Last weekend America celebrated her 244th birthday. Our citizens remembered the patriots who managed to defeat the world’s greatest colonial power of the time to secure for us the hope of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Two of those soldiers were my ancestors. They were simple farmers living in a small town in Maine who responded to the call for freedom.
My 4th-great-grandfather Jeremiah Weare fought in the Siege of Boston and later the Battle of Saratoga, witnessing the surrender of the English army there before returning home to his family and his farm. He is buried across the road from his farmhouse, which is still occupied today. Every year the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution make their way there to plant a flag beside his headstone.
Not many miles from his farm lies the old village jail, where my 10th-great-grandfather was imprisoned briefly for agitating against England, 150 years before war broke out.
Knowing who and where I come from gives me a sense of rootedness to family and place. So when Independence Day arrives every year, I feel a singular connection to those events of so long ago. And even though I have spent most of my life an entire continent away from the place of my ancestors, it gives me a special feeling to return every so often and see my name, uncommon and misspelled everywhere else, printed on street signs and familiar to residents there.
Jesus, too, had a lineage that tied Him firmly to the line of His ancestors. His roots were steeped in the long history of kings and scoundrels, heroes and undesirables that made up the line of Israel’s mighty King David. Jesus carried that royal blood in His veins when He was birthed in that small stable. And yet, instead of passing His blood down by means of an exclusive family membership, that blood brought instead a multitude of sons and daughters from every tribe, nation, language and ethnicity into His royal household. A family made “not of natural descent, not human decision or a husband’s will”, John says, “but born of God”. John 1:13
I did not pass down my DNA to the generations following me. Instead, our children were grafted into our family tree. The gift of adoption means that our family is no longer defined by DNA, but by something deeper. My children appreciate the genealogical heritage I have given them, but they do not feel the same connection that I do. They know that their DNA came from slaves and immigrants, from Africa and Asia as well as Europe. Together our family now represents Cameroon and Congo, the Philippines and France, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, England and Denmark, Benin and Togo, India and Puerto Rico, and probably more. Together, we represent the great idea that is America, whose national motto is “E Pluribus Unum” meaning, “Out of many, one”. We are also a small picture of the greater idea of the kingdom of God.
This past Saturday my family celebrated the independence that our ancestors fought to obtain for us and our children. And the next day we entered the house of God to worship with our local church family, which is part of the larger family of believers from every nation in the world, as together we celebrate the great freedom that Jesus won for us all.
When Jeremiah returned from fighting to create a new country, he helped start a church that first met in his home. I attended that church the last time I visited. I think he’d be pleased to know that the seeds he planted for the cause of liberty and the gospel are both still bearing fruit today, both in that tiny town in Maine, and from sea to shining sea.