Happy Fourth of July! On this day that we celebrate the founding of this great nation that we all love, it seems appropriate to begin the day in church with prayers for our country.
By any standards the past year has been a difficult one for America. There has been the pandemic and all the difficulties that accompany it. There has been the ongoing virus of racial injustice, which led to protests across the country.
There was a difficult and bitter presidential campaign. Endless and outrageous conspiracy theories that challenged the results of that fair election. An insurrection threatening to topple the very institutions we celebrate today. Escalating climate change that has led to ever more devastating wildfires in the West and hurricanes in the East, and difficult weather from sea to shining sea.
A Gallop poll last month found that only 36 percent of us are satisfied with the state of our country — and that’s a huge improvement from the first of the year, when that number dropped to 11 percent.
New York Times columnist David Brooks attributes much of the country’s dis-ease to a core problem.
“It amounts to a refusal on the part of lots of Americans to think in terms of the social whole — of what’s best for the community, of the common or public good.”
That has been made abundantly clear in the last year as so many of our fellow citizens refused to wear masks to help protect one another from the coronavirus, and now in the many who refuse to be vaccinated.
Maybe you’re thinking this is not a day to think about those things; it’s a day to celebrate all that is good in our country.
And celebrate we should. But holidays are time set aside not just for celebration, but for reflection, too. It’s a time to think about where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we’re going as a nation.
The scripture passages we read today are those our prayer book designates for the Fourth of July. They give us a lens through which we can reflect on this day, as Christians and as Americans.
In the reading from Deuteronomy, Moses is speaking to the people of Israel. Their long years of wandering in the wilderness are almost over. They are about to enter that long-promised land.
Moses relays some final instructions from God before they do cross over. He reminds them that God is the one “who executes justice for the orphan and widow; who loves the stranger, providing them food and clothing.”
“You shall also love the stranger,” God tells them, “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
In other words, remember your history, the good parts and the bad.
Then in Matthew’s gospel we hear Jesus say, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
These are instructions about the common good — caring for the poorest of the poor, welcoming immigrants, praying for our enemies, remembering our past. These are God’s values.
God judges a nation not by how wealthy its richest and most powerful citizens are, but by how the poor, the immigrants, the marginalized are treated.
God is always concerned about the common good.
Israel did not always live up to those ideals. Time and time again God sends prophets to call the nation back to those core values — care for the poor, the immigrants, the marginalized, the enemies. God’s greatest anger is provoked when they are forgotten.
Of course, America does not always live up to those ideals, either. We hold up our founding documents which say all are created equal. We memorize the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty — “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”