America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self-control,
thy liberty in law.

From the second verse of America the Beautiful,
which was originally written as a prayer for the United States.

Dear Friends in Christ,

My note to you this week is not considerably different from the note I’ve sent last two Fourth of July holidays. The best research available indicates that we need to hear something between three and seven times before we remember it…so until I find something better to say, I’ll lean into the conviction that there are some things which just bear repeating!

Yesterday, the United States of America celebrated its 248th birthday. Most of us enjoy this holiday, myself included! We are eager to celebrate, once again, what it means to live in a nation committed from its founding, to freedom. We are eager to give thanks for our many freedoms, freedoms that we know so many around the world live without. It is my personal practice – and I would invite you to do the same – every time you see or hear a firework, offer a prayer for our service men and women.

As people of faith, the holiday weekend inevitably brings up a question that believers have been wrestling with since our nation’s founding: What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ AND to be a citizen of the United States? Like those who came before us, it is our turn to wrestle with this question in our time.

As you wrestle with this question and your answer to it, I offer you two faithful guideposts:

#1: When we come to church, we are rarely neutral. We can’t just leave our opinions, our thoughts, our identities, and our experiences at the door. Likewise, we cannot leave our faith inside the sanctuary at the end of worship. To say our lives don’t inform our faith would be a lie. To say our faith doesn’t inform our lives would be a tragedy. And yet, we all come to church each week, because regardless of where you fall on our current political spectrum, you are seeking a relationship with God.

#2: God does not have a national or political allegiance and to claim otherwise is a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is perhaps the most important reminder and, for some of us, the hardest to hear. Perhaps it is difficult to hear because while God does not have a national allegiance, we do. We are citizens of a particular country. We have political allegiances and convictions. We have opinions, ideas, and we live out our faith in the context of the nation where we reside. Perhaps it is difficult to hear because we consider ourselves persons of deep faith and of deep patriotism. Perhaps it is difficult to hear, as it requires us to admit out loud that sometimes we misconstrue the truth of “God loves us and is always with us” to the untruth of “God is always on my side and I am always right.” Whatever the reason, it is important to keep this guidepost before you as you wrestle.

Above the doors to the Princeton Seminary Library, there is an inscription, drawn from Luke 12: To whom much is given, of them, much will be required. We live in a nation founded on the idea of freedom and yet for as long as this nation has existed, we have wrestled with what this means to live free. Whether you come to this year’s Fourth of July proud and excited, anxious and despairing, or a little of all of the above, perhaps one of the best prayers we can pray is one we have been singing together since 1893:

America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.

Our nation’s 248th year is not only an accomplishment, it is a gift. A gift which will require much from us, once again, as followers of Jesus Christ. May we meet it with humility, courage, and faith.

May you and yours have a safe and fun Fourth of July weekend.

See you in church!
Pastor Molly