Over the course of this weekend pastors across the United States will stand and speak to what it means to live in the tension between our citizenship in heaven and our citizenship in the heartland. Some will step into their pulpits and wrap themselves in the flag. Others will stand so passionately behind the cross that the flag will fade from sight. I am not sure either do justice to what it means to live as a Christian in the United States. It seems that many think the terms are synonymous. Even a casual look across our culture will immediately show that this is not true. In Matthew 8 we encounter the story of the centurion in Capernaum who seeks the healing of his servant. The centurion lives as a symbol of the government and power. He recounts that when he spoke those under his authority responded to his commands without hesitation. But he also understands that Jesus represented a very different kind of power; the power of God. His desire to see the healing of his servant places a symbol of government at the feet of the one who will claim a cross.
I have a deep love for our nation. My home displays the red, while, and blue of the American flag with pride. My experiences as a missionary tell me that the freedom of faith and worship we experience here is a great gift that should be cherished and celebrated. But, it is clear to me that the first loyalty of my heart must be for this one named Jesus. We must be clear that the flag and the cross are not the same nor speak with the same authority. We are called to struggle with the tension to live as people under the authority of our land and the authority of God. We must acknowledge that we are “to give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” I must make sure that in my passion to proclaim, “God Bless America” that I do not fail to cry out, “America, Bless God….Seek God….Listen for God’s Voice.” We are a people that live between the freedom found in the flag and the life and eternal freedom found at the foot of the cross. We are called to be a people of faith and witness in the land where God has placed us. In our effort to find the cultural acceptance of our community we can not forfeit our voice of faith and our journey toward a right life with God. So, let us celebrate. Let the fireworks burst in the sky to proclaim the birth of a nation where we can claim religious liberty. Let us claim that liberty to give our whole lives to God.