In the Pulitzer Prize winning book 1776, a clear point is made from the very beginning about the differences of opinion afoot in both England and the Colonies during the days of the Revolutionary War. For one, there were differences of opinion among the British themselves in terms of their lawmakers and government officials about this war they were engaged in. Most British leaders of the day thought the colonists deserved no sympathy or grace at all while a small but vocal minority felt the colonists were justified in both their actions and in their desire for independence.
At the same time, among the colonists, similar divisions of perspective and attitude existed. There were those who remained loyal to the crown and who while enjoying life in the colonies wanted nothing to do with the rebels. At the same time, there were many more colonists who were ready to give whatever it cost to fend off the British in order to gain their independence.
Despite all of these varied opinions on the war itself and whether or not it was justifiable in both the eyes of the British and the Colonists, there was one clear line of thought that had almost universal consensus everywhere: the British were the haves and the Colonists were the have nots.
At the time of the American Revolution, the British were the supreme military power in the world. Britain had wealth, a professional army, a worldwide reach in terms of nations under their control and arguably the most prominent city in Europe and in the world in London.
The Colonies, their leadership, and their army had very little. As of the Fall of 1775, the American army under George Washington had no uniforms, little money and didn’t even march yet under a unified flag. The Americans were not even sure what to call themselves and most had no experience in battle or warfare. In fact, one of the American generals, Nathaniel Greene, for whom Greensboro, North Carolina would be named, had never been in battle at all and had learned virtually everything he knew about leading soldiers or being in combat from the books that he read. (1776, by David McCullough, gleaned from Chapters 1 & 2, Simon & Schuster, 2005)
In all honesty it certainly was the haves against the have nots, David vs. Goliath, the significant against the insignificant, the mighty against Mighty Mouse.
And, yet, we are here today and we celebrated Independence Day on Thursday because in spite of it all, the Colonies somehow won the war and gained independence. In turn, the American Revolution became a uniquely American reminder that you absolutely can’t judge a book by its cover and that what is significant and insignificant can be very, very deceiving.
The little town of Bethlehem as it emerges in Micah chapter 5 provides a very similar story and Biblical example. These verses about Bethlehem come our way as Micah envisions for the Israelites at a difficult and low time the promise of a better day and a future king. This future king, Micah says, would come from Bethlehem.
What is important about this is that Bethlehem was an insignificant Israelite town in most people’s eyes. It was small not big. It was rural not urban. It was full of ordinary folk not people with clout. In fact as our text alludes to in verse 2 when the town is called one of Judah’s “little clans”, Bethlehem was so small that it could not even contribute a significant number of men for the Israelite army which was often used as a prime measure of a town’s prominence and worth.
And yet, Bethlehem was the hometown of King David who at the time was clearly seen as Israel’s favorite and best king. Now, according to Micah, it was going to happen again – Little Bethlehem was going to produce a great king again and this time, it would be a King who would even overshadow David. In other words, Bethlehem wouldn’t simply be the hometown of two Israelite kings it would be the hometown of the two best kings that Israel had ever known. Of course, this famous passage from this little book is one that we read every year at Christmas time, for we know that this second king would ultimately be the King of Kings, Jesus himself.
Bethlehem? An insignificant place? Hardly. Again, the danger was in judging the book by its cover. The danger was in seeing the town and its people as unimportant because of its size and location. It was a short sighted way of thinking about things yet it was very, very human indeed. But Micah reminded them and reminds us, “something was happening in Bethlehem”.
We do the same every day. In honesty, most of us would have thought the same about the chances of the Colonies against the British at the time of the Revolution had we been around back then. Likewise, we would have also likely dismissed Bethlehem and its people too.
Why? Because we do it to ourselves. We look at where we come from and our credentials and dismiss ourselves as unimportant. We look at the context and content of our daily lives and deem ourselves insignificant. We see ourselves and our work as little, ordinary, unimportant and thus we conclude that what we do with our lives doesn’t really matter. This is our excuse for living life without care, without focus or without concern for what we do, the energy we offer and the tenacity with which we live our faith. “It really doesn’t matter,” we say, “so why bother”.
Scripture over and over again begs us not to think this way about our selves or about anyone else, place or circumstance. Scripture begs us to recognize that the bulk of the Biblical figures are more like us than unlike us. They too were not seen in the moment as important. The difference was that many of these character of the Old and New Testament that we now celebrate didn’t buy into these ways of thinking. Instead, so many of them put themselves and their lives in the hands of God and said “do with me what you will”. Likewise, they had the capacity to get up every day and live their days as if it all mattered and as if it was all important with the Kingdom of God hinging on the decisions they made.
That is the lesson of Bethlehem. Its is the story of a forgotten, overlooked place and people who actually mattered to the Kingdom of God. Greatness came from there. Something was happening there.
Are we willing to live that way? Are we willing to put ourselves in the hands of God and say “do with me what you will?” And, are we willing to get up every day and believe that the decisions that we make and the things that we do matter far more than we can imagine or believe?
I started with the book 1776 and I want to end today on this Fourth of July weekend with another story told therein. One of the figures who litters the pages of the book is a 16 year old whose name was John Greenwood. When the war started, he literally walked 150 miles from his home to the fighting at Bunker Hill in the Spring of 1775. He was one of 500 fifers and drummers who served in the Continental Army and again he was only a boy. In many regards one could conclude that he wasn’t very special. So, why does he appear frequently on the pages of a history of the time that was written over 200 years later? The reason is that young John Greenwood could read and write and he eventually wrote an account of his experiences as a soldier. His remembrances are one of the precious few glimpses that we still have today of what life was like for a soldier of the Revolution. His work gives us a first hand glimpse of that incredible time – they are special! (The Character John Greenwood appears throughout the book 1776, by David McCullough, Simon & Schuster, 2005)
Sometimes we don’t even know in this life how and in what way our lives and behavior make a difference. Like Greenwood, sometimes, we can never imagine how important something as simple and as trivial as writing down our story can possible be. But, we can trust that if we place our lives in God’s hands and if we get up every day believing that what we say and do matters and that it matters far more than even we can imagine, we will live our lives with greater purpose and a stronger desire to do our very best for ourselves, for others and most importantly for God and God’s Kingdom. Amen.