Tomorrow is a holiday. As a country, we have set aside the 4th of July to remind ourselves of the actions taken by the founders of our country in responding to what they perceived as tyranny in their day and declaring themselves as independent from the rule of the tyrants. It was their goal, they would later say, to form “a more perfect union” – a democratic republic where regnant populi – where the people rule.
Americans did not celebrate the 4th of July in the decades that followed the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In fact, it wasn’t until almost a century had passed that July 4th was established as a federal holiday and our founding as a nation became a cause for an annual day of celebration. Even after a terrible, bloody civil war, the American people saw the experiment in self governance as a good thing and saw the founding of our nation as something worthy of honor and celebration.
The founders were flawed men, and the government they eventually established following the American Revolution is a flawed government. “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe,” said Winston Churchill. “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government – except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
I think there are three dangers that exist as we pause to celebrate our independence.
The first is the danger of allowing our patriotism and gratitude for all the blessings that we enjoy as Americans to blind us to the flaws that exist in our nation. Katharine Lee Bates was aware of this as she wrote her patriotic hymn American the Beautiful and included the lyric “America, America, God, mend thine every flaw.” Even as she expressed gratitude to God for the blessings of liberty, she was aware of the flaws of human character that no form of human government can ever eradicate.
The second danger is the danger of taking for granted the liberties we enjoy as Americans. There are not lines of people today at the Nicaraguan or Syrian or Sudanese borders risking their lives to enter those countries and to settle there. I fear that those who scoff today at what is sometimes declared as “our way of life” in America, seeing the phrase as demeaning to other cultures and other countries – I fear they have failed to consider what our constitution affirms as the “blessings of liberty.”
I agree with writer Jim Geraghty who reflects on what it’s like to live in many parts of our world today. “My time living in Turkey — 2005 to 2007 — recedes further and further into the rear-view mirror, but I really wish every American could live abroad for a little while, just for perspective. The Turks were by and large friendly and gracious hosts, but simultaneously they never let it be forgotten that I was a guest in their country. I wasn’t one of them, and never would be.
We have parts of the United States that are poor and opportunities are few. But you can go to Turkey — NATO ally, then-aspiring member of the European Union — and find rural parts where life hasn’t changed much since the internal-combustion engine appeared on the scene.
At the time, Turkey had a thriving public debate, but free expression has turned into a constant battleground in that country. In many countries, you probably wouldn’t be reading my words uncensored, and both of us would fear a knock on the door in the middle of the night, with the state deciding we had engaged in unacceptable discourse.
Of course America has problems. Many of us live in safety, but some Americans do not. Many of us enjoy economic opportunities to thrive and live a better life, but some Americans do not. Many of us enjoy some of the best schools, doctors, and hospitals in the world, but some Americans do not.
The things that are right about America do not erase what is wrong about America, and the things that are wrong about America do not erase what is right about America. That’s an oddly simple point, but one that a lot of people don’t want to hear.
The third danger we face as we prepare to celebrate our independence is that we don’t stop to think about the blessings of freedom at all. We think about hot dogs and the neighborhood pool and a day off from work and fireworks. We dismiss the significance of the day altogether. It becomes our mid-summer break, not a celebration of what is good about America.
We know as a people how to celebrate what is good about someone or something without ignoring the very real flaws that exist. During the industrial revolution, we set aside a day to honor working men and women in spite of the riots and strikes that sometimes became violent and destructive. We have a day to honor those who gave their lives in the defense of our freedoms, even though we know these men and women were not perfect and the wars in which they fought were not always just. We have days to honor past presidents and a civil rights leader, again realizing that these men were flawed men.
So we can do the same as we celebrate our nation’s birthday. We can honor what is good about our country without pretending there are no flaws for us to address.
Two final observations. The first is that I wonder if we haven’t lost something over the years. Do our children know the Star Spangled Banner? Can they sing “O beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain” or “My country, tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing?” Can they recite the pledge of allegiance from memory? Are they taught to memorize the preamble to the Constitution? Have they read and can they recite any of the declaration, especially the parts about the truths that we hold as self-evident?” Would they recognize the Gettysburg Address if they heard it?
Do they understand what it means to be an American? I think they should. I think it matters. And I’m afraid we’re letting these noble ideals slip through the fingers of the next generation.
And finally, we should never loose sight of the fundamental difference between our national holidays and our spiritual holy days. While Presidents Day and the 4th of July and Veterans Day and the other civil holidays celebrate flawed people or ideals that, in spite of their flaws, are still worthy of honor, Christmas and Easter are different. They are days designed for us to reflect on our higher loyalties. As we celebrate the birth and resurrection of Jesus, we are not honoring a flawed but noble person. We are pledging our ultimate allegiance to the one who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the author of perfect liberty and the One who will rule and reign in a perfect Kingdom forever and ever.
It is reported that before the Civil War broke out, Robert E. Lee was offered command of the Union troops. He declined, telling Francis Preston Blair that he had a higher allegiance – his allegiance to the people and the state of Virginia.
It seems odd in our day to think of someone putting his allegiance to his home state above allegiance to his country. But as Christians, on those days when we pause to reflect on the blessings of liberty we enjoy as citizens of our great country, the United States, we, like General Lee, should never lose sight of our higher allegiance to our King and His Kingdom.
Remember what Matt showed us in church Sunday? The link to the RCC calendar on our website?
Here’s a reminder of how to keep on with what’s going on at church.
Go to www.redeemerlr.org.
Click the tab that says “More” in the upper right hand corner.
From the drop down menu, select “Calendar.”
When the calendar opens up, you’ll see a list of dates and activities.
5. Click on an activity (like the “First Friday Game Night”) and the details will open up for you.
On Sundays, we’ll be highlighting and promoting some upcoming church wide events. But rather than taking time with the details, we’ll be pointing you to the calendar for more information.
And who knows. Maybe there’s an RCC app in our future…
Thanks to everyone who came and sang and prayed in our new church home last Sunday night.
Exciting days ahead. And lots of work still to do to get ready.
With that in mind, I hope you’ve been thinking about which one or two or three transition teams you’d like to be part of. Here’s what we shared last Sunday:
You can sign up at church this week. Teams are beginning to meet and to make plans now. So make sure you sign up soon.
And speaking of signing up… don’t forget our summer time nursery needs. With folks traveling and on vacation, we need extra hands to help care for the smallest members of our church family. Contact Kelly Rackley if you can help out a Sunday or two between now and September. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reading through 1 John and looking at the tests of authentic faith, do you ever wonder if you meet the qualifications? Do you ever doubt?
The Apostle is not surprised. And he addresses those doubts in the section of his letter that we’ll explore this Sunday.
See you in church.
Soli Deo Gloria!