My father, a veteran of World War II, loved his country so deeply that he would stop along the roadside and walk into a stranger's yard to straighten a perilously tilted flag. It pained him to see this red, white and blue symbol of freedom so callously displayed.
This proud firstborn son of my father flies an American flag from the parsonage where I live so that motorists and pedestrians can see it. Our nation is far from perfect, but I am grateful to live here and want so very much for our nation to live up to the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution as we strive to achieve a "more perfect union."
But the love of country I share with my father is also shaped by my desire for that peaceable kingdom, the Kingdom of God for which every follower of Jesus hungers and thirsts. The Kingdom (some prefer the word "reign") of God has no flag except the cross of Christ, transcends all national boundaries, speaks no language except the language of love and mints no coin but the unmerited, unlimited grace of God.
This Sunday falls on our national birthday, giving those in the church another occasion to pray for our nation, thank God for our freedom and heritage and seek purifying guidance. In many congregations, worshipers will sing with ardor and thanksgiving about our spacious skies and our rocks and rills; remember amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties and alabaster cities. Many congregations will also celebrate the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, praying for and anticipating that Kingdom above all kingdoms.
Those who follow Jesus can love their country but ultimately pledge their allegiance to a higher kingdom. Too many of us obsess about whether the presence or absence of a flag pin on a lapel makes one a patriot. Instead, we should be living into the kingdom values taught by the Prince of Peace. When any kingdom collides with the Kingdom of God, Jesus' friends are compelled to renounce all other citizenships in order to claim that passport where love is the only law (Leviticus 19:8; Galatians 5:12-14).
Everybody lives in some specific nation; consequently there is nothing wrong with love of country, as long as it is not blind or arrogant. But as we salute the flag and rejoice over Sunday evening's fireworks, perhaps we will confess with our spiritual ancestors (Hebrews 11:13) that we are "strangers and foreigners on the earth." As such, we might recall the lyrics of Lloyd Stone's This is My Song:
"My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
"And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine,
"But other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
"And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
"O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
"A song of peace for their land and for mine."
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.