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Independence Day: A Celebration of Radicals

July 4, 2012


We may not often thing of it, but Independence Day is a celebration of radicals. In our sometimes revised view of history, we may be tempted to view the Founding Fathers as aristocratic elites, or slave-holding tax evaders. On the other extreme there are those who see them as flawless idealists establishing a peoples’ paradise free of British tyranny.

Whatever the case may be – and I suspect it’s a good mix of both – the men and women who founded our country were at least “radicals.” To be “radical” is to be “Related to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.” A person who is a radical is someone who “advocates thorough or complete political or social reform.”

Whether or not the Founding Fathers were aristocrats or common farmers, they wanted to change the fundamental nature of something: They imagined a nation without a king. In 1776, this was not unheard of. Political attempts had been made along these lines before. The most notable of these in the colonists’ minds would have been the civil war in England a hundred years earlier, in which the king (St. Charles I) was overthrown and a republic established in England for about eleven years. The problem, however, was that Cromwell himself became something of a king, bearing the title “Lord Protector.” After his death in 1658, England beat a hasty retreat back to monarchy by 1660.

The ‘radical’ idea of people ruling themselves wasn’t new, but it had never been successfully tried before.

In the colonies, this radical perspective had been brewing for some time. The colonies had practiced some form of republican democracy for many years. In the 170 years since the establishment of the Jamestown colony, the British colonists had learned to make many decisions on their own. Even governors, who were appointed by the Crown, had taken to listening to the will of the colonial legislatures.

In addition to this, the “radicals” who wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence were looking for something ‘far-reaching’ and ‘thorough’. It is one thing to subscribe to an ideal, but it is entirely something different to lay your life on the line – and the lives of your sons, your neighbors, and your fellow countrymen.

Our country – our world – would not be the same without these “radicals” of July 4, 1776. They knew that it was entirely possible for intelligent, upright human beings to govern themselves, without the oppression of a monarch. They knew that free people provide a context for great accomplishment and great thought – no nation on earth has produced the kinds of accomplishments or ideals that the United States has. They didn’t get it perfect at first – it would be “four score and seven years” before slaves would be emancipated and yet another 57 years before women could vote – but they set the stage for freedom of all people, a role model for the world.

The same kind of thing could be said about Christians, couldn’t it? We are called to live lives that are radical. Like the Founding Fathers, we come from all sorts of backgrounds and a broad spectrum of ideas and lifestyles. But there is something in us that knows there is something better. We want to see a change in the fundamental elements of our own life and in the lives of others – changes that are far-reaching and thorough.

‘Radical’ ideas about the Kingdom of God were not unheard of. Political attempts had been made by the Jews as recently as 100 years before Christ, when the Maccabees ruled Palestine. Incensed by idol worship brought to Palestine by Hellenized Jews, Mathias the Hasmonean and his family revolted and established a kingdom that lasted 100 years, from 168-63 B.C. They tried to re-establish Temple worship and the priesthood and to bring in the Kingdom of God.

And as the British discovered in the 17th century, it’s easy to fly back to the old ways. The Hasmonean Dynasty became corrupt, its clergy returned to patronizing Greek and Roman pagan religions, and the nobility of the Hasmoneans produced the notorious line of kings we know as Herod the Great, Herod Archilaeus, Herod Antipas, and their successors.

The Kingdom of God requires us to understand what Jesus Christ tells us: it is one thing to subscribe to an ideal, but it is entirely different to lay your life on the line for it. In Mark 8:34-38, He tells us this:

…“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

Jesus Christ calls us to live lives of faith that are radical. Hear His words about life in the Kingdom of God:

Matthew 12 – It is a realm in which the Spirit of God is greater than physical limitations of blindness and deafness: physical limitations are no hindrance

Matthew 19 – The kingdom is for the weak and defenseless, like children coming for blessing

Also in Matthew 19 – In the kingdom of God, wealth has no meaning: in fact, it may be a hindrance, because the rich young man was sad about getting rid of his possessions; Jesus Christ gives a radical illustration of this – it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy man to make it into the kingdom of God

Mark 1 – The kingdom of God is for the repentant; those who are sorry for their sins, not those who relish their sins

Luke 9 – The kingdom of God is present: you don’t go to a place to be there, rather the kingdom of God is in the midst of believers

And of course, the “Bill of Rights” for the Kingdom of God, the Beatitudes:

Matthew 5:3-12″

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Bessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The Lord seeks to change the fundamental nature of something – our soul. He wants to see that change as ‘far-reaching’ and ‘thorough’. We are not called to do this alone, to create a sort of “Jesus and me” religion, but we are called to find the freedom of God with others, of all walks of life, all shapes and sizes, all manner of education and financial resources.

Christianity is not simply ascribing to an ideal. It is a radical means of laying your life on the line for the sake of your children, your husband or wife, your neighbors, and your fellow man.

And the world is not the same because of the Kingdom of God. Jesus Christ continues to call us away from the demons of addiction and materialism. He continues to show us that wealth is fickle and that we must depend on Him rather than our dollars and assets. Jesus Christ reminds us again that His kingdom is a safe haven for the weak, a sanctuary for the rejected, and a home for the lost. And He reminds us yet again that these changes do not come by assenting to s script of ideas and ideals – they come by losing our life so we may find it in Christ.

The result of the American colonial radical action was independence and freedom of the United States. And we celebrate that today with great joy and thanksgiving.

The result of a radical faith in Jesus Christ is independence from the cares of this life and freedom to live as God intended us to live. May we also find great joy and thanksgiving in our lives in God’s kingdom.


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