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quod pro nobis traditum est

Friday, July 02, 2010

On holidays and loyalties

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

In the United States of America this weekend draws focus on independence from Great Britain which legally took place on July 2, 1776. The adoption of the Declaration of Independence two days later on the 4th of July, 1776, set the precedent for the country's consequent annual commemoration and celebration of this date. This year the 4th of July falls on Sunday, the week-day set aside for regular worship by many Christians.

One of the ongoing questions Christians and people of all religions face is that of patriotism or national loyalty (which varies from country to country). Pastors often face people, even faithful members, who place loyalty to country over loyalty to God. Others simply equate these loyalties. In America, the 4th of July falling on a Sunday naturally highlights one aspect of independence, that of religious liberty. While the Declaration of Independence does not address this question directly as does the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration does speak of "Nature's God" and "certain unalienable Rights . . . among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Without pursuing this in much depth one might list "religious liberty," or the freedom to worship in public, among the "unalienable Rights" given to man by God, which are related to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Most Americans, being practically minded, will give little thought this weekend to such abstract questions. They will simply enjoy their freedom by enjoying time with family and friends at cookouts (including cooking brats, depending on what part of the country one lives in), baseball games, and other advantages of leisure. We are certainly free to take advantage of and enjoy these freedoms, for that is one of the privileges of our hard-fought and gained liberty. (Some Americans might not even notice this year that the 4th of July falls on a Sunday or what the 4th of July even means. What matters is that the grills will be lit.)

As Christians we need not get defensive about attending church on Sunday mornings, especially on the 4th of July. This is one of our freedoms. Having Christian or religious faith apart from loyalty to one's country does not equate with lack of patriotic loyalty. Neither is it necessary for churches to become centers of patriotic celebration on this upcoming Sunday morning. There is already plenty of celebration to go around the whole weekend. Some churches will bind themselves on Sunday mornings to patriotic themes. While there is freedom to do just that it need not be encouraged nor does this necessarily equate with faithfulness or loyalty to the faith that we confess, for example, in the Creed.

When Sunday falls on such an important national holiday as it does this year, our religious freedom is celebrated best in attending worship as we would on any other Sunday. The one hour or so focused on God and His gifts, including the freedom Christ has won for us on the cross, will not lessen our loyalty to the country, even when and where the focus is not on patriotic themes. Nor is such worship reason to focus on one's loyalty to God as compared with that of others. This is never the focus of worship and such loyalty is not about us either. Worship is about God's loyalty to us. Worship of God on this 4th of July serves as a witness and a great demonstration of the liberty we have received and enjoy in this country. This worship primarily serves as a vivid reminder and celebration of our citizenship which is in heaven, and our freedom as members of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church on earth.

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