If I started this sentence, could you fill in the blank? “We the People…” Who had to memorize the Preamble to the Constitution? That was my 8th grade history task. I succeeded because of SchoolHouse Rock. Those of us who lived our formative years in the 1970s remember it well.
We the people, In order to form a more perfect union,
Establish justice, insure domestic tranquility,
Provide for the common defense, Promote the general welfare and
Secure the blessings of liberty To ourselves and our posterity
Do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
That song drilled those words into the consciousness of thousands of America’s youth. They sum up the desires of a people, bound not by blood or nationality, race or creed; but bound by an ideal, that freedom and democracy could be the bond that secures a nation together. Those who drafted our Constitution over 200 years ago envisioned the potential and promise for the posterity of all generations that would follow. Concepts like freedom, justice, equality and democracy. We are bound together in this country by WORDS. But they are also incredibly fragile, if abused, forgotten or ignored.
From my earliest childhood, I have always loved the 4th of July: parades, ice-cream, fireworks, grilling hot dogs, apple pie, John Philip Souza music, and singing patriotic hymns that still can still easily bring a tear to my eye. It is a day to celebrate our land and its freedoms. The 4th of July can bring out our deepest feelings of gratitude and love for our land and country. But, it is not JUST a time for celebration or opportunity for flag-waving; it is also a time for reflection and even confession of the tension between our high hopes and dreams and the reality that we often fail one another in this great country. We have probably provided more for the common defense as a country than we have the general welfare.
Today we celebrate more than our independence and freedom in this country. When we enter into worship, we give witness to the truth that we are citizens not only of a specific country, but citizens of a commonwealth wider than the nation of our birth or where we choose to hold our citizenship. WE the People of God in Christ are Christians without arbitrary borders drawn across the land. And our freedom in this country pales in consideration to our freedom in Christ. Freedom is more than simply the ability to say or do anything we want. Paul states in Galations 5: Do not use your freedom to indulge; rather, serve one another humbly in love. My understanding of true freedom is that it calls us to a place of responsibility. That we are not truly free until those around us experience freedom as well.
Frederick Buechner writes these words about the intersection of patriotism and Christian faith:
The only patriots worth their salt are the ones who love their country enough to see that in a nuclear age it is not going to survive unless the world survives. True patriots are no longer champions of any one country in particular, but champions of the human race. It is not the homeland that they feel called on to defend at any cost, but the planet earth as home.
Our primary allegiance is to the Kingdom of God and that Kingdom includes every nation, tribe, ethnicity, faith, color, and language. Our “tribal distinctives” fall to the wayside. Jew or Greek, black or white, gay or straight, blue or white collar, poor or rich…. We are one in Jesus. We are called upon to worship something greater than country, and to pledge our devotion to something larger than a nation.
While we often here people and especially politicians declare “God Bless America”, I am reticent to join God and country too closely. Theocracy can be dangerous for any nation. I remember my eyes welling with tears when Aretha Franklin sang “God Bless America” for President Obama’s inauguration in 2008. Perhaps you were moved by that rendition as well. But I also started a spiritual practice of uttering a prayer beyond God Bless America:
God Bless Australia, Kenya, Afghanistan, India, Canada, Chile, Brazil, Iraq, & Ethiopia.
As many countries as I can remember, and when I run out of memory, I chalk it up to God Bless the world – asking God’s providence, blessing and healing on the world as a whole.
Most of us in this church love our country, me included, but so do the citizens of other lands, even those we may hear described as our enemies. Can we embody the words of Abraham Lincoln, that we pray not for God to be on our side, but for us to be on God’s side?
While gratefully singing America the Beautiful earlier this morning, we will also lift our voices in a moment, to sing “This is My Song”, as a call to affirm peace crusaders and justice seekers and all peoples across the globe. And may we sing it as an inspiration to truly seek liberty and justice and freedom for all. So We the People of God – may our prayer be: God bless America and God bless all the earth’s peoples! God bless our good earth! Thanks be to God.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.