Today in Small Towns..., Independence Day - 2005

July 4, 2005

Today in small towns and major cities across the United States there will be celebrations of liberty and freedom. “Old Glory” will wave, bands will play Sousa marches, and people will gather with ice cream, fried chicken, watermelon, and fireworks. Independence Day means gathering and celebration in many of the cultures that have come together to make America.

The Scriptures for today remind us that we came to this country as strangers. Most Americans were not the original inhabitants of this land. Some of our ancestors, and sometimes it was our parents, came seeking freedom from oppression, and some of us came under its yoke as slaves. Others who celebrate this day are descendants of those who were already here. It helps to remember today that how you came here has a great deal to do with how you celebrate the day. And the Declaration of Independence did not mean a lot to people who were Native Americans, or to people enslaved with no freedoms.

The Scriptures, particularly Deuteronomy and Hebrews, remind us of the place of the stranger. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy10: 19). Recent immigration issues have challenged all Americans. Legislation has sought to control if not eliminate immigration, and fear of foreigners is not an unusual event, as demonstrated by the rise in hate crimes against immigrants. We are conflicted about this as a nation because the very people who often do menial jobs in our society are often the stranger, the immigrant, people who seek the basics for their families back home—food and clothing.

Hebrews moves the subject of the stranger to a deeper level of insight, reminding us that…they were strangers and foreigners on the earth (Hebrews 11:13b). The text calls us to remember that we are all sojourners, dwellers in a land that is God’s, and we tarry here for a time, but not as permanent residents, for we desire a “better country.”

Many writers and speakers of all political persuasions will use language on this day to remind us that our freedom is never perfected until all humanity is truly free. As long as there are pople in bondage, as long as there are widows and orphans who are oppressed, as long as there are immigrants unwelcome and women and men without jobs, as long as children die of hunger, we are not truly free.

If we forget this, we tend to blame our imperfect freedom on others, instead of accepting responsibility for increasing it. Matthew leads us into this understanding with Jesus’ reminder to Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44). Loving our enemies has everything to do with our total freedom. As long as we hate, as long as we scapegoat, as long as we fear and despise those who differ from us, even hate us, we cannot truly be free.

This Independence Day is a day to celebrate the riches of freedom we have, and to give thanks for those who have made them possible. It is also a day to consider how we might increase our freedom by liberating others who are less free than ourselves. It is a day to remember that many of us were also once strangers, and that our hope comes not from the things we have been able to do for ourselves, but from the God who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). Perfection is not so much being good to those like us as it is being welcoming to the stranger. In doing this, we welcome the one who was here before us, and we show hospitality to nothing less than God, who gives us our true freedom.