7 Trinity 2008 – Independence Day

The Seventh Sunday After Trinity
(Independence Celebration)
July 6, 2008
Verses 20 & 21 of Deuteronomy 10:17-21
‘Against All Odds, Victory!’

On the Sunday nearest American Independence Day, at St. Mary’s we customarily include a flavor of American Patriotism in the service. The Altar flowers are red, white and blue. The aisles are festooned with miniature American flags. We include an honor guard and carry the American flag in the procession today, and at the conclusion of the service we recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing The National Anthem. We sing Patriotic hymns from the hymnal, as well the Battle Hymn of the Republic and God Bless America. And we usually add the accompaniment of a drummer to our singing. There is usually a special anthem sung by the choir. And customarily the sermon expresses a tone of Patriotism as well.

But this year some of the people we depend upon for providing much of this special day’s Patriotic enhancement have moved away or are out of town on this holiday weekend, or are prevented from being here today, as they are presently recovering from illness or injury. And so today there although there is a flag bearer, there will be no honor guard, no choir anthem (no choir!) and no drummer.

But we’ll still recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the National Anthem, and the sermon will include a patriotic note. The fact that there is, at least on my part, a sense of frustration and a certain disappointment is in keeping with a certain aspect of an element that relates to the American Revolution. Most certainly General George Washington knew all about frustration and disappointment on a MAJOR scale.

Time and time again it seemed that the odds were against him; more importantly against the Continental Army that it could survive the winters and near-starvation, let alone survive the various battles and military engagements. The odds seemed to be against the success of the American Revolution for Independence.

The British army’s troops were massive and well trained as were their endless reinforcements. Conversely, the Continental army was undermanned, largely untrained and undisciplined. British ships arrived weekly bringing much needed supplies and ammunition to their troops. The rag-tag Continentals were short on gun-powder and endlessly short of provisions. British troops marched in wool uniforms and protective leather boots, and at night had blankets and tents to keep themselves warm. The Continentals marched with the clothes on their backs, no change of clothes. Many a man had to march in rags bound round his feet, or go bare-footed in the snow. Hence, wintertime brought a landscape of frozen lakes, frozen ground and the frozen dead!

In milder weather there were crops to be planted, and to be harvested later before winter set in. But the men who owned those farms and those fields in the American colonies were far from home, far from their families, far from the fields and far from completing their enlistment time. Yes, for many, release from their service time was far too distant in the future. And continuance with this seemingly endless war seemed far too much to ask of them.

And so, adding to the General’s frustrations and disappointments, many deserted from the ranks to return to their loved ones and to look after their crops and animals – and to try to survive back home. For the other Americans who remained loyal to the cause, the time finally came to return home, creating another problem! Washington and the Officers pleaded with them to reenlist. Some would, many did not! Finding fresh recruits to replace the diminishing ranks was a laborious and endless task. And the war effort was rapidly running out of financing, even though the founding fathers had each pledged their fortunes to the effort. That of course would never have been enough!

But many stayed, many fought on, inspired by the leadership and courage they saw displayed in General Washington. Some feared him; many loved him. Most all admired him.

But the odds were mounting and overwhelming. Victory seemed far out of reach. But such odds seem to suit the workings of the Lord. It was a great victory when the Children of Israel besieged and captured the land of the Canaanites, who far outnumbered them. But God had promised the land to them, and He gave it to them. And later it was a great victory when against all imaginable odds the walls came tumbling down and the great city and garrison of Jericho fell to the onslaught of the Israelites.

That too is how God defeated the Midianites: against overwhelming odds! ‘The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, My own hand has delivered me. Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Who ever is fearful and trembling, let him return home.” And Gideon tested them; twenty-two thousand (of them) returned, and ten thousand remained’

‘And the Lord said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; take them down to the water and I will test them for you there; and he of whom I say to you, This man shall go with you, shall go with you; and any of whom I say to you, This man shall not go with you, shall not go.” ’

‘So Gideon brought the people down to the water; and the Lord said to Gideon, “Every one that laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself; likewise everyone that kneels down to drink.” And the number of those that lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was three hundred men; but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand; and let all the others go every man to his home.” ’ This quite clearly means that nine thousand seven hundred went home.

‘And Gideon divided the three hundred men into three companies, and put trumpets into the hands of all of them and empty jars, with torches inside the jars. And he ordered, “When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the (Midianite) camp, and shout, “For the Lord and for Gideon.” …(They) came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch; …and the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars, holding in their left hands the torches ….and they cried, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon.” ’

The story goes on to tell how the Midianite camp panicked at the sound of the trumpets and the breakage of the pots and the loud shouts. Their army became disoriented and set every man his sword against his fellow, and the army fled as far as to the boarder of Abelmeholah. And that is how God defeated the Midianites: with three hundred men against overwhelming odds!

Well the Continental Army, in spite of deserters and the loss of those who refused to reenlist, well over the number God had chosen for Gideon; but they were still vastly outnumbered by the troops of the British. But in the long term, God gave Victory. And He gave it to the Americans!

It would be splendid to have a letter to read to you from a Continental soldier writing home. A letter written to home from the battlefield. Not many exist! There are letters written by General Washington and by other generals American and British. There are letters from junior officers to headquarters. There are secretive letters with field orders. There are letters from businessmen that deal with the commerce of the day.

But, of letters from the American soldier in the field to his home, few exist if any. By and large, the British foot soldier had been educated; therefore most could read and write. But of the soldiers in Washington’s army, by contrast, many could not read or write

But what would one have written if they could have, and if they had access to paper and pen? Would they have written about the severity of the winters and nights, of the food they were blessed to have had that day, of the companion who lost his life on the field that day. Cold and weary of seeing his friends die in combat, would he simply say that war is hell, and that anyone who thinks it is somehow ‘glorious’ has never served in one? Perhaps he would not want to speak of such things and thus cause his family to worry more.

Perhaps he would speak only of the loneliness and of his burning desire to be back home, and of the longing to be in his wife’s arms and to be surrounded by his children, and of his yearning to be back in the fields, planting and harvesting and driving the team. Perhaps he would write to assure those back home that this war is surely going to be over soon, although it seems to drag endlessly on.

Perhaps he would boast that he had seen the General on horseback that very day, and how that sight had given him strength, the courage to continue on – and because of all that was at stake! And all it has cost; the blood of his fellows, the sacrifices of his friends.

I would think he’d write, “we cannot surrender, we must not fail; but seize the day and the seize the victory!” A man of letters, 1st Earl of Chatham, and English Prime Minister into the beginnings of the American Revolution, William Pitt wrote, ‘If I were an American, as I am an Englishman, while a foreign troop was landed in my country, I never would lay down my arms – never – never – never!’ (18 Nov. 1777).

But we don’t have letters from the typical American foot soldier. So we really don’t know of his thoughts. We don’t know exactly or precisely what kept them going on, with even some of them reenlisting.

Was it something as base as their hatred for the British?
Was it something as basic as their desire to put this war behind them?
Was it something as simple as their admiration for the General?
Was it something as noble as their desire to be free?
Was it something as pure as their faith in God, and their belief that this Great Cause was right, and just and good?
As trusting as that Almighty God, seeing they were out-manned, under equipped and overwhelmed, would give them final victory, as He had given the victory to Gideon?

Considering the odds that were against him, when the final Victory does come and he returns to home and family, will he reflect on all that he has seen and known in the battle for human freedom and liberty and understand what the Book of Deuteronomy meant where it enjoined: ‘You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve him and cleave to him, and by his Name you shall swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and terrible things which you have seen.’

God forever bless those who sacrificed their fortunes and their very lives to give us Victory: to give us the freedom and the liberty we enjoy, living as we do in the wonder of this great and plentiful land, our home, sweet home. God bless America! God bless them all who achieved the Victory.