For many families, it’s a day to gather with family and friends (some even have family reunions), to enjoy the beach if the weather is fine, and have a cookout. And then, if the evening is clear and rain-free, to watch fireworks against the dark of the sky. Often before the fireworks begin, we sing together our national anthem. The words: “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” echo in the fireworks bursting above us. It’s a gathering time, and a memory time, and a celebration time. Some families take time to talk with their children about our history together, sometimes young people in school hold special assemblies before or after the day. It’s a time to remember the good of us.
More and more we’re also remembering the not so good of us. Our treatment of our First Nation neighbors, our blithe assumption that Mexico and Granada and Panama really wanted to be governed by us, our not so successful war on poverty, our not so declared wars beginning with Vietnam, and our seemingly endless wars today. As well as a day of celebration, we might also want to spend part of the day in reflection. Who are we as Americans, and where are we headed, and what kind of people do we want to be? In many places of worship this kind of reflection goes on.
Sometimes this kind of national day causes discussion and concern in churches. We ask ourselves: “Are we a national organization, or a supranational organization? Where does our loyalty lie? Can we celebrate ourselves and still treat our history with honesty?” In the beginning of our country’s history, churches were granted immunity from taxation, often for a couple of reasons: First, churches were often the organization that taught young people how to read and write and figure. Second because churches were the organizations that produced good citizens. The Apostle Paul wrote to the churches that governments were instruments God uses to keep order; and so should be respected. Our early United States government looked at the values and character attributes that were taught by churches and said: “Yes. That’s the kind of citizen we need to develop.” So, many churches became tied up in our American culture. Others, however, said: “Jesus taught that we should seek first the kingdom of God…not a national government.” It’s a theological and political conversation that has been going on for as long as there’s been a United States.
Whatever you think about this issue, however, one of the things that can happen to people who attend church is the knitting together of a fabric of community and hope. Whatever a church believes about its national status, all who come to worship are directed beyond boundaries and borders to something else, to someone creative and creating, to someone who loves the whole world, and who calls worshippers to a vision that includes family and stranger, friend and foe, together.
As we begin the days of longer sunlight and warmer sun, of picnics and barbecues and gatherings, I invite you to remember to gather with others at a place of worship, and be introduced to a vista wider and deeper and broader than anyone can imagine. And in this month of the “glorious Fourth,” I’d like to offer this prayer for you to think about: It’s written by Daniel J. McGill.
Bless, O God, my enemies with sunshine/ Upon their crops come shining./ May green grass grow in their meadows
Sweet crops within their fields./ Send rain upon their soil.
Fill their children with joy,/Bless their grandparents with peace./May every woman of them know delight,/May every man of them be loved.
May the birds of their air never hear bombs,
May their rivers run clean,
Their air smell sweet in the morning.
May all things with life be blessed!/For if my enemy is not blessed,/How can I, O Lord, be blessed?/How can I?
For earth shall cry if they shall weep.
And I shall cry if they are hurt.