Yesterday was Independence Day, July 4th. It seems as if we pull out all the stops to celebrate the day we declared independence from England and the rule of the monarchy. We decided we needed to be free. And so, our inner patriot comes out in full Red, White & Blue on this day every year.

I want to take a moment to think about what it really means to be free. Are we really free? Are we a nation of free people? We say its so. We sing it in the National Anthem. The first stanza is all we commonly sing when we stand at ball games and other events where the anthem is played. But the last line of that anthem ends in a question, not a statement. “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, o’re the land of the free and the home of the brave?” The author wasn’t sure if the flag was still there, if the land of the free actually did exist. The last line of the second stanza says, “Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam, Tis the star-spangled banner – O long may it wave o’re the land of the free and the home of the brave!” And then the final stanza truly hits a high note with “Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, and this be our motto – ‘In God is our trust,’ and the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave o’re the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

We are proud of our homeland and of the sacrifices made by so many, that we enjoy the life we live. But freedom is only real and tangible when all persons are free, and equal in their treatment under the law of the land. When we have had two more mass shootings, one in Philadelphia (the home of brotherly love), and one in Baltimore this past holiday weekend. Is the freedom to live unmolested, unharmed, unafraid as important as the right to have devices intended for war?

The right to hate our neighbors because of their religion, or their skin color, or their politics, or their love for those of the same gender, is that the freedom we are so proud of?

Fannie Lou Hamer, an activist in the 1960’s delivered a speech at the National Women’s Political Caucus in Washington, D.C., July 10, 1971. She said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” I ascribe to that ideal. God wills for all God’s children that they live in peace and harmony. Freedom contributes to that peace and harmony. We should be guarding everyone’s freedom as jealously as we profess our own.

This past week someone posted on FaceBook the lyrics of a song by my friend Garth Brooks. Garth writes;
“This ain’t comin’ from no prophet,
Just an ordinary man.
When I close my eyes,
I see the way this world shall be
When we all walk hand in hand.
When the last child cries for a crust of bread,
When the last man dies for just words that he said,
When there’s shelter over the poorest head,
We shall be free.
When the last thing we notice is the color of the skin,
And the first thing we look for is the beauty within;
When the skies and the oceans are clean again,
Then we shall be free.
We shall be free, we shall be free.
Stand straight, walk proud,
‘Cause we shall be free.
When we’re free to love anyone we choose,
When this world’s big enough for all different views,
When we all can worship from our own kind of pew,
Then we shall be free.
We shall be free, we shall be free
Have a little faith, hold out,
‘Cause we shall be free.
And when money talks for the very last time,
And nobody walks a step behind;
When there’s only one race,
And that’s [hu]mankind, then we shall be free.
We shall be free ,we shall be free”

I think Garth nailed it in these verses. When we make sure all have plenty to eat, a place to lay their head, that is real freedom. When we treat others as children of God, and not as cast offs, then we will know real freedom. When we no longer divide each other by race, color, religion, orientation, then that’s when freedom will arrive. When we treat our lands, rivers, oceans, and air with a true stewardship, freedom will be had by all of us.

I hope and pray this recent national holiday will give us each pause to contemplate how we can continue to fight for and bring to fruition the freedom we sing about. May God’ love enfold us and push us ever forward to extend freedom and true harmony and love to all.

Your fellow traveler on the Way,
Pastor Tom

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