In a week we celebrate the national holiday of Independence Day, a day in which patriotism is exuberantly expressed by fellow Americans who revel in a shared pursuit of freedom. In the midst of this celebration, though, we as Christians must not lose focus on the ultimate reality of our citizenship. St. Paul teaches us,
"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Even as we follow the teaching of Jesus, that we are to give appropriate honor (including taxes) to the earthly government in which we find ourselves (Mark 12:17), we ultimately pledge our allegiance to the God in whose image we were created and whose character we are to imitate in our own lives.
This can sometimes create tension between our desire to see our national identity prosper and flourish and our recognition of our ultimate citizenship in the Divine Kingdom. In the midst of this tension we cannot allow ourselves to be blinded by loyalty to a political system or party, to a set of territorial borders, to any particular earthly ruler, or to any specific ideology or economic system. At our baptism, we committed to be followers of Jesus Christ and to be members and citizens of His divine Kingdom. This means that no matter what happens in our country, for good or evil, it is not the foundational source of our identity, or our hope, or our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.
Too often we can find ourselves in a position where political forces use our desire for moral goodness as a way of manipulating us to advance their own political agendas or to further their pursuit of power. We must stand firm against that temptation and must stand firm against any movement or pressure that would cause us to put aside our calling to imitate Christ Jesus.
No law or legislation can usurp our calling to love and forgive others, nor do we require a law or legislation to refrain from dehumanizing others or to compel us to show compassion and kindness to all, especially the weak and vulnerable. Christ is the source of our identity. Therefore, if anyone or anything, whether it be a political figure, a political movement, or an ideological system, compels us to think with a mind other than the mind of Christ, then it is a person and a system that is anti Christ. Jesus' command to us is to look at all fellow humans as brothers and sisters, fellow image bearers of God, that are so valuable that God chose to enter His creation, to humble himself to put upon himself our feeble flesh, and to submit himself to the torment of violence and vengeance; all so that He could put an end to sin and death so we could be reunited and reconciled to God as our Father.
As we come together as a nation to celebrate Independence Day, let us do so with a commitment to advance the identity of Christ in our culture and country. Let our voices be the voices that speak out loudest against hatred, against bigotry, against violence, against the dehumanization of others; let our voices be the voices of those who have no voice, of those whose voices have been drowned out by the din of discontent and disunity. To this end, let our anthem this Independence Day include the words of St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
We are ambassadors of the Divine King. May we honor Him by promoting His message of love, compassion, and forgiveness in the midst of the realms of this world, subverting all other motivations beneath the all-encompassing call of the One who identified himself as love incarnate.
(as published in St. Luke's Weekly Newsletter, 6/27/18)