That sentence expresses the highest ideals of our nation: the equality of all people and the unalienable right of all people to liberty.
But not everyone had ears to hear the message of the Declaration. On July 4, 1776, King George III of England wrote in his diary, “Nothing of significance happened on this day.” No doubt he spoke for plenty of others, including many people closer to home.
People probably failed to recognize the importance of the Declaration of Independence for all kinds of reasons. One big reason must have been that what the Declaration proclaimed was not in fact true, not yet. The reality of life in the new nation was quite different than the ideals expressed in the Declaration. Many people were not equal before the law. Many people did not enjoy civil liberties. Women’s rights were limited. Slaves had virtually no rights. Native Americans were excluded altogether.
The words in the Declaration about human equality and freedom were not in fact true in 1776. But they were powerful. They were real. They gave Americans something to hope for, and something to strive for as our nation was being born.
And at key moments in our nation’s history, we have returned to the words of the Declaration of Independence for inspiration and guidance. The two most famous examples are Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg in the middle of the Civil War and Martin Luther King’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
On Independence Day, we should take a little time to acknowledge the values on which our country was founded, on those self-evident truths that all people are created equal and have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We should acknowledge how we as a nation have fallen short of those ideals. And we should commit ourselves to the ongoing task of making those ideals real. We should do that especially on Independence Day because the Declaration of Independence still speaks with power about who we are and about who we want to be.
Now I say all that this morning partly because Independence Day is tomorrow. But more important for our purposes this morning is that it can help to make sense of our gospel reading.
In the passage we just heard, Jesus sends out seventy of his followers on a preaching tour. When they reach a new town, they are to say, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
Jesus promises that first generation of disciples that some will welcome them and receive the gospel gladly. Others will be more like King George. Not everyone will have ears to hear or eyes to see. Some will dismiss their message about the kingdom as “nothing of significance.”
In the receptive towns, Luke tells us, the disciples were able to do great things. They cured the sick. “Even the demons” submitted to them. The kingdom of God was visible in their midst. It must have been incredibly exciting, with the power and the love and the grace of God swirling all around.
But that cannot have been the whole story. For every powerful manifestation of the kingdom, there must surely have been another situation that made the message of the kingdom seem like foolishness. I think about the people who were not healed. I think about the people who had to watch loved ones die. I think about sin rearing its ugly head in the midst of the most enthusiastic audiences. And I picture some of the people of those towns saying to themselves, “I am not living the kingdom of God. As best I can tell, the kingdom of God is not really near.”
In an important way the doubters were right. I think of them like I think of the people who read the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and thought to themselves, with total justice, “All those grand words about liberty and equality do not describe the world I live in.”
We need to pay attention here, because those first-generation preachers represent us in the gospel story. In our day, we are the ones Jesus sends ahead. Mostly we are not going to roam from town to town, carrying no possessions, preaching on street corners, and begging for our bread. But in our baptismal covenant, we all commit to “proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ.” We all commit to proclaiming that the kingdom of God has come near, and to doing what we can to make that proclamation a reality.
And we too encounter people who might well say to us, “It does not look much like Jesus defeated sin and evil and death. It does not look like the kingdom of God is near.” We have to acknowledge the truth in what they say. And sometimes they speak for us because we have plenty of our own struggles.
But we do our best to follow the example of those first disciples. We do our best to follow the examples of the founders of our country. We hold to our conviction that the kingdom of God really is near.
Already the kingdom of God bumps up against our world. Already we can catch glimpses of it, grace moments when a little bit of kingdom shines through, when love really does win, when God touches us and our world and for just a moment creation shimmers with a divine light.
But the kingdom is not here, at least not in all its fullness and power, not yet. Like the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the message about the kingdom is more a statement about the world we aspire to than a statement about the world we live in. The kingdom of God is the world we hope for, and pray for, and work for. And as an inspiration and as an aspiration, the message about the kingdom of God is real, and it is powerful.
Like the patriots who founded our country, we long to bring our ideals to life in a messy and complicated world. They fought for a world of liberty and equality. That is a worthy and ambitious goal. But we aim for much more than that. We aim for a world of peace and justice, of love and mercy, of joy and beauty, and we insist that that world is possible, with God’s help. The kingdom is indeed near.
And so we make our own Declaration of sorts. We hold these truths to be vitally important: that God creates and redeems all of creation, that God loves every human being with a fierce, relentless love, that God’s kingdom has come near in Jesus Christ, and that God continues to work to bring about the kingdom of peace and justice.
And we pray that we can be part of God’s work for the kingdom. In Christ’s name, amen.
 For the full document, please go to http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html.
 Bishop Fisher gives this quotation in comments available at https://vimeo.com/132543630.