Mr. David Corkill
The last couple of months, your teachers and principal have given Chapel messages about well-known, and impactful members of the Christian faith and about what we can glean from their life and example. We have called this sermon series: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants. We have heard about amazing historical figures, from Gregory the Great to Mary. Today, I will be speaking on a person, both from history, and from historical fiction. Alexander Hamilton. I will speak of Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and George Washington, some of America’s founding fathers from the perspective of history, as told by the world-wide hit Broadway musical- Hamilton.
I will use the medium of this Musical Theater drama, not only because it is what I know most and am most passionate about, but because the lyrics and songs written to tell the story of these men, carry with them truth, and goodness, and beauty. These songs and lyrics, drawn from an extensive and accurate biography of Alexander Hamilton written by Ron Chernow, show us who this man was, and what we can learn from his life and his death.
Today I am going to speak about various aspects of this musical in the telling of my message. In addition to that, I will also be showing lyric videos of music from the musical so that lyrics and music of each of the songs I show, can help with the message as a whole.
So, let’s get into it.
“Hamilton: An American Musical,” opened on Broadway in New York City on August 6th, 2015. By that day, given its off-Broadway achievements, production members and admirers of the Musical knew that it would be a success. However, no one at that point could have predicted the record-breaking award streak that it would receive including 68 wins among 113 nominations for various awards. They could not have predicted the box office milestones that is would shatter, nor the portrait of Alexander Hamilton that it would save from being removed from the 10-dollar bill, nor the unprecedented number of fans and followers that the show would gain, including many high-profile Hollywood and Washington figures.
Aside from its many awards and financial successes, the show was also a vehicle for a once-in-a-generation paradigm-shifting cultural change. Hamilton revolutionized the Broadway industry, the music industry, and American history itself, while also educating young and old Americans about the American Revolution, the founding of our nation, the first Presidency, and about the life and death of Alexander Hamilton.
“Hamilton” tells the story of its main character Alexander Hamilton through the eyes of his rival and killer Aaron Burr. The introduction takes us through Hamilton’s tough upbringing in a small Caribbean island, experiencing the death of his family and a hurricane that nearly destroys his island, to him writing his way off the island to get his education in New York City at the start of the revolutionary war.
Then as Act I goes on- it shows that during the war Hamilton becomes the chief of staff of Commander George Washington in the continental army then after the war is won, Hamilton becomes a practicing lawyer in New York before becoming the nations very first secretary of the treasury in Washington’s administration.
The production then takes us through the courtship of Alexander’s wife Eliza, his close relationship with Eliza’s sister Angelica, the workings of the first presidential cabinet, the raucous splitting of the nation into political parties, the nation’s first affair scandal with Maria Reynolds, the death of his son Philip in a dual, and more. This jam-packed musical comes to its conclusion in Weehawken, New Jersey where sitting Vice President Aaron Burr and Hamilton have a dual that has been building up since they met, where Hamilton is shot and killed.
Now, please forgive me for not saying “spoiler alert” there for that final point. Don’t think that I just ruined the whole musical for you. Beside the fact that I think the statute of limitations has passed on that event being a spoiler, having happened 215 years ago… In the musical that well-known and infamous plot point from Hamilton’s life is sung about and revealed in the first three minutes of the show.
So that all leads me to ask if the build up to and the final climactic plot point of the musical is not what the musical is about, what is the theme of Hamilton? What is the purpose or point of the musical itself?
Musicals are multi-faceted, and can have many different themes. Some musicals are about pride, sacrifice, or duty. Some are about self-image, equality, or fitting in. Some are about friendship, love, or family. Although Hamilton touches on a wide range of themes, the bottom-line end-of-story take-away theme of the musical is Life and Legacy.
The overarching theme of Hamilton is Life and Legacy. The musical teaches us that we should be spending our time on earth as if we are running out of time. And it also shows us that we should be thinking about what impact, or how big of an impact we leave behind when we are gone. These themes are not easy to approach, but with the help of the music, the lyrics, and the story, I would like to talk about Life and Legacy, and how we as Christians should approach these aspects of how we spend our time on earth, and what we should be leaving behind when our time is up.
Alexander Hamilton’s life was depicted in the musical that he wrote as if he was running out of time. Writing is what Hamilton did. He wrote an essay after a Hurricane on his Caribbean home-island that earned him a sponsorship to gain passage to New York City to get a full education. He wrote for Washington During the War as his Chief of Staff. As the nation’s first secretary of the Treasury he wrote and created the foundations of the American banking and financial systems. Writing was Hamilton’s thing. He had a passion for it, an insatiable desire to keep writing his thoughts and ideas to help himself, his colleagues, and his country.
Our first music and lyric clip from the Musical comes from the song “Non-Stop” which is the finale of Act 1. Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s rival, is growing frustrated at the fact that although Hamilton started miles behind him, that his rival is now surpassing him professionally. Burr and the ensemble sing of Hamilton’s life of writing:
“How do you write like you’re running out of time? Write Day and night like you’re running out of time? Every day you fight like you’re running out of time. How do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive? How do you write like you need it to survive? How do you write ev’ry second you’re alive?”
Hamilton wrote. And although the musical here is foreshadowing Hamilton’s untimely death by saying “like tomorrow won’t arrive,” the historical truth was that Alexander Hamilton did write that much and that passionately. And that passion and drive seems to us now in hindsight as if he was writing like his tomorrow wouldn’t arrive, as if he was running out of time.
So, that leaves us to ask ourselves, are we spending our time here on Earth wisely? Are we living life to the fullest? Doing as much as we can, with passion, and with drive? Are we spending our day as if tomorrow won’t arrive?
How much time do we get on this earth? We don’t know, they don’t tell us at the outset. I think we all grapple with it, I think we all grapple with the paradox of knowing tomorrow is not promised but making plans anyway. Hamilton walked into that dual with Burr having a lunch date with a client on the books that same day. We don’t plan for our life to end. Unfortunately, a lot of us have an invincible mind set, a procrastinating mind set, an “I’ll deal with this later” mindset. With me, I learned at an early age, that tomorrow is not promised.
It all started when I was 4 years old. Suddenly, without warning, my mother died of an aneurysm. Her death, of course, would forever change my life, but it would also teach me as such a young age that tomorrow may not arrive.
Things were rough in my life for a while, but started to settle down for a few years. But then, just 12 years later when I was 16 years old, my father, Suddenly, without warning, died of a heart attack. That traumatic event changed my soul. It changed my being. I became an orphan. Finishing high school and heading into college was a journey that I would now take alone. But at that time, before I even left high school, my mindset was different. I was going to plan, I was going to organize, I was going to set my life on a path of doing as much as possible as soon as possible. Because of the death of my parents I knew all too well that I needed to start living right away, because death could be coming any day.
So, in my senior year of high school, I made a bucket list. One of those collection’s usually reserved for elderly people, of things that you want to do before you “kick the bucket”. I put things on there like, “Graduate from college”, “meet the President of the United States”, “write a musical”. Also, on that list, number 8. And number 9. Were Write a book. And Publish a book. And guess what… I did. Some of you have read it: Teradil. I never imagined that I would have had the time and patience needed to go through the writing and publishing process, but because of this list, because of this passion, because of this drive I now had, I did it.
So, after that, many years went by…I graduated from Baylor University, began my teaching career, and settled into what some would call a “normal” life.
But then, 27 months ago, in December of 2016, I was diagnosed with cancer. A softball sized tumor had grown on my shoulder blade, and some of it had spread to my lungs and spine.
How could this happen? First my mom, then my dad, and now me. I wasn’t even done with a third of my bucket list yet. I wasn’t done doing a lot of things in my life, but to me, then, I thought that my time had come. That my tomorrow wouldn’t arrive.
I began Chemotherapy treatments for 6 months, followed by one month of radiation treatment. I am overwhelmingly happy to be able to report to you that as of August 2017, I was and still am cancer free.
Before I was diagnosed, I was not living life to the fullest. I have since realized that a lot of what I did was a waste of what precious time we are given on this Earth. I would watch re-runs upon re-runs of shows I had seen multiple times. I would re-read entire book series. I would play hours upon hours of video games I had played and beaten before. But after my diagnosis, after my treatment, and after I came out the other end of that ordeal- I was changed. I realized how precious each day is, and that I wasn’t going to take them for granted. No more re-runs, no more waste. I vowed to work more, help more, donate more, spend time with others more, pray more, read more, sing more, and live more. But most importantly, my experience made me realize that I needed to grow closer with my church family, to be more faithful to the Bible and it’s teachings, and to work on my personal relationship with God.
A bible verse that perfectly encapsulates this is from Psalm 146:2- I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
It all boils down to that.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”- as long as you live.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”- while you have your being.
Though we do not know how long that is, thinking and worrying about whether there will be a tomorrow is not the way to go. Make plans anyway, yes. But do not be fearful or anxious about if tomorrow will arrive or not.
Jesus said in Matthew: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” Also on the other side of that we hear from Proverbs: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” We must strive to reach that ideal of not being anxious, worried, or fearful about the uncertainty of the future, and also not be boasting, bragging, or arrogant about assuming there will be a tomorrow.
Worry not about tomorrow, Praise God while you have your being. We should live as God tells us today, right now, right away. Carpe Diem, Seize the Day. For you do not know what a day may bring.
Do this now, do not hesitate, – as Hamilton says: do not throw away your shot. The time for praising and for singing, and for rejoicing in the Lord is now. Live your life, your whole life, for the Lord. Do not wait until later, there may not be a later. As they say, there’s no time like the present. Read the bible, pray for your family, pray for others, spread God’s word, go and make disciples of all nations, sing praises to God and his son Jesus Christ- all while you have your being. Let’s live for the Lord, live for the betterment of his kingdom, do these things as if tomorrow won’t arrive.
And guess what? As the Bible tells us, if we are faithful, if we love the Lord our God, and if we live our life for Him, – for us there will always be a tomorrow.
Next, when our time is up here on Earth, our life leads to our Legacy. Legacy is what we pass down to future generations when we are gone. It is not our houses, cars, money, or possessions that we pass down, it is our knowledge, our stories, our habits, our personality, and even our faith.
With just a few minutes left in the musical, the climactic moment has arrived. And in Alexander Hamilton’s final moments before he is shot by Aaron Burr, time slows to almost freezing where he has an inner monologue, which for the first time in the production is not accompanied by any music. Here he ponders what Legacy is:
“There is no beat, no melody
Burr, my first friend, my enemy
Maybe the last face I ever see
If I throw away my shot, is this how you’ll remember me?
What if this bullet is my legacy?
Legacy, what is a legacy?
It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see
I wrote some notes at the beginning of a song someone will sing for me
America, you great unfinished symphony, you sent for me”
Hamilton’s image of Legacy is “Planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” Alexander Hamilton was in his final moments thinking of his life and what he was leaving behind. Whether he died that day in Weehawken New Jersey, or 50 years from then, at some point he would leave behind a Legacy. We all will. All of the things we do in life for yourself, for family and for others are all seeds planted in a garden we won’t get to see grow. And like the pebble that creates a ripple effect in a pond- we will never know how big of an impact we had,- how big the garden will be.
Hamilton and the founding fathers had an ever-present awareness of Legacy and that, another key phrase in the musical tells us, that they were also aware that History had its eyes on them. They knew whatever they did, good or bad, for better or for worse, would affect future generations. They had this in mind when writing the US Constitution at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 at which Alexander Hamilton was a Junior Delegate from New York. They highlighted this specifically in its preamble.
Now, lets see who knows their Schoolhouse Rock…
We the People
In order to form a more perfect union
Establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility
Provide for the common defense
Promote the general welfare
Secure the blessings of liberty
To ourselves and __________?
That’s right, our Posterity. To our descendants. To all future generations. Upon crafting the law of the land, the founders were laying a strong foundation for their posterity that would last well beyond their time.
In the musical at the end of the revolution, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton consider their Legacy that they are giving to their posterity. Burr sings to his newborn daughter Theodosia while Hamilton sings to his new son Phillip.
I’ll make the world safe and sound for you
Will come of age with our young nation
We’ll bleed and fight for you
We’ll make it right for you
If we lay a strong enough foundation
We’ll pass it on to you
We’ll give the world to you and you’ll blow us all away
Yeah, you’ll blow us all away.
That word someday is important there. Burr and Hamilton know that they might not be around for all of the successes that their daughter and son will achieve someday, but they are going to lay a strong foundation for them anyway. That they will fight, and bleed to make it right for them. Planting seeds for them that they may never get to see grow.
The late reverend Billy Graham said: “The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.”
Author Shannon L Alder said: “Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”
So as this song and these quotes say: we need to make our legacy right for them. We need to make it strong for them. It needs to be based on character, and based on faith. We need to carve our name on hearts rather than just tombstones.
These thoughts about Legacy are to help us to be ever-mindful of the power of our example. Whether we like it or not and whether we know it or not we are being watched by the next generation. History has its eyes on us. The next generation and generations to come will be watching us and listening to our stories and will use them as an example for their life. That’s the real power of a legacy: we tell stories of people who are gone because like any powerful stories, they have the potential to inspire and to change the world.
My favorite quote out of Benjamin Franklin’s famous “Poor Richard’s Almanac” addresses one way of how we can build a Legacy to be remembered: “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing”
Franklin here is highlighting the importance of our work and what we create as important cornerstones of our legacy.
We should write things worth reading: Write a song, write a book, write a poem, write a verse, write a policy, write a petition, write a play, or write a letter.
Or- we should do things worth writing: Volunteer, build, sacrifice, teach, coach, serve, preach, help. When they write about you make the story they write about you a good story, a hero story.
These are all things we can do to build the foundation of a memorable Legacy.
But as the Bible tells us, there is nothing more important in building and passing down a Legacy than spreading God’s word, telling of the deeds of his son Jesus Christ, and trying to live up to his perfect example.
Psalm 78: says : “tell to the coming generation, the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.
Proverbs 20 says: The righteous who walks in his integrity— blessed are his children after him.
Proverbs 22 says: Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
As Matthew says: “We are to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that Jesus has taught and commanded us.”
And in Deuteronomy it says: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house.”
All of these verses and more tell us that Legacy is teaching. Legacy is spreading God’s word. Legacy is Loving, Training, and walking with integrity. This is what we should be doing to build and pass down a faithful Legacy.
As I mentioned earlier, we do not know how much time we get on this earth. So if tomorrow doesn’t arrive for you: Is your legacy right now something that you are satisfied with leaving behind?
As Paul pondered the end of his life in 2nd Timothy, he made three very simple statements about his legacy. He had “fought the good fight”—standing firm as a spiritual warrior, clothed in the armor of God, faithfully defending the truth of the gospel. He had “finished the race”—ensuring in the process that he was neither disqualified nor disheartened in the marathon of life and ministry. And finally, he had “kept the faith”—remaining true, committed, and loyal to the One who rescued him from sin and darkness.
Will they say of you that when you “finish your race” that you “fought the good fight”- defending the truth of the gospel faithfully. Will they say of you that you “kept the faith?” remaining true and loyal to God and his son Jesus Christ.
These are not easy questions. This is a heavy topic. But I think it is something we should always be considering. How we live our life, How what we do is seen by others, How we are impacting the world around us while we are here, and How the world is changed after we are gone.
My final example from the musical comes from President George Washington, where he leads off the closing number, with the flagship phrase of the production summarizing the theme of the show into one line:
“Let me tell you what I wish I’d known, When I was young and dreamed of glory, You have no control: Who lives, Who dies, Who tells your story?”
The point of the line, the point of that song, and the point of the musical itself is emphasizing that although we think about and want to know who will live, who will die, or who tells our story: the lesson learned is that we have no control over those things. However, we do have control over what story they tell. How we live our life, how we are seen by others, and how we are impacting the world around us, is our story.
You have control, right now, right here, today, to shape your story. A story filled with character, faith, integrity, mercy, and kindness. A story which includes teaching the might, the wonders, and the glorious deeds of the Lord. A story where we have taught the coming generations of truth, goodness, and beauty; of faith, hope, and love. A story where we fought the good fight, kept the faith, and finished our race.
So what will you teach to the next generation? What seeds are you planting? What legacy are you leaving? What story will they tell about you?