True Freedom

This July, I’ve been thinking of many of the songs that I learned in school and have associated with the Fourth of July for a long time. Songs like America the Beautiful and Battle Hymn of the Republic… God Bless America, others like This is My Country and Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever.

In thinking of some of these songs and their celebratory nature, I was reminded of a psalm I preached on earlier this summer. Psalm 150 is a celebration of all that God has done and yet the psalmist doesn’t tell us why to praise God, or for what, but rather how to praise God– and the answer according to the psalmist is with everything we’ve got.

This psalms caps off the entire book of psalms, throughout which there is much lament and sorrow. To me, it’s so important that these words are included in the book of psalms, if for no other reason to remind those of us who grew up in the American culture– which prizes optimism and positivity– that God is with us in the depths and that there is nothing we can’t say to God.

But the book of psalms also reminds us that though lament is a part of our life of faith, it is not the whole story. And often, praise bursts out in the middle of a lament psalm, and reminding us that it is all part of our life of faith. Even still, at the very last, the final word will be one of praise and celebration.

This reality brings me back to summer celebrations and especially those that are centered around love for our country. The way I look at it, there are many hallelujahs that we can say…for our freedoms, for those who have served to protect us, and for the many privileges we have as citizens of the United States.

However, even as we celebrate our country, it’s important to remember that while there are many wonderful things about our country, for all too many, the ideals of our nation are still yet to become a reality. Yes, there’s a lot we have to celebrate, but there is also more work for us to do.

That’s why, it’s important to remember that our true freedom comes in and through Christ. As Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “If the Son– Jesus– has set you free, you are free indeed” (John 8:36). This reality often brings me back to the Lutheran teaching that explains how, as followers of Christ, we are both saint and sinner. Simultaneously. Always. That’s the reason we confess our sins each time we worship together, because we know we are forgiven and that God loves us as we are, but we are still human.

Which means that none of us is perfect nor knows everything; we each have something to give but also something to learn. And since that is the case with us as individuals, it is also the case with the systems of which we are a part– our communities, our families, our world.

This is one of the reasons one of the patriotic songs I like best is titled, This Is My Song. In the verses, Lloyd Stone acknowledges love for his own country, but he also balances that with the love that others feel around the world for their nations. I appreciate the way this song captures the gratitude and pride we can feel for our country while also acknowledging that there is beauty and gifts in other countries as well and that being patriotic isn’t mutually exclusive of respecting, honoring, and finding the good in other places as well.