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June 29, 2016

With Great Britain’s vote on June 23rd to leave the European Union, independence is in the air. There is talk of Frexit, Grexit, Departugal, Italeave, Czechout, Outstria, and Finish. Europeans are keen to regain local rule. Many seek deliverance from being ruled by bureaucrats in Brussels. We heard that message when we were in the Czech Republic earlier this year.

The Brexit vote preceded our celebration of independence from Great Britain by a few days. On July 3, 1776, the day after the Continental Congress approved the wording of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.” (Federer, William, America’s God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations (1994) Fame Publishing, p. 200). (emphasis added). The Declaration of Independence was voted on the next day, and July 4th became the day each year that we celebrate our independence from Great Britain. This was the culminating act of a group of pilgrims who left Europe seeking religious freedom.

Deliverance means being set free. This week’s psalm reminds us of another day of deliverance—the exodus from Egypt. God delivered the Israelites from slavery and permitted them to escape by parting the Red Sea: “turned the sea into dry land they passed through the waters on foot—come let us rejoice in him.”(Psalm 66:6).[1]

Even more important than being set free from governmental tyranny is being set free from sin. As John Bunyan noted in the seventeenth century,  we reach the “place of deliverance” at the foot of the cross. We played a Pilgrim’s Progress board game in my middle school Sunday school class years ago. We clipped a backpack onto a plastic one inch Christian as he went around the board accruing sins, but when he reached “the place of deliverance,” the straps that bound his burdens finally fell away; the backpack came off, and he went on his way unburdened.

We are all carrying backpacks of sin that weigh us down. One of the heaviest of sins is the sin of pride. Paul warns: “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:3). And lest anyone think that he is putting himself above others, he adds: “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14). But we find many opportunities to boast about ourselves, our spouses, and our children. We casually drop names, flash jewels or labels and mention schools attended, degrees earned, certificates and awards received; jobs landed, projects completed; trips taken, money earned or raised, committees chaired—the list is endless.

This tendency to think of ourselves (and our progeny) as better than others (and their progeny) is the sin of pride. Ok, you think–probably not a virtue, but a sin?   N.T. Wright warns “If you think you are ‘something,’ someone special . . . able to look down on the others from a great height—why, then that attitude itself is evidence you are not. You are deceiving yourself—but probably nobody else.” (Wright, Paul for Everyone (2002) Westminster John Knox Press, p. 76). Pride is a deadly sin, mentioned by John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress, and for which a special place was set aside in Dante’s Divine Comedy. When we think so highly of ourselves, we have no room to think about and empathize with others—to help our fellow sojourners with their burdens. Dante was saved by the Angel of Humilty. Humility, in the person of Jesus Christ, is our savior as well. When asked what the four most important virtues are, St. Bernard of Clairovaux, a twelfth century abbot replied, “Humility, humility, humility and humility.”

Jesus continues the warning against the sin of pride in this week’s gospel lesson. He warns the disciples that while he has given them great powers, they are not to take pride in their special powers: “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

So wear your red, white and blue and celebrate the 240th anniversary of our “day of deliverance,” with family and friends, fireworks and parades, hamburgers, potato salad, apple pie and ice cream. But at the same time don’t forget Adams’ suggestion to celebrate with “acts of devotion to God,” and that our true deliverance lies at the foot of the cross, where we must fall in total humility to be released from our burdens.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan



[1] The Scripture texts for the seventh Sunday after Pentecost are Psalm 66:1-7; Isaiah 66: 10-14; Galatians 6:1-10, 14-18; Luke 10:1-20.

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