When it comes to 4th of July parades, are you one of those people or families who mark out their watching spot hours or days in advance, or it that not something on your radar at all? Walking down Calhoun Road earlier this morning, I saw a fair number of prime spots already marked out with ropes and tarps in anticipation from the parade two days down the road. Whether you are a watching-spot saver or not, for a lot of people 4th of July parades are just plain a lot of fun. Marching bands, candy — beautiful floats, candy – greetings and waves from important people in the community, candy… On Tuesday some of you will join millions nationwide in not just being parade-watchers, but parade-marchers, as you walk along in our own Brookfield 4th of July parade to honor our nation’s Declaration of Independence from the English empire and its king. In our case as Christians we especially celebrate the freedom we have in our land to worship our Lord and King as we wish. If you can join us, please do. Just review the paragraph in the bulletin and meet us at Brookfield Central High School, where you will hopefully get enough candy to make a lot of kids on that parade route very happy…
That Declaration of Independence from back in 1776 started with the statement that all men are created equal, with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We are thankful for that governmental right, but as Christians the main reason we are thankful for that governmental right is because we know that spiritually it is really just the opposite. We are all created equal, but we are equal in the fact that we are born into this world as imperfect, sinful people – and spiritually we really do not have the right to life, liberty and happiness at all – in fact, just the opposite. God wants us to know we all equally need a Savior from our sin, and God also wants us to know that we all equally have a Savior from our sin. Sadly, saying what I just said is something that goes against the natural way that people are born, and that’s something that causes division. Many people go through life with a spiritual declaration of independence – a declaration of independence from the need for God and from knowing and believing and doing what God wants them to know and believe and do. That’s why in your life and mine we need every day of our lives to make A Declaration of Dependance. That’s the only way to be able appreciate what we are able to enjoy in our land and the only way to be prepared if at some point we aren’t able to enjoy so much of this freedom any more.
If Pastor Free had read those hard-hitting, sobering words of the Gospel about the division of family members against one another in a worship service being held in a house or a small building in some other countries, you could probably have heard a pin drop. You could probably have heard a pin drop, because people in many countries like North Korea and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Nigeria are living it. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of these numbers, but one group that keeps track of the persecution of Christians says that throughout the world in a recent year thirteen Christians were put to death every single day, twelve church buildings were damaged every single day, and every single day twelve Christians were unjustly imprisoned. Especially in families where one person in that family is the first person in that family to become a Christian in that kind of anti-Christian environment, you can imagine how close it hits to home when they hear Jesus’ words, “For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” Yes, in so many places around the world right now today you could have probably heard a pin drop, if in those places they were listening to these same words of Jesus, because they literally know that the message of Jesus Christ brings not just division, but, in some cases, the sword.
It is hard for many of us to relate to that, of course, but even if you haven’t had people in your family turn you into the authorities for your faith, any number of you know the heartache of a family member or a close friend who has turned against you for your faith or has left his or her faith. All the rest of us want – and need — to be here for you, to encourage you, to pray with you, to pray for you, and, to use Jesus’ words, “to welcome you” as we would welcome Jesus – even, as Jesus here says, if it’s as simple a gesture of love as giving you “a cup of cold water.”
Yet, despite the attacks on Christianity throughout the world and little by little all the more in our own nation, statistics say that Christianity still increases, primarily in those places of persecution. Christianity still increases because the gates of hell cannot overcome anyone who has signed a declaration of dependance – anyone who says I depend on Jesus Christ as my Savior from sin, because without him I would be lost and without any reason to be alive on this earth and certainly with nothing to look forward to after I die – and I want everyone – even those who may mock what I believe – especially those who may mock or work against or try to destroy what I believe about Jesus – I want them to know the very same thing.
The way that can be our Declaration of Dependance is to remember the thought of verse 38: “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Positively stated, “Whoever does take up their cross and follow Jesus is worthy of Jesus,” not because we are so worthy, but because the cross of Jesus Christ makes us worthy. Jesus carried his cross to that hill outside of Jerusalem so that any cross or challenge or heartache we bear for whatever reason it may be would not cause us to be overcome with guilt for our responsibility in causing it, because of how we have given our heavenly Father every reason to let us suffer. No, our God of love sent his only Son to show the kind of love that truly is grace – undeserved love — so that bearing the cross of Jesus is not a burden that weighs us down more, but it is a yoke that is so light because the one really lifting that cross is the one who died on it and who then rose from the death which that cross caused. That’s why it is such an honor to sign the Declaration of Dependance. That is why it is such an honor to believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin, to live for him, and, even, if necessary to die for him, because we belong to him and we always will.
That also helps us understand the spirit of Jesus’ words not to love father or mother or son or daughter more than him. We know that Jesus does not say not to love our parents and our children. Just the opposite. We are to love our family members as some of God’s most precious gifts to us, just we are to love and do good to all people, and especially, as the apostle Paul said in one of his letters, to those who belong to the household of faith – the family of God. Since by believing in Jesus we are part of the household – the family – of God, we find it very natural to love God above all things and above all people, the very kind of love that leads us, then, to truly love our families in our families and in our church and in our world, because we want them to be part of the family of God and live with us in the household of heaven.
So, we want Christianity to increase in the way God wants it to increase, even if it is not always in numbers – throughout the world and right around us. And it will increase, even in the midst of opposition, even in places where it almost seems to be snuffed out, even if it will someday seem that way in this nation, as we who believe in the life and death and love of Jesus show the life and death and love of Jesus. It will not come by returning the sword with the sword. It will not come by yelling at people and being mean to people. God’s kingdom only comes – and does come – through speaking the very words and doing the very things that cause such division in the first place. Jesus said in the last verses of our Lesson, “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Keep welcoming – keep supporting – keep praying for – keep encouraging – keep helping all who believe in Jesus and all who proclaim the faith of Jesus, and God promises we will receive a “reward” – not a reward received by someone who says, “You owe me, Lord,” but by someone who says, “Bearing your cross, Lord Jesus, has been reward enough, because, even though I deserve just the opposite, I am going to enjoy the reward of heaven that you give all who depend on you alone.”
If you want life, liberty and happiness – real life, liberty and happiness – even if it gets harder to enjoy that in this life for whatever reason, remember that real life, real freedom, real happiness comes from Jesus’ words, “Whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” Losing our life for Jesus doesn’t mean only if we die because of Jesus; it means not seeing this life as the most important thing in life – it means losing any thought that this life is all there is to life. Every day of your life sign the Declaration of Dependance on Jesus Christ, and then march at the head of the line in the parade of life, as you celebrate your independence from anything that could ever take you away from the love God has showed you through Christ Jesus your Lord, precisely because of the promise of Christ Jesus, our Lord, on whom we can totally — and forever — and through everything — depend. Amen.