The Wonder of Patriotism

Mark 6: 1-6

A shepherd is abiding in the fields, keeping watch over his flock by day. And it comes to pass that he hears the sound of an approaching car. Suddenly, a brand-new BMW emerges out of a cloud of dust and into view. The driver lowers the tinted window and leans out far enough to ask the unsuspecting shepherd: If I tell you exactly how many sheep you have in your flock, will you give me one? The shepherd looks sheepishly (sorry!) at the man, then turns to gaze on his grazing flock. Sure, he replies.

The enterprising stranger thereupon parks his car, whips out his notebook computer, connects it to a cell phone, surfs to the NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite navigation system. He scans the area, opens a database and Excel spreadsheet with complex formulas. He sends an e-mail from his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response. Finally, he prints out a lengthy report on his portable printer. He turns to the shepherd and says, you have exactly 1,586 sheep.

That is correct; take one of the sheep, the shepherd says. He then steps back and watches as the young man selects one of his animals and bundles it into his car.

Then the shepherd says, If I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me my animal back? “Okay, why not?” the confident young man replies. Clearly, you are a consultant, says the shepherd. “That is correct,” says the young man, “but how did you guess?” No guessing required, answers the shepherd. You turned up here, although nobody called you. You want to get paid for the answer to a question I already knew, and you don’t know anything about my business. Now give me back my dog!

He was pretty far away from where he should have been! Sometimes I wonder how far away we are from those first Patriots, and how they defined, Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness.

America at the time of its revolution has been compared to an adolescent who wasn’t allowed to grow so it reacted in rebellion. And yet they weighed their decision and realized the grave consequences that were ahead. When Jefferson hesitated with the final decision to declare Independence he is reported to have agreed for the sake of being united, saying, “yes, we must hang together.” Franklin is said to have replied, “We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Have you ever wondered what the tone was as they gathered to sign those first papers? One historian recorded that the Founders made jokes about the gallows, stating that they must hang together. One representative from Rhode Island recorded that there was not a look of fear on any of the faces as they signed the Declaration of Independence. Each of the Founders had a lot to lose.

Have you ever read what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence?

These were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They had means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more. Standing tall, straight, and unwavering, they pledged: “For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

When you read what happened to them, you will see that they lost everything except their sacred honor.

How far are we from that today? I think we would all agree that we have drifted a long way from those first days of patriotism.

You have heard this conversation before. One man asks another what two things are wrong with our country. “I don’t know and I don’t care.” The first man said, “You got them both right. I don’t know – ignorance, and I don’t care – apathy.”

We can all be better patriots. As a country we can become better educated about what it means to be a democracy and more interested in preserving the ideals of freedom. As a church we can become the instrument of that education and devotion. When the church demonstrates the respect and love for others that God commands, it leads the nation, and we know that when America leads, the whole world follows.

The church proclaims the definition of true freedom- we do not have a license to do anything we please. True freedom accepts boundaries that help preserve the rights and protection of its citizens. The church teaches that humanity must accept and adhere to limits in order to survive and thrive.

We teach this in the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. God tells the first humans to enjoy the fruit of the garden except for one tree. The freedom of Adam and Eve is unable to be kept within its limits and they put themselves in danger by going against God’s explicit rule.

In a prior church we sent missionaries to Honduras. One of the rules given before departure was that no one was to drink the water in the village. Later a volunteer became ill and said, “I didn’t know that applied to the shower water, too.”

Humanity tends to ignore those basic rules given to us for our own protection. A friend of mine stated that he enjoyed church but wished that God could have just simplified everything. “Everything kind of gets lost for me. All of the stories and people in the Bible. What I want is a list of what to do for my life…a practical list that I can live by,” he stated. I referred him to the Ten Commandments and said, “God gave a list to Moses on top of Mount Sinai. He carved the top ten list in stone!”

If we could only keep that list perfectly! Thank goodness we are saved by the grace of God, not by keeping the law perfectly, but yet we are all called to strive to live by God’s perfect law. Jesus teaches that God calls everyone to live by the law, but we are saved by grace. We need to remind ourselves to look again to the Ten Commandments. Those are the boundaries of our life. If we could live within those borders, wouldn’t our lives be safer…our marriages, our friendships, our work, our homes, our selves….wouldn’t we be closer to God?

Today we are singing some patriotic hymns. Recall the line in “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies” from verse 2…. “a thoroughfare for freedom beat across the wilderness.” That hymn balances the freedom with a vital statement…“confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.” The delicate balance of liberty in law is what makes our country so noble. They do hang in the balance, law and liberty, freedom and responsibility. They are partners in the journey toward greater fulfillment in life.

Reminders of this are found throughout the Bible, such as these three Scriptures:

Galatians 5:13 – “For you were called to freedom… only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self indulgence…”

1 Corinthians 8:9 – “Take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak…”

1 Peter 2:16 – “As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.”

Freedom calls us as it called those first disciples and those first American patriots to live in authentic community. We are called to independence, but also called to join together sometimes at great risk to preserve freedom’s communal gifts, such as the privilege of worshipping together as we please. When our church respects the rights of others to worship, a dialog opens. When dialog begins, change is possible and we are able to see outside of our own wants to the needs of others. I consider how those first patriots put their selves at such risk in order to give the gift of freedom to us. Throughout our nation’s history our armed men and women have followed the example of the first patriots. Our freedom is secured through their courageous risk and most times at great cost. A true patriot’s calling comes from deep inside. It seeks to preserve the rights to live as God intended, not only the rights of self, but the rights of others. There may be a moment in your life when you are called to defend the freedom of another.

A woman had been riding a city bus home from work in Munich in Nazi Germany when SS storm troopers suddenly stopped the coach and began examining the identification papers of the passengers. Most were annoyed — but a few were terrified. Jews were being told to leave the bus and get into a truck around the corner. She watched from her seat in the rear as the soldiers systematically worked their way down the aisle. She began to tremble, tears streaming down her face. When the man next to her noticed that she was crying, he politely asked her why. “I don’t have the papers you have. I am a Jew. They’re going to take me.” The man exploded with disgust. He began to curse and scream at her and drew attention to the woman. The SS troops rushed over to see what all the yelling was about. The man shouted angrily, showing his papers. “My wife has forgotten her papers again!” The soldiers laughed and moved on.

As we travel through life, we are given opportunities to live patriotically. We are challenged to keep our eyes open so we can identify and respond to opportunities of defense. I believe God has given us freedom so we can help the world be free. Yes, not only our communities, but our world is hungry to be blessed by our patriotic heritage. Our American initiative can help others live with the basic human rights that God intends. Let us be challenged to let freedom’s responsibility be realized in every land.

We are not far from those first patriots in our calling to defend. We do not have to be enlisted soldiers. In our daily lives, we are challenged to defend freedom’s ring. We are faced with opportunities to keep liberty and law in balance just as those first patriots, and we must not let our light of freedom burn dim. It must not be dim, but as Jesus taught, we must let our lights shine!

God taught a prescription for a nation’s health in Second Chronicles verse 14: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and heal their land.” Our country needs the church’s humility and respect for humanity that God teaches us. We must strive to live within the limits of the garden and humbly proclaim God’s salvation to all through God’s beautiful grace.

Our nation needs the church and the church needs our nation. The open doors of the church are a premise of freedom- it is one of those rights American patriots have died for!

Without question, the greatest television show ever created is the Andy Griffin show. One of the earliest episodes of the show features Sheriff Andy Taylor trying to arrange Aunt Bee to be a replacement for his wife. Andy asks Aunt Bee to move in to provide the feminine touch for the house. He asks her to spend a day with his son, Opie. Opie and Aunt Bee spend the day fishing and looking for frogs. They try sports, throwing the football together. Of course every scene shows Aunt Bee failing miserably. When the day is over Aunt Bee is distraught. Opie goes to bed and she decides to go to the train station. Opie hears her crying beneath his bedroom window and runs downstairs. He tells his father that they cannot let her go since she cannot catch frogs, take a fish off of a hook, or throw a football. He states that she needs them in order to make it.

The church needs America and America needs the church! The church’s teaching of freedom gives a framework for being a citizen of America. It gives a realization of the sacred honor we have to be the family of God- especially in times of loss.

On this weekend celebrating the birthday of America, let us come to God humbly, opening our hearts to courageous action, mindful of the sacrifices that made us free. Let us be ready to defend our freedom as true patriots in our homes, our work, and our world. With great thanksgiving to God and to patriots throughout our nation’s history, let us celebrate with a call to be more patriotic, more faithful, more grateful for this great nation of America. Let us never forsake our privilege to live free. May God bless America!