By Pastor John Schwehn
On this July 4th Sunday, we give thanks to God for the gift of freedom. Our freedom from living under authoritarian rule or occupation in these United States makes lives of self-determination and self-government possible. Wave the flag, launch the fireworks, ring the bells! This weekend, we celebrate this nation home which God so richly blesses.
This month, we also begin a series of reflections on our core value of Growing Compassion, which states: We value God’s calling to care for all creation through compassionate justice, service, and prayer. As people of faith on this 4th of July weekend, we celebrate not only our freedom from but also our freedom to. God’s grace has freed us from the power of death, from the need to constantly worry about the status of our own salvation. Our ultimate freedom comes in Christ, on the cross and the empty tomb. God’s love and forgiveness sets us free every day! This good news (our freedom from) gives us callings to love and to serve (freedom to).
Indeed, the church bears powerful witness to the truth that my claim to freedom is inextricably bound up with the freedom of my neighbor and the freedom of the planet from which I am created. If we didn’t know this before, the pandemic offered a crash course of this truth. Before the widespread availability of vaccines, I was not safe from infection until my neighbors were also safe from infection. My health indirectly and directly impacted the health of others. Or, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – a singularly great American – famously wrote in 1963: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly…Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider.”
So perhaps this holiday weekend is the perfect time to begin reflecting on our call to Growing Compassion, on our freedom to love even more deeply our planet home, our fellow Americans, our God who creates us in freedom and also gives us callings and responsibilities of care.
When rooted in Christ, freedom is broader, more joyful, more challenging, and more meaningful than a narrow understanding of our right to individual liberties and choices. Instead, when we find our true freedom in Christ, we celebrate that we belong to one another. We celebrate the freedom in which we all were created while also striving for that “more perfect union” (as articulated in the preamble of The Constitution) in which all Americans, our planet home, and all people everywhere live lives of true dignity, freedom, and justice.
 Letter from Birmingham Jail, which can be accessed here: