I was reminded, this morning, of a definition of wisdom. Smart people learn from their mistakes while wise people learn from the mistakes of others. Replace ‘mistakes’ with the general experiences we all have, and I think it’s even more accurate.
In the case of the church, which is “always reforming” as we are called to be, this means moving forward in new ways of ministry while still being faithful to the foundation of our faith. This foundational faith of the love of God and neighbor, as well as the understanding of the personal nature of love and value attributed to us by God, helped shape our nation’s constitution.
On Independence Day, we celebrate our civil and religious freedoms as we remember the founding of our nation. There has always been a tension between our religious and political identities. Even our founding fathers disagreed on the relationship between faith and politics. And while our founders’ disagreements usually sparked heated but fruitful debates, my experience is that our modern civics have become less civil.
It’s important to remember that as the people of Christ, we are dual citizens. We are citizens of a nation, of course; but we are also citizens of the Kingdom of God. We are called to not only recognize the freedoms of our fellow countrymen, but to see them as those who bear the Imago Dei, or Image of God. Each person is so loved by our God that the Son was sent to die for them, as he died for us. And as we testify to God’s faithfulness to us and to our own faith in our Lord, we are called to love, to serve, to encourage, and to exhort those around us.
What kind of prayer can embody our enduring ideals while also recognizing our place as citizens in our nation? Though I could write a prayer in my own words, wisdom calls me to look back at the words of our founding fathers. They answered the cherished call within their own hearts and carried the burden of love for our nation and its citizens in balance with our role in the global community.
So today, I offer these words of prayer from President George Washington, as adapted from his circular letter to the state governors and representatives written on June 8, 1773:
“I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation. Amen.”
May we embrace our citizenship in our great nation, as those who are embraced by the grace of Christ and are citizens in his Kingdom ought to: by doing justice (and seeing it done), loving kindness (even to those with whom we disagree) and walking humbly with our God (every day).