How do we celebrate Independence Day as Christians?
As Americans, it’s hard not to go to July 4th.
But as Christians, isn’t our real independence day Easter? Isn’t that the day we find freedom from sin, guilt and failure?
Here’s the dilemma for U.S. Christians. We read our biblical story into our national story. We wed biblical redemption to national redemption. Jesus saves us to be Americans.
Is that the biblical story?
Jesus preached the Kingdom of God. This was a vision of community rooted in inclusive community, justice and tolerance.
It was a vision of family rooted in God as loving parent with members of the community living together as sisters and brothers.
Of course, the Kingdom of God was not without its nationalistic implications. There were many Jews, including followers of Jesus, who wanted Israel to be the dominant kingdom; that is still true for today.
However, that was not Jesus’ vision. He saw the Kingdom of God as a place where the weak and vulnerable had a chance.
He talked about the blessed poor and the “the least of these.” He had a vision of community where the most powerless and the most weak were the most protected and the most valued.
We don’t do that much anymore.
And why not?
Why is it so threatening to talk about the weak, the poor, the desperate – the thrown-away of our society? It’s almost as if the needs of the needy are a threat to our existence.
And are they? Do the needy threaten to put our existence at risk?
They do if our goal is to live a life of privilege, a life of prosperity – a life of abundance.
But suppose what God has in mind is a shared life. What if God dreams of a life of shared abundance – a life where everyone has enough and no one has more than they need or less than they need.
Here is the Kingdom dream: that God’s will is done on Earth as it is in heaven. Imagine a world where everyone has enough. Imagine a world where God’s resources are distributed equitably.
Now politicians call this socialism because that serves the cause of the upper class. God calls this justice because it serves the cause of those who have no one to speak for them.
How would you feel if no one spoke for you?
There was no Fox News? There was no MSNBC? No one.
Jesus speaks for you. I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was in prison and you visited me. I was sick and you did not deny me health care.
Well, it’s the Fourth of July. It’s our time to celebrate our national independence. We are free to do what we want.
We can be as self-serving as we want. We can be as selfish as we want. We can be as intolerant and partisan as we want. It’s all what freedom means.
Or, we can rise to a higher level of citizenship – both nationally and internationally. We can aspire to a vision of the Kingdom of God that calls us to our higher angels and to a community that elevates everyone – and especially the least of these, those that Jesus seemed to have special regard for.
I was hungry, and you fed me – and you did not condemn me for being hungry.
James L. Evans is a retired Baptist preacher living in Alabama. Over 35 years, he served churches in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia. In support of his pastoral work, Evans published 5 books including “First and Second Corinthians: Immersion Bible Studies” (Abingdon Press (2011).