The Bible Meets Broadway: Hamilton

Services

Sunday - 9:15 AM Sunday School, 10:30 AM Worship Service

by: Denise Robinson

10/22/2021

0

The Bible Meets Broadway: Hamilton

Micah 4:1-5; Proverbs 3:5-6

Hamilton: An American Musical was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and tells the story of American founding father, Alexander Hamilton. Most of us can sum up in just a couple sentences what we know of Hamilton: he was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr and his picture is on the $10 bill. Miranda’s inspiration for the musical came after reading the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. It casts non-white actors as the founding fathers and other historical figures. Miranda describes Hamilton as about "America then, as told by America now."

From its opening, Hamilton received critical acclaim. It premiered off-Broadway in 2015 to sold-out crowds, with Miranda playing the role of Alexander Hamilton. A few months later, it transferred to Broadway, where the positive reviews and high box office sales continued. At the Tony Awards, Hamilton received a record-breaking 16 nominations and won 11 awards, including Best Musical. There were national tours in 2017, 2018, and 2019. A film version of the Broadway production was released in 2020 on the Disney channel.

Hamilton details Hamilton's life, giving insight into his relationships with not only his wife but with historical characters such as presidents George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison – and, of course, with third vice-president, Aaron Burr. These names draw us back to the founding of our nation. No matter what we think now, it helps to remember that they were human beings whose human dreams were paired with human limitations and failings. The second stanza to the song we just sang, America the Beautiful, says: “America, America, God mend thine every flaw.” Hamilton’s life was a flawed one – in his relationship with his wife, with others, and with God. In this morning’s sermon we’ll be looking at what this musical has to teach us about God and faith. 

____________________________________________

We are in our last sermon in this latest series, The Bible Meets Broadway. Before we dive into our message, what is the story of this musical and of Alexander Hamilton?  

Alexander Hamilton was born into poverty on an island in the Caribbean. His mother and father were not married and Alexander carried the stigma of his illegitimate birth all his life. His father left when he was young and when he was twelve his mother died. He and his brother ended up orphans, fending for themselves. In 1772, a hurricane struck and Alexander, then 17, wrote an article about the devastation and his perception that it was a message from God, which was published in a local newspaper. Some businessmen were impressed by the letter and took up a collection to send Alexander to New York to further his education. In 1776, while attending King’s College, Hamilton met Aaron Burr and others who would become the founders of a new nation. Hamilton supported a strong, centralized federal government and quickly found that he and Burr, friends in college, had very different political opinions. Hamilton joined the army and became an aide and advisor to George Washington. He fell in love with a young woman named Elizabeth (Eliza) Schuyler, and they were married.   

In the meantime, life and the war for independence continued. King George III was still insisting on his authority and convinced that the colonies would come back. Hamilton and Burr, also married by now, each had children: Hamilton, a son and Burr, a daughter. You all know how the war turned out. King George was wrong – we didn’t go back. Washington became our first President and appointed Hamilton as his Secretary of the Treasury. Thomas Jefferson returned to America from France, and became Secretary of State. But Hamilton’s rift with Aaron Burr intensified due to Burr’s envy of Hamilton's success and in part to Hamilton’s arrogance; their rivalry came from political disagreements, but was also very personal, having to do with words like pride, ego, jealousy, envy. Washington retired from the presidency; John Adams became the second President and fired Hamilton who had lost his political protector. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Burr, allied in their hatred of Hamilton, accused him of embezzlement, but what came out was a long-term affair he’d been having with a married woman. We end with the duel between Burr and Hamilton in which Hamilton was killed. 

There are a number of biblical references in Hamilton and several faith lessons as well. The first, running throughout the show, has to do with God’s grace. Author Phillip Yancey tells a story about theologian C. S. Lewis attending a religious conference. A debate broke out between experts from around the world as to the single greatest contribution of Christianity. Lewis had arrived late and walked into the middle of it all; he asked what all the discussion was about and his answer was immediate: “Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “It’s grace.” Grace lies at the center of the gospel. It’s a simple word to say, but hard to believe and even harder to personally accept. There are times when Hamilton doesn’t think he needs grace at all: times of spiritual failure in the middle years of his life when pride and ego took over and he thought he had it all under control. Then there are the times when Hamilton can’t accept that grace is for him: times of moral failure and the shame of being caught in an affair with a married woman and political failure going from the closest advisor to the President to political exile. I’m not sure he ever fully accepts it, but he comes closest at the end when he returns to his faith realizing he has made a mess of things.  

When it comes to grace, Hamilton raises two questions. The first is: On what do you base your worthiness to God and to others? Is it based on your actions, your intellect, your success, your abilities? Hamilton’s life was built on a foundation of grace, but he was too proud and self-sufficient to see it. If he had looked at his life through the lens of grace, he would’ve seen obvious and tangible proof of it; instead, he looked only to himself and relied only on himself, determined to take his life and his legacy into his own hands. He thought he built himself up only to realize that, by his own hands, it all came crashing down. If our perception of our worthiness is based on any of those “us” things, then we’re missing the point of grace. Grace is given because we are created and loved children of God; it comes from God as a gift and none of us here deserve it even on our best day. As Paul says, if grace is based on us and our works, then grace is not grace at all.  

The second question is: Can you, do you, believe in the possibility of God’s grace? When you look honestly at yourself and see your failures, faults, and brokenness, can you believe grace is for you? Hamilton couldn’t, at least not until the very end of his life. When I watch this musical, I see how far Hamilton came while living in despair, shame, ambition, and self-doubt disguised as pride, and I wonder how much farther he could have gone had he recognized God’s grace in his life. And I wonder if the same isn’t true for us in our lives. 

The second message in the musical is related to God’s grace because it comes with it – and that’s forgiveness. You’ve heard about Hamilton’s affair, but before it was leaked to the press, the woman’s husband found out. He blackmailed Hamilton for money and Hamilton paid for years. During all that time, the husband was content for the affair to continue – so long as he continued receiving the money. It went on for five years and then it all imploded. Hamilton’s wife left him for a time and the press had a field day. How could Hamilton cheat on his wife? How could he give in to blackmail? The truth is that we, of course, can’t point at Hamilton without pointing at ourselves. We want so badly to do the right thing and yet continually we come face to face with our inability to do so. In Ps. 130, the psalmist cries out to God: “Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” 

In the song, Burn, Eliza sings about her hurt, sense of betrayal, and the hatred she feels toward her husband. Affairs, when they happen, should at least be private – but his made all the front pages. The song’s title is based on Eliza’s decision to burn the letters she wrote to Alexander over the years; letters containing words of love and hope for their future together. In the musical, after its all come out, Eliza and Alexander meet in a garden. At first, Eliza’s face is hard and her body language tense. But as Alexander apologizes and pleads, and as the chorus sings, “Forgiveness. Can you imagine?” she softens. Anger turns to sadness, and then she reaches out to him. She forgives and in forgiving finds freedom for herself. When someone hurts us, we want to burn, to get back. It’s human nature. But it’s not God’s nature or God’s desire for us. 

And, finally, because in the end Hamilton does return to his earlier faith and accepts grace and forgiveness, there is redemption. Last week, in Funny Girl, we saw a man who walked away from the offer of redemption. Hamilton accepts Eliza’s forgiveness, but one of the consequences of his life is the loss of any hope of reconciliation with Burr. Burr challenges Hamilton to a duel. Why Hamilton didn’t walk away from the duel, I don’t know. But history records Hamilton’s final conversations with friends and his final act. In the days before the duel, Hamilton spoke of his intent to fire his shot into the air, to give Burr time to pause and reflect. He reportedly said, “It is in the nature of a religious scruple and does not admit of reasoning.” In other words, he was saying, “What I am going to do is not logical, but my faith demands it.” He wrote to his wife that he would rather die innocent than live guilty. Hamilton made good on his intent and allowed Burr to decide for himself the action he would take. At the end, in his return to faith, Hamilton has learned the words of Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Hamilton’s redemption continues after his death through the acts of his wife. In the final song, Eliza sings about an orphanage she helps found: “I help to raise hundreds of children / I get to see them growing up / In their eyes I see you Alexander / I see you every time.” In memory of her husband, Eliza united with another woman and formed the Orphan Asylum Society of New York; that orphanage still exists today under the name Graham Windham. You can check it out on their website.   

In the musical, others also seek redemption. Washington, just before leaving office after his second term, sings One Last Time. He says, “Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration I am unconscious of intentional error I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will view them with indulgence and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion.” Miranda then quotes from Micah 4 as Washington sings: “Like the scripture says, ‘Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid. They'll be safe in the nation we've made. I wanna sit under my own vine and fig tree, a moment alone in the shade, at home in this nation we've made, one last time.” The term, “vine and fig tree,” appears three times in the Bible. In biblical times, most people grew what they needed to survive. Vines and grapes were not survival foods, they were luxuries. Vines produce grapes and grapes were made into wine; figs were sweet and used in desserts. Not many people had a vine and fig tree of their own – and for those who did, it was a big deal. It meant that they were successful, had their necessities covered and were able to enjoy some of the finer things of life. Here George Washington, in his farewell address, is sharing his hope that he is leaving the nation in a position to enjoy its success, despite his admitted shortcomings.  

Of course, Micah’s “place of the vine and fig tree” is not the United States or any other earthly nation for that matter. He speaks of the coming house of God, a place which will take in peoples of many nations and a place where God will be with us and teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths. It is a place where nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they (we) shall all sit under our own vines and under our own fig trees, and no one shall make us afraid. It is a place where we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.  

So, as I close, we’ve heard a lot about Hamilton – what about Aaron Burr and the decision he made? Burr reportedly spent weeks before the duel in target practice to prepare himself to kill Hamilton. After the duel he was charged with murder and fled in disgrace. His life was never the same. And yet, like all the others, his life is complicated. He served honorably in the Continental Army, he advocated for women’s rights, and he fought to abolish slavery. In the song, The World Was Wide Enough, Burr sings: “When Alexander aimed at the sky, he may have been the first one to die. But I'm the one who paid for it. Now I'm the villain in your history, I was too young and blind to see, I should've known, I should’ve known, the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.” There’s the key. 

God’s grace, forgiveness, and redemption is wide. Wide enough for you, and me, and everyone living now or who has lived or who will ever live. In a few minutes we’ll be signing our closing hymn for today and I encourage you to look at the words. It speaks of the wideness of God’s mercy, the grace enough for thousands, the broadness of God’s love, Christ’s plentiful redemption – things we make too narrow but which go far beyond our dreams.   

The Bible Meets Broadway: Hamilton

Micah 4:1-5; Proverbs 3:5-6

Hamilton: An American Musical was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and tells the story of American founding father, Alexander Hamilton. Most of us can sum up in just a couple sentences what we know of Hamilton: he was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr and his picture is on the $10 bill. Miranda’s inspiration for the musical came after reading the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. It casts non-white actors as the founding fathers and other historical figures. Miranda describes Hamilton as about "America then, as told by America now."

From its opening, Hamilton received critical acclaim. It premiered off-Broadway in 2015 to sold-out crowds, with Miranda playing the role of Alexander Hamilton. A few months later, it transferred to Broadway, where the positive reviews and high box office sales continued. At the Tony Awards, Hamilton received a record-breaking 16 nominations and won 11 awards, including Best Musical. There were national tours in 2017, 2018, and 2019. A film version of the Broadway production was released in 2020 on the Disney channel.

Hamilton details Hamilton's life, giving insight into his relationships with not only his wife but with historical characters such as presidents George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison – and, of course, with third vice-president, Aaron Burr. These names draw us back to the founding of our nation. No matter what we think now, it helps to remember that they were human beings whose human dreams were paired with human limitations and failings. The second stanza to the song we just sang, America the Beautiful, says: “America, America, God mend thine every flaw.” Hamilton’s life was a flawed one – in his relationship with his wife, with others, and with God. In this morning’s sermon we’ll be looking at what this musical has to teach us about God and faith. 

____________________________________________

We are in our last sermon in this latest series, The Bible Meets Broadway. Before we dive into our message, what is the story of this musical and of Alexander Hamilton?  

Alexander Hamilton was born into poverty on an island in the Caribbean. His mother and father were not married and Alexander carried the stigma of his illegitimate birth all his life. His father left when he was young and when he was twelve his mother died. He and his brother ended up orphans, fending for themselves. In 1772, a hurricane struck and Alexander, then 17, wrote an article about the devastation and his perception that it was a message from God, which was published in a local newspaper. Some businessmen were impressed by the letter and took up a collection to send Alexander to New York to further his education. In 1776, while attending King’s College, Hamilton met Aaron Burr and others who would become the founders of a new nation. Hamilton supported a strong, centralized federal government and quickly found that he and Burr, friends in college, had very different political opinions. Hamilton joined the army and became an aide and advisor to George Washington. He fell in love with a young woman named Elizabeth (Eliza) Schuyler, and they were married.   

In the meantime, life and the war for independence continued. King George III was still insisting on his authority and convinced that the colonies would come back. Hamilton and Burr, also married by now, each had children: Hamilton, a son and Burr, a daughter. You all know how the war turned out. King George was wrong – we didn’t go back. Washington became our first President and appointed Hamilton as his Secretary of the Treasury. Thomas Jefferson returned to America from France, and became Secretary of State. But Hamilton’s rift with Aaron Burr intensified due to Burr’s envy of Hamilton's success and in part to Hamilton’s arrogance; their rivalry came from political disagreements, but was also very personal, having to do with words like pride, ego, jealousy, envy. Washington retired from the presidency; John Adams became the second President and fired Hamilton who had lost his political protector. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Burr, allied in their hatred of Hamilton, accused him of embezzlement, but what came out was a long-term affair he’d been having with a married woman. We end with the duel between Burr and Hamilton in which Hamilton was killed. 

There are a number of biblical references in Hamilton and several faith lessons as well. The first, running throughout the show, has to do with God’s grace. Author Phillip Yancey tells a story about theologian C. S. Lewis attending a religious conference. A debate broke out between experts from around the world as to the single greatest contribution of Christianity. Lewis had arrived late and walked into the middle of it all; he asked what all the discussion was about and his answer was immediate: “Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “It’s grace.” Grace lies at the center of the gospel. It’s a simple word to say, but hard to believe and even harder to personally accept. There are times when Hamilton doesn’t think he needs grace at all: times of spiritual failure in the middle years of his life when pride and ego took over and he thought he had it all under control. Then there are the times when Hamilton can’t accept that grace is for him: times of moral failure and the shame of being caught in an affair with a married woman and political failure going from the closest advisor to the President to political exile. I’m not sure he ever fully accepts it, but he comes closest at the end when he returns to his faith realizing he has made a mess of things.  

When it comes to grace, Hamilton raises two questions. The first is: On what do you base your worthiness to God and to others? Is it based on your actions, your intellect, your success, your abilities? Hamilton’s life was built on a foundation of grace, but he was too proud and self-sufficient to see it. If he had looked at his life through the lens of grace, he would’ve seen obvious and tangible proof of it; instead, he looked only to himself and relied only on himself, determined to take his life and his legacy into his own hands. He thought he built himself up only to realize that, by his own hands, it all came crashing down. If our perception of our worthiness is based on any of those “us” things, then we’re missing the point of grace. Grace is given because we are created and loved children of God; it comes from God as a gift and none of us here deserve it even on our best day. As Paul says, if grace is based on us and our works, then grace is not grace at all.  

The second question is: Can you, do you, believe in the possibility of God’s grace? When you look honestly at yourself and see your failures, faults, and brokenness, can you believe grace is for you? Hamilton couldn’t, at least not until the very end of his life. When I watch this musical, I see how far Hamilton came while living in despair, shame, ambition, and self-doubt disguised as pride, and I wonder how much farther he could have gone had he recognized God’s grace in his life. And I wonder if the same isn’t true for us in our lives. 

The second message in the musical is related to God’s grace because it comes with it – and that’s forgiveness. You’ve heard about Hamilton’s affair, but before it was leaked to the press, the woman’s husband found out. He blackmailed Hamilton for money and Hamilton paid for years. During all that time, the husband was content for the affair to continue – so long as he continued receiving the money. It went on for five years and then it all imploded. Hamilton’s wife left him for a time and the press had a field day. How could Hamilton cheat on his wife? How could he give in to blackmail? The truth is that we, of course, can’t point at Hamilton without pointing at ourselves. We want so badly to do the right thing and yet continually we come face to face with our inability to do so. In Ps. 130, the psalmist cries out to God: “Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” 

In the song, Burn, Eliza sings about her hurt, sense of betrayal, and the hatred she feels toward her husband. Affairs, when they happen, should at least be private – but his made all the front pages. The song’s title is based on Eliza’s decision to burn the letters she wrote to Alexander over the years; letters containing words of love and hope for their future together. In the musical, after its all come out, Eliza and Alexander meet in a garden. At first, Eliza’s face is hard and her body language tense. But as Alexander apologizes and pleads, and as the chorus sings, “Forgiveness. Can you imagine?” she softens. Anger turns to sadness, and then she reaches out to him. She forgives and in forgiving finds freedom for herself. When someone hurts us, we want to burn, to get back. It’s human nature. But it’s not God’s nature or God’s desire for us. 

And, finally, because in the end Hamilton does return to his earlier faith and accepts grace and forgiveness, there is redemption. Last week, in Funny Girl, we saw a man who walked away from the offer of redemption. Hamilton accepts Eliza’s forgiveness, but one of the consequences of his life is the loss of any hope of reconciliation with Burr. Burr challenges Hamilton to a duel. Why Hamilton didn’t walk away from the duel, I don’t know. But history records Hamilton’s final conversations with friends and his final act. In the days before the duel, Hamilton spoke of his intent to fire his shot into the air, to give Burr time to pause and reflect. He reportedly said, “It is in the nature of a religious scruple and does not admit of reasoning.” In other words, he was saying, “What I am going to do is not logical, but my faith demands it.” He wrote to his wife that he would rather die innocent than live guilty. Hamilton made good on his intent and allowed Burr to decide for himself the action he would take. At the end, in his return to faith, Hamilton has learned the words of Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Hamilton’s redemption continues after his death through the acts of his wife. In the final song, Eliza sings about an orphanage she helps found: “I help to raise hundreds of children / I get to see them growing up / In their eyes I see you Alexander / I see you every time.” In memory of her husband, Eliza united with another woman and formed the Orphan Asylum Society of New York; that orphanage still exists today under the name Graham Windham. You can check it out on their website.   

In the musical, others also seek redemption. Washington, just before leaving office after his second term, sings One Last Time. He says, “Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration I am unconscious of intentional error I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will view them with indulgence and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion.” Miranda then quotes from Micah 4 as Washington sings: “Like the scripture says, ‘Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid. They'll be safe in the nation we've made. I wanna sit under my own vine and fig tree, a moment alone in the shade, at home in this nation we've made, one last time.” The term, “vine and fig tree,” appears three times in the Bible. In biblical times, most people grew what they needed to survive. Vines and grapes were not survival foods, they were luxuries. Vines produce grapes and grapes were made into wine; figs were sweet and used in desserts. Not many people had a vine and fig tree of their own – and for those who did, it was a big deal. It meant that they were successful, had their necessities covered and were able to enjoy some of the finer things of life. Here George Washington, in his farewell address, is sharing his hope that he is leaving the nation in a position to enjoy its success, despite his admitted shortcomings.  

Of course, Micah’s “place of the vine and fig tree” is not the United States or any other earthly nation for that matter. He speaks of the coming house of God, a place which will take in peoples of many nations and a place where God will be with us and teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths. It is a place where nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they (we) shall all sit under our own vines and under our own fig trees, and no one shall make us afraid. It is a place where we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.  

So, as I close, we’ve heard a lot about Hamilton – what about Aaron Burr and the decision he made? Burr reportedly spent weeks before the duel in target practice to prepare himself to kill Hamilton. After the duel he was charged with murder and fled in disgrace. His life was never the same. And yet, like all the others, his life is complicated. He served honorably in the Continental Army, he advocated for women’s rights, and he fought to abolish slavery. In the song, The World Was Wide Enough, Burr sings: “When Alexander aimed at the sky, he may have been the first one to die. But I'm the one who paid for it. Now I'm the villain in your history, I was too young and blind to see, I should've known, I should’ve known, the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.” There’s the key. 

God’s grace, forgiveness, and redemption is wide. Wide enough for you, and me, and everyone living now or who has lived or who will ever live. In a few minutes we’ll be signing our closing hymn for today and I encourage you to look at the words. It speaks of the wideness of God’s mercy, the grace enough for thousands, the broadness of God’s love, Christ’s plentiful redemption – things we make too narrow but which go far beyond our dreams.   

cancel save

0 Comments on this post: