always a road with choices. Those proverbial “Y’s” in the road that force us to chose one direction or another. I would also propose that you are never offered more than two choices at a time. Should you go to the left or to the right? No maybes or buts allowed. Should you choose to believe in Christ or should you not? There is no middle ground offered here. No cross roads, just the occasional fork in the road of life. Our Creator has not made this journey complex but He has given us many choices. We are asked to pick one path and journey on, making our choices again and again. Here is where history is so important. The Apostle Paul has said that “Romans 1:19-20 “…since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” But Isaiah 30:21 has said that “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” In other words, we are called to make our choices (choose one of those forks in the road) and then place our faith in our God that He will guide us through this journey. Good choices and some not so good.
We don’t have to work very hard to find examples of bad choices. In our history, there are many. I can think of maybe some of the worst choices ever made. In our country’s history there were battles fought for freedom but there were those fought for greed. We should never forget these. 12 million of our American Indian brothers and sisters perished during the birth of our country. And what have we learned from our past? Just walk over to our Metis ceremonial area and listen. We have learned that we share the same Creator, the same world and the same desire for an eternal life. We have learned that we were created from the same dust and will return to the same dust. It is our obligation to pass this history on too so it is never, never repeated.
I have been told that in every good sermon, there must be at least three points and I am a true and tried Presbyterian from the Church of Scotland. So my third point is that history empowers us. Yes, I mean to say that through the gift of history, we can be given the power to make a difference, to actually help write the next chapter in our world’s history book. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s go back to the Declaration of Independence and I would like to tell you about one of its signers, Caesar Rodney. Caesar was born in Delaware in 1730. He was 46 at the time of the American Revolution. As one of the provincial leaders, Rodney knew the importance of unity. On July 1st, 1776 Rodney road 80 miles through the night, through a thunderstorm, so that he could be there to cast the deciding vote for his delegation. Not just an ordinary vote but the vote that allowed this Declaration to be re-titled, the “Unanimous Declaration of Independence.” That additional word would serve to hold our country’s spirits and troops together for eight long years of war and hundreds of years afterwards. It inspired over 200,000 colonialists to sacrifice and seek the freedom that we all enjoy every day. What many do not know is that Caesar Rodney had skin cancer and elected to forgo treatment so that he could support his country. He was active during the entire revolution, never taking time to see his doctors in Philadelphia. The war ended with the signing of the Treaty in Paris on September 3rd, 1783. Caesar Rodney joined the Lord less than a year later, in June of 1784, knowing America was now free. Is his legacy that he is the only person to be named on a U.S. Quarter or is it the word “Unanimous” on our Declaration of Independence? Is his legacy that others like me will share his story of sacrifice to all that will listen?
And where was this unselfish attitude learned, to sacrifice all for others? How would our collection of thirteen colonies become unanimous in their pursuit of freedom? What was the great gift of history that they received?
In 1776, we were a nation, a nation under God, a nation taught and governed by Godly principles and a nation given the understanding of how Christ sacrificed for each of us. We were a nation of believers, raising our children as believers, standing and worshiping our God with reverence and respect. We placed our Bible in a place of honor in our households and we placed God’s Words in a place of honor in our hearts. Your forefathers chose to give each of you the gifts of history: to let it define you, to let it to point you, to let it empower you. Do this for others in the name of our great Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.