Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:3-5).
What does the word "pray" on this banner mean, anyway? What about mourning those who were violently kicked out of this land, who were killed? Who are the Sioux that we recall every time we say the name of our town or county? Who are they today? Where are they today? How would they feel coming into a sanctuary filled with this flag, and one combined with the cross? How would a Christian visiting from elsewhere feel? How would I feel if I was visiting another country that was celebrating its military in a church sanctuary, a worship service?
We should remember those who have died. We should be thankful for our freedom. But at the same time, we can, and should, question to whom our primary allegiance lies, and we should always assess whether or not we are following the way of Jesus.
In the book The Good and Beautiful Community, James Bryan Smith relates a story about William Penn and George Fox, both Quakers. Fox was the founder of the movement and Penn became a Quaker at age 23.
It was common in Penn's day to wear a sword, which was not intended to harm anyone but was a sign that the wearer belonged to the upper class. After becoming a Quaker, Penn struggled with whether he should wear the sword. After all, it was a symbol of war as well as class distinction--two things Quakers stood squarely against.So Penn went to Fox, his mentor, to seek guidance on the matter. 'May I continue to wear the sword?' he asked Fox. I would have expected Fox to say, 'No, you must get rid of it. Turn it into a plowshare and never wear anything like it again.' Instead, George Fox offered a response that is a touchstone for me in the area of Christian living. He said, 'Wear it as long as you can, William, wear it as long as you can.' (page 35).
In church yesterday we sang thesesongs:
And we heard about the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. We heard about people from all nations being in Jerusalem and hearing the gift of tongues poured out from the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost. We have an image of that barrier of language torn down, a reversal of the tower of Babel. Our focus was turned from our national holiday that is only about us to a day when people of all nations were together, united in the Spirit of Christ.
And we have drifted so far from that day.
The first few hundred years of Christianity were marked by pacifism, yet, over time, we have come to identify primarily with our country of origin more so than Jesus' other-worldly kingdom. We don't really trust God, despite what our currency says. We instead place our trust in humankind and governments created by humankind.
And so, I will look at that banner, and I will pray.
I will pray that we will learn the way of Jesus.
I will pray that we will see a time when "nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." (Isaiah 2:4)
I will pray that we will seek the Spirit's leading so that we will produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
I will pray that we will recognize that there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Ephesians 4:5) and that distinctions based on gender or nationality do not exist in Christ (Galatians 3:28).
I will pray that we will love our enemies, pray for our persecutors, bless them, and not repay evil for evil. (Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:16-17).
I will pray that the Spirit will move like a wind among us, encouraging us, teaching us, and capturing our hearts so that there is no doubt to whom we belong. That we will see not only glimpses here and there of the kingdom of heaven but that they would be more regular, more powerful, and more beautiful than we can even imagine. That we will fight evil with love, that our hearts will break for what breaks God's heart, that all Christ-followers will let the Spirit move in their hearts and minds and souls and bring them life.
I will pray that we will come to a time when we no longer have to remember the deaths of so many, but instead, will celebrate life and resurrection of all, when we see "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands." (Revelation 7:9)
I will pray for those in Christ to seek him, and to follow him, no matter the cost.
I will pray for the freedom that we can only find in Christ.