On our Independence Day July 4th, we celebrate the enormous freedoms, opportunities, and prosperity we enjoy as citizens of this great land. We remember the heroic sacrifices of those who helped purchase these freedoms and opportunities. Simultaneously, we remember that our history is marred by our failures to embody what our founders envisioned. We have a history that is marked by slavery, violence, civil war, poverty, and injustice.
I find it increasingly imperative for Anglican followers of Jesus Christ to frame every conversation around the Bible. Every conviction we hold about our history, our government, and the problems we face today stands under the judgment of God’s word. In a culture that Carl Trueman and others have categorized by the rise of the modern “emotive self,” Christians need to be a different kind of people – a biblical people. We must have the courage to reference God’s word and declare the universal truth he proclaims about us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We need to declare boldly that the only cure for our ruined hearts and minds is the blood of Jesus Christ, his death, and resurrection for all people (John 14:6)—regardless of race, economic status, or gender (Galatians 3:26-27).
The Bible also has something to say about our desire for a better country from the lesson appointed in our Lectionary (BCP 2019) for July 4th from Hebrews 11:9,10:“By faith [Abraham] went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”
Our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, lived as aliens and sojourners in the real estate God gave them because they knew God had a much better gift in mind—a city with eternal foundations whose designer and builder is God himself! That faith conviction was passed on from generation to generation among the people of God.
Similarly, the Good News of the Gospel is not about real estate, a political agenda, party, or program, nor is it about any one country above others. At the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the conviction that we belong to another place—a place Jesus himself calls “my Father’s house where there are many rooms!” (John 14) As God reminded Abraham, and us through the Apostle Paul, our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:20).
We know that heavenly country has not yet arrived but with eyes of faith through the lens of the Bible, we look at evil, suffering, violence, and degradation remembering that this earth is not our home, but we don’t stop there. We respond by looking to God’s promise of a better country, a heavenly city whose foundations God himself has laid (Hebrews 12:22-24). Therefore, we have confidence that God will allow his heavenly city to touch our earthly cities from time to time and give people a taste of that better country, our heavenly home. God wants us to be ambassadors of that heavenly city to give our cities, communities, friends, and neighbors a taste of heaven.
God uses his faithful and obedient ones to bless where there has been a curse. He used Abraham to rescue his pagan neighbors from invading armies (Gen. 14:18ff) and Joseph’s wisdom to provide food in famine-wracked Egypt. When God’s people humbled themselves, prayed, and sought his face, He healed the Kingdom of Judah and the city of Jerusalem during the reign of King Josiah. We can see the heavenly Jerusalem touching earthly Jerusalem on Pentecost when God poured out his Holy Spirit, and revival broke out. The church came together, people were healed, miracles multiplied, and needs were met (Acts 2:42-47). Through the Church, the heavenly city came down and began to shape human cities with social and economic consequences, and the Church enjoyed favor as the Lord added to their number daily.
At the turn of the 20th century, some Christians in Wales prayed faithfully for a new Pentecost. The result was the Welsh revival. Conservatively, 150,000 people in Wales surrendered their lives to Christ. Crime rates went down, judges had empty dockets in their courts, husbands stopped spending their family’s wages in the pubs, and both family income and quality of life improved dramatically as fathers returned home. Manufacturers reported that workers turned out better goods. Trade union disputes were settled. Longstanding conflicts between churches and communities were healed. The city of God came down and touched the cities of Wales with a glimpse of that better country although the results have not been permanent. God seems to give such glimpses of heavenly realities so people turn to Christ and receive a new heavenly home that will last forever.
One day, the City of God will displace and replace every secular city and kingdom on earth (see Daniel 2), and Jesus will reign. Until that day comes, our job as citizens of Heaven is to do all we can in word and deed to bring the kingdom of God, the City of God, to bear on our earthly cities. Yes, we must pray for revivals of biblical proportions to break out, but the lessons appointed for July 4th give us hints of what we can do in addition while we pray for revival:
- Proclaim the “better country,” the Kingdom of God, with the same courage and conviction as the heroes of Hebrews 11;
- Love others as Jesus would including the foreigners who live among us (see Deut. 10:17-21), those with whom we disagree, those with whom we are in conflict, and those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-48); and
- Live as Jesus did as a citizen of that heavenly country with his outgoing compassion for the lost and the suffering, and with the same generosity of spirit that Jesus demonstrated.
Lord God, by your providence our founders won their liberties of old: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to exercise these liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. AMEN. (Collect for Independence Day July 4 BCP 2019 at 636)