Monday, July 3, 2017
Tomorrow we observe the Feast of Independence Day (a.k.a, the Fourth of July). It’s one of the few secular holidays that has found its way into the church calendar, along with Thanksgiving and Labor Day. Appointed scripture readings and prayers help us reflect on who we are called to be as a nation. The feast indicates that our lives as citizens are related to our lives as followers of Jesus.
The feast has to do with more than hot dogs and hamburgers, though I won’t turn those down. It has to do with a sacred celebration which invites us to ask this holy stewardship question: What do we do with the gift we’ve been given in our common life, as a nation blessed with remarkable prosperity and unprecedented freedoms?
As Episcopalians, who claim that praying shapes our believing, we can look to the collect crafted for this day (below), and see what it says to us this Monday. Look at what we pray for. We ask that we may all have “grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace.” So join me in reflection on that word righteousness.
Righteousness means so much more than being right or even being good. In scripture, righteousness suggests right relationship, with a recognition that so many of our relationships are out of whack. What does it mean to be a righteous nation? It seems to me that it is about building relationships marked by healing and wholeness, mending places where relationship is broken. The scriptures (you can look them up…a nice spiritual discipline for a day off) appointed for the Feast of Independence Day speak to the character of this common life.
There’s a reading from Deuteronomy (10:17-21) written to the people of Israel before they entered the promised land and started to figure out what it meant to be a people. The reading talks about the character of the nation: executing justice for orphan and widow (the neediest, the marginalized), loving the stranger and providing food and clothing for them. Maybe this is one of those places where folks say we don’t need to take scripture literally. But at face value, the righteousness of a nation has to do with how we treat the least among us. Across the political spectrum, folks will disagree about how best to accomplish that. But the goal seems clear.
The psalm chosen for the day (Psalm 145) reflects God’s character as loving to everyone. “Compassion is over all God’s works. The Lord upholds those who fall, and lifts those who are bowed down. The Lord opens wide his hand and satisfies the needs of every living creature.” Again, scripture indicates a community marked by healed relationships.
The New Testament reading from Hebrews (11:8-16) calls readers to remember that they were once strangers and foreigners, that they desire a better country, a heavenly one. It’s a graceful, hopeful acknowledgement that we can always do better.
The Gospel reading, excerpted from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43-48) is a call by Jesus to love not only neighbors but also to love enemies. Does he really mean that? It’s not fun. It’s not easy. In our divided nation, what would it mean if we would and could do what Jesus asked us to do?
As I reviewed these readings, calling us to think about who we are on this national holiday, I was struck with how much we have erred and strayed from a righteous vision, from right relationships. The measure of a great nation, it would seem from scripture and especially from the prayer, has to do with an embrace of grace, a commitment to live in righteousness and peace, to let that be shown in compassion, especially towards those pushed to the edges.
Independence Day is a holiday, which means it’s a holy day, a chance to reflect on who we are, and who God is calling us to be. Enjoy the celebration tomorrow. Give thanks for our remarkable nation. Pray for our leaders. And consider the call to deeper righteousness, to healthier relationships, marked by compassion. Is there a specific way you can live into that imagination this week?
A prayer for Independence Day
(Book of Common Prayer)
Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Another prayer for Independence Day:
O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties
O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife,
O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years. Thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears!
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