For the church in the USA, the Fourth of July is always problematic for worship teams. While not a religious holy day, there is an expectation from many that at least some recognition of the day is required. We don’t disagree, but the question becomes one of mood as much as structure. How do we approach a celebration of nation in a moment dedicated to the worship of the God of all creation? The God to whom we consistently pledge our deepest, or highest allegiance? Some wrestling with this question would help the worship team approach the day with new perspectives and an appreciation for the complexity of the subject. And every nation has to struggle with the trend toward nationalism that can overwhelm our faith if we don’t tread carefully.
Perhaps the twin disciplines of gratitude and confession would be helpful here. We can begin with the overwhelming sense of gratitude for the many blessings we have received, even as we acknowledge that we have not always been good stewards of the resources of this world. A proper sense of humility can help us avoid the excesses of nationalism.
Last year on this date, we discussed how the idea of “independence” isn’t really a Christian concept. (Click here for that conversation.)
Our selected texts for this year help us grapple with independence versus relationship. The 2 Samuel text begins with a plea for a treaty based on familial ties. The Gospel text presents a reinterpretation of the concept of “home” as we considered shared mission and ideals. (See Preaching notes for more.) Perhaps this is an approach that will help the worship team design an experience that highlights common bonds and relationships of caring and service that lift up all people in a nation of high ideals. Perhaps an emphasis on the tapestry of diversity and creativity in our nation would open eyes to what truly ties us together as a nation. Here, too, there is room for confession of how we have not always seen the other, particularly those who might not look like us outwardly, as our bone and flesh. We have dismissed those who are not like us as somehow less than we are.
Discipleship begins with relationship. With whom are we willing to be in relationship? Who is included in our understanding of bone and flesh? Who is “us” in a world of “us” and “them”? Worship on this day can be about drawing the circle as wide as possible – to acknowledge our common kinship through the Spirit. Let there be less of a nation of boasting and more of a nation striving to be the light on the hill, the shining example of the kin-dom of heaven on earth.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.