Having just survived a goodly number of my neighbors setting off fireworks, in the city limits, where they are illegal, and trying to calm down my dog, who hates thunder and explosions, I suppose you could say I have celebrated the Fourth of July in a traditional manner. I had picnic food and drove to my husband’s church, Gibson Chapel Presbyterian, to sit and watch the fireworks at Hammons Field after the baseball game. And I had to pick up and doctor my son who had a piece of Roman candle packing material fly into his eye. Yup, it was a traditional Fourth!
One different thing, however, was that I was listening to Christian radio shows on the way back and from all of those things. One preacher took a very different tack on the meaning of America, stating that far from being just a country or just a people group, that America was, and is, an idea—an idea that all people could live and work together with freedom and justice for everyone. What a reason to celebrate on the Fourth!
At the beginning of this country men who had differing religious backgrounds, differing professions, all had one thing in common: they believed in freedom for all men (and women)—freedom to believe, or not believe; freedom to choose what they would be in the future, not being locked in to what my father did for a living; freedom to feed our families; freedom to choose where to live without fear of government molestation. These men together signed the Declaration of Independence, united in the desire for the freedoms mentioned above.
Unfortunately, much of what our country stood for at the beginning has been either forgotten or perverted to stand for selfish gain, power, and might. The rule of law has perverted to the advantage of power. For many, the constitution is no longer at the center of what this country is about, and freedom, whether of religion or otherwise, is no longer free for everyone, only those who fit in, once again, with the prevailing leadership and media emphasis.
Religion, in some congregations and denominations, has become more about “our” power, “our” purpose, and “our” popularity rather than the purposes for which Jesus walked the earth: to bring deliverance from sin and its mutilation of the human spirit. We aren’t concerned about Jesus’ prayer, that we be one as He and the Father are one (John 17:21), but rather in convincing other Christians to do things our way.
So, my Christian brothers and sisters, what did we really celebrate yesterday? In our picnics, with our firecrackers and fireworks, did we pray at all besides giving thanks for the steaks, burgers, and dogs? Did we pray for our country and our government, asking God to help us return to the ideals of the Constitution so our right to religious freedom and our ability to provide for others would be preserved? Did we ask God to make us, in our multiple churches, one, even as Jesus prayed? Even more so, did we ask God to help us make our freedom matter, that we could fulfill the ideals of the Gospel, to reach others, not only for Christ, but also to make a difference in their lives even if they don’t choose to follow our God?
One thing that the Presbyterian Church USA does well is to push for social justice, or peacemaking, to try to make sure the needs of those in our country and our world are met. We were honored recently to receive a grant of $800 from the Synod of Mid-America to be used for feeding programs and youth ministries in Dade County. But even in that success of my denomination, I still have to ask all of us if we are praying and working for freedom in all areas of life, including those of faith and commerce?
So how did you celebrate the Fourth? As I write on the fifth of July, let me challenge you to spend some time considering your response to freedom. Now that the celebrations are just about over, the fireworks will be packed away, and the grill has had a chance to cool down, can we take some time to consider our freedoms, political and otherwise? Can we take a moment to consider what our freedoms require of us, that we are to use them to meet the needs of others who don’t have financial freedom or freedom from despair?
Finally, for those of us who have been set free from sin and despair, will you consider what your freedom in Christ requires of you? Jesus called us to be His disciples, ambassadors in a world filled with bondage and sin. The freedom we have experienced in Christ is available to everyone, but it is essential that we are live as God requires, “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12).