Reflections on the 4th of July…
15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” 16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. ~ Luke 14: 15-17, 23 (NIV)
I always look forward to 4th of July celebrations. It’s my kind of holiday… relaxing with family and friends, some type of outdoor activity – swimming, hiking, bike-ride and a barbeque or cookout! The beauty of it is, it doesn’t even have to happen on the 4th… it can happen any time that the family can get together during the summer!
That is – if you don’t include fireworks!
It is interesting that we in the U.S. tend to limit fireworks to 4th of July and New Years’. Oh, and big-ticket places like amusement parks and ball parks. As I have visited other countries, especially countries in South America, I have learned that fireworks are common for many types of parties – birthdays, anniversaries and graduations! And I’m talking about the real thing – not the human emotion type…heck that type is common at almost all our parties.
But the real joy of 4th of July celebrations is the community spirit of it… of being with people, enjoying time together and just being together celebrating the fact that we live in a place that seeks to live out the “truth” that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…with or without tanks and fighter jet flyovers. We don’t do that enough in the US.
Usually when we come together it is for partisan and/or utilitarian reasons. But to just come together and celebrate our God-given freedoms and to be with others around the table… not nearly often enough.
It made me wonder what Jesus would think of our 4th of July?
Oh, I know it pales to the image of His Great Banquet… for at that Banquet we are bid to come to celebrate our Risen Lord and the acceptance of His invitation to sit at His Table—the Table of Jesus. The Declaration of Independence on the other hand refers only to the “God of Nature” and the Creator… it is less specific about where the self-evident truths come from… but is still attributed to a higher power! The celebration of the 4th is but a dim image of that banquet… but an image none the less.
And like the command of Jesus to “go out into the highways and byways” the celebration of the 4th reminds us of the poem on the “Statue of Liberty” – “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” Yet another dim reflection of that Great Banquet.
And while the fireworks remind us of the many battles that have been fought and lives sacrificed to acquire and to preserve freedom, perhaps they too are a dim reflection of the sacrifice of the Cross.
So, though I don’t want to suggest in any way that God loves the U.S. more than any other country, there is something holy (notice the small “h”) about it; or at least about the ideology from which it was formed. Yes, we face many challenges to living out that ideology, challenges of when someone else’s expressions of freedom encroach upon our deeply held mores and sensibilities, challenges of how many of the tired and poor we want to welcome, and challenges of… well, just challenges.
And despite all these challenges, the 4th reminds us that God has blessed us. So, let’s not squander that blessing and take time to enjoy the pursuit of happiness with the ones we love.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the blessings this nation and we, the people of this nation, have received. May we use the blessings we have received from you to bless others. May we use our freedom given by you, to secure freedom for those who don’t have it. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran