Homily: Independence Day

Scripture Readings: for Peace and Justice, Lectionary 887-890

Lately I’ve had a chance to spend more time with my great-nephew, who’ll be 8 next month. We’ve played a lot of games, and sometimes if I’m not careful, the rules tend to change in the middle of the game. It’s not quite like Calvinball from Calvin and Hobbes, where Calvin makes up the rules as the game goes along, but I find myself saying to him what my parents said to me, and what I’m sure we’ve all said and heard a lot: “Play fair!”

“Play fair!” That’s something that summarizes a lot of our ideals as a country, and underlies a lot of our laws and expectations. Perhaps a more sophisticated version is the last phrase of the Pledge of Allegiance: “…with Liberty and Justice for all.” These concepts get blurred from time to time, but I think a brief reflection on them from a faith standpoint is helpful.

Liberty Christian Liberty shouldn’t be about freedom to do whatever we want, particularly in spite of how it affects others. As Pope Benedict XVI observed, true liberty is about “freedom for” or freedom to be what God has created us to be. Peace is the place where liberty finds its fullest flowering; war and conflict always demand we sacrifice of some liberty. Liberty is freedom to be people of charity, freedom to follow the Great Commandment, to love one another as Christ has loved us. Liberty is not something that can’t be enforced by weapons, nor bought by destruction, nor guaranteed by subjugation of others. Liberty is recognizing the God-given spirit within us which can never be taken away, and is more important than life itself.

Liberty is not what a strong leader says it is, and does not rely on the whims or largess of the powerful. Liberty grows from the ground up.

Justice Biblical Justice isn’t about a courtroom where they guilty are punished and innocent repaid. It is about making things right in the most thorough way possible. “Justice for all” would be superficial if it only meant convicting criminals and punishing the guilty; it is about being able to make the world a better place led by the Spirit. Justice is about being able to find a home and make a livelihood, being free to find honorable labor and being compensated adequately, being free to claim family and friends without prejudice or judgement. Justice is about being respected for who we are without being judged on one aspect of our lives, or what our potential worth is to an indifferent system. Justice leaves the past behind, and focuses on making things right for tomorrow.. Justice mandates the opportunity to heal the wounds of humanity and share hope, especially to those without hope. Like Liberty, Justice finds is full flowering in peace, for conflict temps us to easy resolutions imposed by force, where human life itself become a commodity rather than something sacred.

Justice can’t be dictated by authority; unless it is in our hearts, it is nowhere to be found.

We are fortunate to live in this country, and express our gratitude for the opportunity it gives us: the liberty to live as people of peace and justice. It’s not perfect: there are many who want liberty and justice only for themselves and their chosen few, and leaders on every level who try to play Calvinball. We are always a work in progress; God isn’t finished with any of us yet. Gratitude is appropriate for the chance to be here, and gratitude is something that should always overflow from our hearts, something we would wish to share with the world. It’s even something worth shooting fireworks to celebrate.

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