In 1773, three ships were tethered to Griffin's Wharf in Boston Harbor. They were the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver. All three sat low in the water. Heavy, wooden chests filled the belly of each ship.
No doubt, many other ships were docked nearby. Even in the 18th Century, Boston was a hub of world trade. But these three ships are remembered: the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver. And they are remembered for what they carried inside their cargo holds.
The cargo was marked with the insignia of the East India Company. It was a load of British tea. I think you know what happened next.
Samuel Adams and about 50 others dressed themselves as Mohawk Indians. Thinly disguised, the patriots of Boston climbed aboard the three ships. They dumped 342 chests of tea into the harbor. The British were denied their taxes. The East India Company was denied its profit. And the colonies moved a little closer to armed rebellion.
Ships laden with tea also came to New York and to Charleston and to Philadelphia. With less political theater, the British tea was refused at every port.
In Philadelphia, the local merchants were Quakers. The Friends neither dumped the tea nor burned it. Although the tea was refused, it was returned to its rightful owner. In fact, the ship's captain was provided with enough money to cover his expenses. Apparently, the Quakers didn't want the captain to suffer for the sake of their scruples.
The Quakers and the patriots of Boston had a common cause. Both groups knew the East India Company was corrupt and mismanaged. They knew the monopoly on tea was bad for business. Both groups knew that British taxation was oppressive. Both the patriots of Boston and the Quakers in Philadelphia were willing to take action.
The action taken, however, was very different.
In Boston, the patriots inflicted suffering for the sake of their cause. A blow was struck for justice. It was a blow that hurt other people. The sea captains were hurt by lost income. The East India Company was hurt by the loss of its tea. Yes, these wounds were minor, but they were suffered by others.
In Philadelphia, on the other hand, the Quakers accepted suffering for the sake of their cause. The Quakers lost money in order to protect the interests of others.
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Most Americans were inspired by Samuel Adams and the patriots of Boston. Because our cause was just, we were ready to take up arms against our oppressor. We were ready to inflict suffering on others and change the course of history to our favor. Inevitably, war broke out.
Quakers went against the grain of American popular opinion. The vast majority of Quakers were opposed to war.
The patriots had little tolerance for Quaker neutrality. In Philadelphia, forty prominent Quakers were arrested. In 1777, they were asked to swear an oath of allegiance. Thousands of early Quakers had gone to prison rather than swear an oath for King Charles or Oliver Cromwell. Thousands had gone to prison in England. Now, it was the Americans who wanted Quakers to swear an oath.
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Seventeen of the Philadelphia Quakers were sent into exile. They were sent into the wilds of Virginia in the dead of winter. Two elderly Quakers died from the hardship.
For the sake of justice, the patriots were willing to inflict suffering. For the sake of truth, the Quakers were willing to suffer.
Shortly before war broke out, a Quaker merchant on Nantucket accepted a large supply of muskets and bayonets as payment for a debt. When the fighting started, both the Americans and the British forces tried to requisition the weapons. Rather than selling the guns, the Quaker threw them into the ocean. He accepted a financial loss as the price of obedience. He suffered for the sake of truth.
Friends lost property to the British and to the American armies. Farm animals and food supplies were carted away. Property was seized to pay for substitutes in the army and for war taxes. Even so, Quakers raised money to relieve the suffering of their fellow Americans.
Salem, Massachusetts was one town that received Quaker funds. The people of Salem responded with public gratitude, noting that Quakers had been whipped in their streets 100 years prior.
The Quakers were willing to suffer for the sake of truth.
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I once read about a conversation between a Quaker and an army officer during the Revolutionary War. According to the story, the Quaker and the soldier had a long, long talk about young men dying on the field of battle.
"You're right about one thing," the soldier said at last. "The world would be a better place if everyone put aside their weapons. It's a lovely thought. But I will not put my gun away until after everyone else has done so."
The Quaker nodded, sadly. "Thee would be among the last to follow Christ. I would be among the first."
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The Scripture reading this morning talks about walking with God. "God is Light. In God, there is no darkness at all."
God does not use darkness for the sake of Light. God does not use war for the sake of justice. God does not destroy for the sake of peace. In God, there is no darkness at all. There is no darkness at all.
Friends, we must not walk in darkness. We can be angry, but we must be more than angry. We can be sad or afraid, but we must be more than these things. We must abide in the Light of Christ. We must dwell in the Light.
It's not enough for us to condemn terrorism. It's not enough for us to condemn warfare and injustice. We must do more than condemn. In order to reflect the Light of Christ, we must be willing to suffer for what is true.
Once again, American society is reaching for the tools of war. As a nation, we are ready to change the course of history by inflicting harm. Once again, Quaker peacemaking cuts against the grain of American popular opinion.
When our neighbors regard us with skeptical eyes, what will they see? What will they see in us?
At the time of the American Revolution, Quakers were a people set apart. Quakers were a people who lived differently, acted differently and spoke differently than the society at large. They had no slaves. They fought for the rights of Native Americans. They were willing to lose property rather than take lives.
With a straight face and a clear conscious, 18th Century Quakers could say, "We would be among the first to follow Christ." Their lives gave eloquent testimony to the depths of their conviction. They did what they thought was right — even if it was hard, even if it was painful, even if it was scorned by others.
They walked in the Light.
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I want the Light of God to shine just as brightly in me. I want doubtful people to look at me and see that I am willing to suffer for the sake of Truth. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to suffer. But I want a willingness to suffer.
I want my life to testify: Peace is worth a sacrifice. Justice is worth a sacrifice. Love is worth a sacrifice. And rather than extracting a sacrifice from my enemy, I want the sacrifice to be mine. I want to offer it as a gift of love.
This is what Jesus has taught me.