Meditating on decorations got me going…..
With everything that has been going on over the last few months, this was one of the most bittersweet and strange celebrations of the Declaration of Independence I have ever experienced. The Fourth of July should be, I believe, for Christians, a time of deep thought and reflection upon our place in any society,. We should focus upon the first article fact that God created us and cares for us. We should focus upon a biblical understanding of government. And for Lutheran Christians especially we should think of the theology of the cross and how that fits into our ideas of patriotism.
All of this is complicated, and it’s woven into a Tapestry. Tapestries are hard and complicated, and so because it’s easy, we turn to fireworks, barbecue, and parades. William Manchester, trying to describe why he and his comrades were willing to wander off into Pacific Islands in order to fight and die for this country, makes some fascinating observations in his book “Goodbye Darkness”. He said the reason was partly devotion, but that devotion was made up of many things, “You had to remember your father’s stories about the Argonne, and saying your prayers, and Memorial Day, and Scouting, and what Barbara Frietchie said to Stonewall Jackson. And you had to have heard Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge and to have seen Gary Cooper as Sergeant York. And seen how your mother bought day-old bread and cut sheets lengthwise and resewed them to equalize wear while your father sold the family car, both forfeiting what would be considered essentials today so that you could enter college”.
The Barbara Frietchie reference to me is particularly interesting because I believe it shows one of the problems we have today with what it means to be a citizen. We have forgotten our history and we have people around us who don’t want us to learn it. The story is that Stonewall Jackson marched along with Robert E. Lee through Frederick Maryland and all the flags of the United States have been taken down and hidden. 90-year-old Barbara Fritchie took her flag out of hiding to her attic and displayed it from that window. When Jackson saw that lone flag flying from that attic he had a group of soldiers fire upon it. 90-year-old Barbara stuck her head out the window, grabbed the flag and screamed “Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country’s flag,” she said.
This incident became the subject of a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier but my interest in the story goes back to World War II when Winston Churchill was visiting the United States, and FDR took him to what would become camp David. On the way there Churchhill and a bunch of high American officials along with FDR drove through Frederick Maryland, and when they came to what was called the Fritchie house, Churchhill stood up in the back of the limousine and recited the poem from memory. Most of the American officials along for the ride knew the story. Churchill memorized the poem.
Manchester goes on. “You also needed nationalism, the absolute conviction that the United States was the envy of all other nations, a country which had never done anything infamous, in which nothing was insuperable, whose ingenuity could solve anything by inventing something. You felt sure that all lands, given our democracy and our know-how, could shine as radiantly’ as we did. Esteem was personal, too; you assumed that if you came through this ordeal, you would age with dignity, respected as well as adored by your children. Wickedness was attributed to flaws in individual characters, not to society’s shortcomings.”
A Christian will gratefully appreciate the blessings of God has bestowed upon his specific homeland and people, but he will also remember than other nations and people likewise have a right to love their homeland, to cherish and cultivate their own peculiar national traits, traditions, ideals, and culture. A missionary who steeps himself in the culture of another land under another form of government quickly realizes those people as brothers and sisters in Christ simply by virtue of our creation. Paul proclaimed that God set everybody in the place where they are. He appointed them their own times and seasons and he did these things in order for them to search for him and hopefully find him even though he’s not far from anyone of us as Paul said – in him we live and move and have our being. Missions is Preaching Christ as Lord and Savior over all culture and division.
As frustrating as it is, Christians understand that all authority comes from God. God created government that we might live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty. Questions arise when people begin to realize that a government is not trying to create peace and doesn’t want our lives to be quiet. How do we respond to that as responsible Christians who follow the prince of peace who has given us peace through the blood of his cross? How do we live as people who believe that all the conflicts in the universe have been reconciled in Christ Jesus, and yet we live in the midst of so many conflicts and tribulations? How do we deal with issues when the savior of the world allowed himself to be placed under subjection, even unto death on a cross, by a corrupt authority?
Christians face these issues by looking at Jesus who is Lord and King, who emptied himself of the forms of power and became a servant even un to death. We are free through Jesus Christ to be obedient servants in our citizenship, and to be totally free Lords in our view of the governing authorities. We thank God we have a peaceful means of removing those we feel are corrupt or not governing by the consent of the governed. We remember that we live in Christ’s kingdom of grace, where forgiveness of sins and the removal of guilt is more important than social contracts and rules and regulations. At the same time we also live in Christ’s kingdom of power where even the stupidest regulations, and the actions of the most corrupt, are still used by Jesus to ultimately redound to his glory and our benefit.
Paul confessed “I do not understand my own actions. I don’t do what I want to do but the very thing I hate is what I do.” The Christian citizen should constantly remind him or her self that governments were not created for angels, but for sinful human beings and our prayer should be that governments work with us to share a vision where Christians are salt and light.
Christians should understand that in a free country with myriad ideas and opinions there is only one place to find peace. Jesus said come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. The constant battle to try to prove ourselves to God is over. As we live in God‘s mercy we are free to be merciful and to use our positions in a free land to benefit our neighbors in whatever way we can.
In short, this is a time when more than ever we ought to heed the instructions which Paul gives us in his Epistle to Timothy, where he writes: I exhort therefore that, first of all, supplication, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God, our Savior” (1 Tim. 2: 1-3).