America the Beautiful

Today in church we sang America the Beautiful to open up the service. At first, I thought it was a little inappropriate if not a little bit cheesy. I love the Fourth of July, but I went to church for a spiritual message, not superficially patriotic plug. I quickly realized this was a stupid impulse. I had never before sung any other verse of the song other than the first, the most popular. Little did I know that the other neglected words would have so much wisdom for us. The song shows that our country’s history, character, and spirit all exist by the grace of God. This time of year we treasure our independence from all rulers apart from God, an independence to be dependent on God Himself.

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

When we talk about Independence Day, we rarely if ever think about the day as gaining independence from Britain. Of course, that is what came after years of war, but liberation from Britain never seems to be a focal point of the Fourth of July celebrations. I think this separates us from many the independence days of other countries in the sense that those days mark the point at which liberty was won by war. Our independence day marks the moment at which our forefathers jointly asserted a truth they held absolute, namely that all men had inalienable rights and should any tyrannical power threaten those rights, men had a further right to establish a government based in liberty. On the one hand, that document agreed upon in early July of 1776 was just an idea. Ideas and ideals, points of view and opinions. They are not worth very much by themselves. Why don’t we, like other countries, celebrate the day the war ended instead of the day it took full force? It is because the ideals are the ground on which our country stands! The sensibilities of the founding fathers, the forward thinking of those men, the commitment to truth, the heroism to fight for principles like justice, law, and liberty…It is all these things that made America and made it great! John Adams would testify to this. He knew that true victory would be won not on the battlefield but in the hearts and minds of countrymen as they realized their infinite value and human dignity. He knew that if they would assert a worldview in which men are of equal worth in God’s eyes, they would do everything to uphold their rights against oppressive powers. He knew that it was in the ideal where the miracle would occur. As you may know, Adams made a hypothesis about Independence Day that borders on prophesy. He expected that would be a day of great celebration for years to come, and he even went into the nature of the celebration, describing neighborhood picnics and everything. Of course, he thought the day would be July 2nd, the day the day on which the Congress voted in favor of the Declaration of Independence, but no matter. He knew then that the war began as a war of principle, that there are ideas worth celebrating.

John Adams also knew that whatever success America would see would be through the Grace of God. I love how this song reiterates in every stanza how utterly dependent we are on God. It is for Him to mend our flaws and establish His law. It is for Him to define success not as the world defines it but as it pertains to all things Holy. It is by His Grace that we may indeed be a peaceful community, striving to live and die for the promise of His Kingdom, His law, and His love finally being established. He is the main actor in our country’s fate. The song makes this utterly clear. The founding fathers established a country in which we preserve our liberty to be servants of God. Though it may sound like a contradiction, being free to be in service, it is really a beautiful thing. Our government of the people, by the people, and for the people, establishes those people to be the government’s source of authority. Leaders serve us, we do not serve leaders. Because of this beautiful system, we then are free to worship and serve whatever higher authority we deem worthy of our attention. In this sense, we are independent to be dependent on God. We give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and God what is God’s. This means that commit ourselves to civic duties for the sake of community, but we give our allegiance to God, our very creator, for the sake of His Kingdom coming.

I like to think of July Fourth as a second Thanksgiving. Along with seeing a lot of people and eating a bunch of food, both holidays ought to be times of reflection, evaluation, and abundant thanks. I love my freedoms. I burst with ecstasy at the realization that I can live in a country where I am free to assert two kinds of citizenship: the first in a country stronger and better designed than any other in history, and a second in the Kingdom of God. I thank God for America and pray that He will indeed shed His Grace upon her.

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Filed under Life, Running Commentary on whatever tickles the fancy

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