I’m sure this note finds you preparing for the holiday weekend. I look forward to the Fourth of July every year. Celebrating our country, what it stands for, and the freedom it affords us is worthwhile. For me, the holiday conjures up happy memories of parades, backyard BBQs, fireworks, and swimming pools. I love this weekend, and the sentimental side of me always gets nostalgic this time of year.
But, the Fourth of July is also complicated for many reasons, especially this year. With the pandemic, many of the usual activities are canceled (or should be) and being together with others comes with greater danger. More than that, we know in tragic detail that the promises and aspirations of our country are not equally offered and available to all people. For Black Americans and many others, the history of the United States is one of oppression, prejudice, violence, and injustice. Asking everyone to be excited about honoring the flag, singing the anthem, or celebrating with fireworks doesn’t take into account this ongoing reality of injustice in our country. Over the past few months, we have all understood more deeply just how far we have to go to fully realize that which we claim about ourselves.
And for Christians, Paul reminds us that we are “citizens of heaven”. This means that our ultimate allegiance is to the Kingdom of God, not to any earthly nation. This was a theological statement – that Jesus is Lord and therefore Caesar (or any earthly leader) is not. When commitments and values clash, Christians must choose the values of Jesus. But, Paul was also making a practical distinction. Christians must be careful how enthusiastic they get about supporting any particular country because that country will never completely live out the values of God’s Kingdom. Our role is to be ambassadors for the Kingdom of God, and at times, this will mean criticizing and critiquing our earthly kingdoms.
So today, we can acknowledge and celebrate that which is good about our country. I especially celebrate what the United States aspires to be – a country that acknowledges that all people are created equal and deserve life, liberty, and the ability to pursue happiness. At the same time, it is critical that we remember that is not who we currently are, not yet. These aspirations have yet to be fully realized for all people. This reminds me that as a Christian, my responsibility is also to critique, to advocate, to work for change, and to resist anything that keeps us from realizing that vision of justice for all people. This work is our duty, not only as Americans, but also as followers of Christ.
So this weekend, I hope you get the chance to take some time off, to relax, and to thank God for those freedoms and liberties you have. At the same time, I hope you remember the work that is still left undone and your role in moving our country forward until those promises indeed apply to all.
P.S. This weekend, I am continuing the series Be Yourself, on identity. If you missed last week, you can check it out here. Don’t forget that because we are online with worship, you can invite anyone, anywhere. Please share an invitation for someone to join you this Sunday in worship. All the service times and details can be viewed and shared here