Independence Day is a time of great celebration. Parades are held, friends and family gather for cook-outs and get-togethers, and many places hold great fireworks shows. Politicians will make important speeches. The National Anthem will be sung, as well as popular patriotic songs like “God Bless America.” The name of God will be invoked.
In early July 1776, John Adams, who more than any other man was truly responsible for the creation and ratification of the Declaration of Independence, wrote a letter to his wife Abigail in which he said that this day “will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.” Adams’ prophecies about pomp and parades and celebrations were right on the money.
Today almost every politician will close his or her speech with the words “God bless America,” A 2008 survey found that 92% of Americans say they believe in God – or at least they believe in some type of universal spirit. But 70% also said that they believe that many religions can lead to eternal salvation, and only a quarter of those surveyed believe that there is only one way to interpret their religion’s teachings.
Now it may not have seemed like it so far, but my point today is not to give you a history lesson on Independence Day about the Declaration of Independence or about freedom of religion in North America. But rather, I want to remind you of the true independence that we Americans, that we Christians, that we Lutherans truly have in Christ Jesus our Savior. For as we hold our celebrations and cookouts and watch the fireworks, it is entirely fitting for us to pause and remember that our true independence comes not from a piece of paper signed by men like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, but by the suffering, death and resurrection of God’s own precious Son.
We like to think of the United States as the greatest nation on earth, the world’s champion of democracy and freedom. But we are increasingly a nation where “god” seems to be nothing more than a three-letter word, and in the name of tolerance – or perhaps just the fear of people making fun of us if we actually bother to stand up for our faith – the true God, the Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit can seem to become less and less important in our daily lives. It can become all too easy to concentrate on our own faith in God and conveniently ignore the fact that others do not have that same saving faith. It’s almost too easy to say things like “In God we trust” or “God bless America” while having no faith or conviction that those words are in any way true.
Because Jesus suffered and died for our sins and stands resurrected before us, we have been freed from the death sentence of sin – the sentence of eternal damnation in hell. We have been freed to live our lives as Christians who thank God for our blessings and who share that thankfulness with others. We have been freed to show and demonstrate our faith through good works and good deeds. Our constitutional freedom of religion – and more importantly, our unshakable belief that we have been saved by God’s grace and not by anything that we have ever done or ever will do – allow us to stand up and proudly confess our faith to anyone and to everyone, believer and nonbeliever alike.
When you hear this year’s patriotic speeches and songs or while you watch the fireworks display, I’d like to suggest that you pause – just for a moment – and thank the Triune God for the freedoms that we celebrate on Independence Day. Thank God for the blessings and privilege of living in a nation where we truly can worship whenever and wherever we wish. Thank God for the blessings and privilege of living in a nation where we can freely and without fear proclaim Jesus Christ and the true eternal independence that He has won for us. Thank God the Father for sending His beloved Son to suffer and die for our sins. Thank God the Son for willingly suffering the agonies of the cross and offering us the Easter joy of resurrection so that we can enjoy the eternal bliss of heaven. Thank God the Holy Spirit for bringing us to faith.
This message from Rev. Terry O’Brien is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project