You’re probably receiving this a day later than you normally would in your week, since Americans were celebrating this week -- so, let me just say Happy Independence Day!
I love the Fourth of July for all sorts of reasons. I mean, it’s always nice to have a day with my family, and I dearly love watching the fireworks (though I don’t like sitting for hours in the hot sun, waiting for sunset so that the fireworks can start), but most of all, I like being reminded of the simplicity of why I’m proud to be an American. I’ll be honest and say that there are a lot of reasons why I’m more historically proud to be an American than I often am proud of what America has meant for the past couple of decades -- we’ve kinda lost sight of some crucial things. But singing the national anthem and seeing total strangers come together to watch the night sky reminds me of the whole point of this great social experiment.
I remember explaining the national anthem to a German foreign exchange student in high school. We were at a hockey game, and she had no idea what story it was referencing (the German national anthem is very nice, but it’s basically just saying, “We like Germany!” over and over -- there’s no real narrative to it). I explained how an American writer was viewing a battle from the deck of an enemy ship, watching the British pound Fort McHenry with rockets and bombs all through the night, not knowing if his countrymen had survived the barrage and hoping against hope while he waited for the dawn. And then, as morning broke and the smoke from the explosions cleared, he saw the tattered Old Glory still waving over the walls and knew that the fort still stood and that Baltimore therefore stayed free, even after all of that pounding. To take a beating and still keep standing -- that’s the America that I love. For the record, Ariana wept when I told her that story, and I’ve never been able to sing the song without feeling choked up since then.
But that doesn’t mean that I stand behind everything that my country does. As we talked about in the sermon this week from the second chapter in James, as Christians, we need to act -- but we need to act with the right heart and for the right reasons. Too often, we let others do our actions for us, or we launch ahead without thinking of the consequences of our words and actions, and both of those mistakes are dangerous. Instead, we’re called to live out our faith by what we do -- not just to know good stuff or to do good stuff, but to do right because it naturally flows out of cultivating a right heart. That takes conscious effort.
So when you’re a Republican surrounded by a bunch of Democrats (or a Democrat surrounded by a bunch of Republicans), stop for a moment before you do (or decide not to do) something. Stop and think about speaking truth, but doing it absolutely in love. Disagree -- disagree sharply -- but judge the wrong actions for what they are, rather than getting lost in hating the brothers or sisters around you, or making those judgments based on supporting your side rather than supporting God’s truth. If you’re a Christian, you’ve been born again, and that means that you don’t get to pick cliques any more. The only people left on this planet for you should be those in your family, and those whom you’d love to see come into your family. God help us all if we see ourselves more in light of our political parties or sociopolitical groups than we do the Kingdom of God...