This week we celebrate Independence Day. July 4th. The day, 238 years ago, our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence. It is the defining moment in our American history.
Two thousand years ago an itinerant Rabbi from Galilee was crucified in Jerusalem for claiming to be King of the Jews. Christianity makes the faith claim that this man is truly God's son and his death and resurrection are the defining moment in all of human history.
And so, from an American Christian perspective, how are we to celebrate the 4th of July in light of our lives as disciples of Jesus? I would argue that the answer is not as clear as one might assume given the ways many so-called Christians respond to the great issues facing America today.
"What are the great issues?" you ask. Our Declaration states that "All men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." In order to insure those rights governments are instituted. How is this concept to be applied to issues such as immigration reform, health care, just wages for workers, climate change and the uneven distribution of wealth resulting in poverty and hunger? How do Christians live their command to "love neighbor," to care for the least and lowest in our society, to be good stewards of creation, to bring " good news to the poor?"
As we prepare to celebrate what it means to be American the question we Christians must ask is how our faith informs and gives meaning to our American identity.
Instead it seems that all too often a distorted understanding of what it means to be American gives shape to a kind of Christianity that is not consistent with the teachings of Jesus. I mean, if those self professed Christians who govern both locally and federally are living out their faith in the context of their American heritage, why aren’t they working together to solve these great issues? Rather, there seems to be a kind of naive arrogance about their Christian faith that is summed up by, of all people, Stephen Colbert, when he said,
“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it.”
As Christians we must be reminded that we have been charged with helping build the Kingdom of God and as I was reminded by a friend of mine, “We’re not talking about the ‘Democratic Republic of God.’ We’re talking about the Kingdom of God.” This kingdom is unlike any other. Often referred to as the “Peaceable Kingdom,” it is subversive to the conventional wisdom that says “might makes right,” or “those who have much material wealth are truly blessed by God.”
I believe the challenge for Christians is finding the balance between our American citizenship and our citizenship in heaven.
When that happens, and it does happen, all people benefit from the gift of our Christian faith in action.
And all really means all.
We hear the phrase “God bless America!” a lot. I will close by instead saying, “May we always be a blessing to those around us, to those in need. May we have a heart for the brokenhearted. May we be a blessing to this great country of ours. And in doing so may we know the blessing that is the Peace of God.”