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(Fourth of July: Sermonette)

Just a mere few days ago, Linda and I and our ten-year-old grandson Coby visited a number of our nation's principle governmental and historic sites in Washington DC. We toured the Capitol Building, touched the Washington Monument, entered the Lincoln Memorial, stood in awe at the decorated interior of the main hall of the Library of Congress building, walked in front of the White House, and stood on the steps of the Supreme Court.

But I think our visit to the National Archives, and especially our viewing of the nation's most precious documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights --the very original manuscripts themselves, encased in protective glass displays under strictly controlled conditions designed to minimize change and maintain the pristinity of the documents-- was probably the most moving of our experiences. An attendant prepared us beforehand for the highly faded, now almost invisible words of the Declaration itself, the inevitable victim of time. The Constitution, somehow, was far easier to read, as was the Bill of Rights. I looked with wonder upon the signatures actually imposed upon the parchment by the hands of those men who claim the country's highest honor. There was a hallowed sense within that hall in which these great treasures are housed: conversations were subdued; the high, hard walls and ceiling gave a cathedral like quality to the sounds of voices and steps; words were almost indistinguishable. There were no windows; the artificial light was held to a minimum, as was the actual illumination in the display cases themselves. The viewing of these magnificent and utterly important products of the genius of our forefathers seemed to instill some very sobering reflections.

How amazing, that the entire weight of a country's culture and history could rest squarely upon these frail, aged pages, not much larger perhaps than than the unfolded single sheets of a newspaper, their surfaces rippled and discolored with time and handling, resting in such vulnerability and fragility before my eyes! I thought of the clusters of huge government buildings we were visiting-- and how the whole, massive system claims these same small leaves as its very foundation: the full, combined mass of an entire society and culture, throughout the over 225 years of the country's life, from sea to sea, and border to border.

But then I began to wonder: can these documents in themselves really support anything?

What can they do unless the hearts of the people and of their leaders --of any particular time and generation subsequent to the documents' origination-- what can they do, unless hearts, actual hearts-- real pulsing, living hearts-- are as firmly and fully invested in these truths, as completely committed to them, as were their authors and at least a good portion of those with whom they were first shared? Do the documents themselves possess intrinsic power to do anything? Do our confessions of allegiance to them, if not uttered in honesty and sincerity? Do the myriad of institutions that constitute our nation, supposedly founded directly or indirectly upon these inked words, are they able in themselves to carry out the mission that was so carefully and conscientiously outlined by the framers, without actually subscribing to them in every sense --paying the full “subscription price”, if you will?

What do you think? I don't think so. When all the beautifully written sentences have faded for good, like those of the Declaration, will they stay indelibly printed upon our hearts? They cannot, unless they are traced, retraced, and traced again by the convictions of each succeeding generation. Otherwise they are no more than, well --parchment and ink.

God help us.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Holy Trinity Church, Waterville ME
Ed Kalish, Deacon

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