July Newsletter Article
I once heard and Presbytery Executive talk about smaller, family, size churches and how they work. Such churches often see themselves as seedbeds, training grounds for new minister fresh out of seminary. They consider it God's Call to "break young minister in right" and then let them move on.
The executive talked about one particular church. She found that the Session had a time proven formula for knowing then it was time for the minister to leave. They said they usually knew a young minister's departure was imminent about the time he or she removed the American flag from the sanctuary. Each had their own method of removing it and the congregation had seen every possibility in the book. Some ministers tried to make it disappear quietly, hoping no one would notice. Others processed it out on the 4th of July and the next Sunday didn't put it back. Some presented grand theological arguments in Session about the separation of church and state and how Christians shouldn't worship nationhood in God's house. However they attempted to make the flag disappear from the sanctuary, the Session knew that it was about that time the minister would sing a swan song.
Let's face it. For most of us the flag is sacred. As uncomfortable as it makes some folks, most folks have no problem with the flag properly placed in the sanctuary. We have no problem singing "God Bless America" or "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." We have no problem with the notion that God has had a hand in the creation of our nation. I heard the story about a history teacher who questioned his class, "A distinguished foreigner was a big help to the American colonists during he Revolutionary War. Can anyone give me his name?" One student raised her hand and shouted out, "It was God.
You can criticize just about anything you want about our country, but if you attack the flag you touch a hot button. It's a symbol that's incredibly important to us. It more than represents who we are, it literally has participated in the history of this nation since Betsy Ross stitched together the first red and white bars and a circle of thirteen stars on a dark blue background. Many are stirred when we sing "The Star Spangled Banner." If someone attacks the flag they attack us... Assaulting everything we stand for, and much of what we have believed, since that first 4th of July, in 1776.
I love to learn about American history, especially the Civil War, WW II and the Viet Name war. I have discovered that our nature as a nation is linked to a deep abiding sense of freedom. It's a unique freedom fixed on a belief in God-intended goodness. It's a faithful freedom that claims a responsibility first to a gracious God and secondly to the rest of the world.
Freedom is a confusing subject for most folks to talk about. When we think of freedom, too often we think of the ability to do whatever we want. We think of lack of obligation and responsibility. We believe it means we can say whatever we want, or print whatever we want, and to believe whatever we want without regard for the consequences and how it effects the community we live in. Some think of freedom as living without responsibility to community, to nation, or to God.
This is a lie. This is not freedom. Like it or not, the kind of freedom our founding father's had in mind was a freedom rooted in an ethic fixed in theology.
The truth about freedom is that, as servants of God, we are to live as free persons. Jesus Christ invites us to enjoy the life of freedom. Only in Christ can we be truly free. In the Gospel of John (8:32) Jesus says that when we know Him, we know the truth personified and the truth will make us free. But freedom that comes from Jesus is not to be used as "a pretext for evil"... An excuse for sin. As soon as we use it for that end we lose it. We become entangled in the slavery of sin itself.
This is the crux of freedom. Freedom requires willfulness on our part. Freedom is liberty to choose whom we will serve. As Christians we choose to be servants of Christ first and servants to one another in His name.
That's the truth about freedom. That's why the flag's symbol is so important to us. Freedom is liberty to choose whom you will be a servant to. This is an important insight to consider during this month we celebrate our nation's independence. Freedom is a privilege. A privilege worth fighting for. Many of our nation's men and women have fought for it heroically. It is not the freedom from responsibility to God, to ourselves, to our nation, or to the world. The freedom our flag stands for is the freedom to serve God, to serve community, to serve the least among us, to serve nation, and to serve the world in a way that God wants us to serve.
That is the hard truth about freedom. And without God, without God's creative, awesome power at the center of our understanding of freedom... We can never be truly free.