For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Romans 8: 20, 21

 

On this date, July 4th, the United States of America, the country where I live and the one that birthed and raised me, celebrates freedom. This day is the singular great holiday on the nation’s calendar, and it is generally the occasion for a massive and hopefully unifying party. I do think that freedom is worth celebrating and also that the freedoms that are considered to be fundamental to the national character of the United States are truly worthy of a vast and universal party. We should gather at the hearts of our communities, play festive music, remember those who have sacrificed in order to secure our world and this nation, and light up the sky with fireworks. Freedom is more than a worthy reason for all of this. Still, I think that there is a freedom that is greater than all that we are celebrating today, and it is something that we certainly should consider as we put on our party clothes and sing out our national hymns.

 

The need for freedom comes about because of its absence, its loss. When God made this world He made it and us free. We had an almost unfettered ability to make choices and to enter into our roles as the rulers of our daily life on earth. God did provide guidance and law, He was directly involved with us on an ongoing basis, and people were granted responsibility and were given freedom that was in balance with it. We know the story. This freedom was taken to extremes and the responsibility to follow God’s will and to reverence Him above all else was set aside with catastrophic results. So, we live in a world where everything is distorted and corrupted and wherein it is hard to find the sort of true freedom that God designed and intended from the beginning of our world’s history.

 

This country does set out concepts and ideas that move in the direction of the form of freedom that God desires for people and for His creation to enjoy. Yet, I do wonder if we don’t get some of it wrong or at least in the wrong order. The greatness in this nation is found in its world-embracing diversity and by virtue of the gift of resources that allow for this soil to enfold people who come with nothing and grant them the opportunity to develop and to become contributors to the well being of others. This is a nation where humanity’s great conversations can take place in an open and protected environment in which understanding is the objective. We can meet and share our faith, our understanding of the nature and the person of God, our views on the makeup and function of family, how we care for this planet, and the best way to establish peace upon its surface and among its people. The ability to enter into these and many other discussions, both large and small, is a part of the freedom that God has granted to us here.

 

The glory of God is seen in our love for others and in our openness to hearing their stories and to caring for them. There is no greater freedom than what is found in the ability to set aside fears and to embrace God’s desire for reconciliation among peoples who have become separated by the human-derived barriers of this broken world. This sort of thing is the foundational greatness that can set the United States apart in our world. This nation has great resources, and I would pray that we would learn to use them to care for people who are in need. This nation grants many freedoms, and I desire to see us tender them to multitudes in order to narrow the gaps of understanding and mistrust that are prevalent in our world today. There is much to celebrate here today, and as we do this, I do sincerely pray that the glory that fills our sky will be that of the Lord as His desire and will for people to enjoy true and eternal freedom becomes the hymn of our nation.

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Open the gates,

that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.

Isaiah 26: 2

 

Although this is the day after the United State’s celebration of Independence Day, these thoughts are not about any one country and have little to do with the politics or the governance of any nation. I think that Isaiah was not talking about a specific nation here, and I am not either. Yet, he and I are also speaking to the people of the nations that we touch. It seems to me that human nature is such that we take a great deal of pride in the place that we are from. Most of the time we speak with real passion about our homeland and we desire to see it standing proud and powerful in our world. In the days of Isaiah that sort of singular strength was often achieved by means of stout walls that kept enemies out and that aided in the maintenance of national and racial purity.

 

God has no problem with walls and with the gates that are built into them. He inspired and directed the construction of them. However, He does not embrace the way that people frequently use those walls. When they become a source of pride in our ability to build and our power over others, then God is not pleased. As walls are used to divide and to separate people so that those that are deemed to be desirable are allowed in and all others are excluded, God is saddened. If we follow the long-standing trend of human culture and these walls start to define our true allegiance and frame in our identity, then God’s will is being ignored as we make the Lord into the servant of our national intent and agenda.

 

True greatness and the form of power that honors God is found in and through the sort of openness that Isaiah is calling us to embrace. For any of us to be strong we need to surrender fully to Christ. We allow ourselves to be immersed in the death of the cross, and we are then lifted up by our Lord into His victory over all that this world can bring upon us. Then walls as a means of pride, power, defense, and exclusivity have no use to us. Instead the walls that we control become a tool to be used in protecting and ministering to the weak and the lost. Inside of these redeemed structures we no longer live as citizens of an earthly nation; instead, we dwell in the Kingdom of God that has come to earth. In this kingdom we owe allegiance to only one ruler, Christ the King whose authority is over all the institutions and structures of this world and beyond.