Saturday is the Fourth of July, and all of us by now have made our plans for this festive and patriotic day. For many in our local area and many guests who have traveled to our city, it is the time for picnics, fireworks, balloons, music, flags – and sunburn.
I hope that somewhere in it all there will be a time for reflection on the meaning behind this celebration. It is a time when we look back and recall all of those persons and events that have contributed to the freedom we enjoy.
But let us not be so caught up in thoughts of the past that we fail to heed the challenge of the future.
In our annual observance of independence there are two dangers. The first danger is that we may embalm the events of the past, canonize our patriots, and do inordinate obeisance before their memories. We must avoid simply caressing our forebears or fondling antiquities.
The second and greater danger is to dredge up only our failures, our sins, our derelictions, and grovel in guilt and shame. The danger is in magnifying our defeats, becoming guilt-ridden, conscience-tormented, and so obsessed with negativism as to become inept and finally impotent.
We must address ourselves to the unsolved problems and the unfinished business, but to magnify our failures and neglect thanksgiving for achievements can deprive us of wisdom and hope for the future. Americans have been, and must be, a pioneering people . A little poem makes me think even more of this challenge:
“As the covered wagon rolled and pitched, Along the prairie track, One sat looking forward, And one sat looking back.”
It is the forward look – the spirit of the pioneer – that has been the genius of our nation. The past is helpful as a guidepost; but when it becomes a hitching post, it serves as an impediment to our onward march.
Our quest requires us to be open to the demands of the present and sensitive to the challenges of the future. Life must never become a conforming to the past. If we think in terms of yesterday’s abstractions, we are dead. The living faith of the dead may become the dead faith of the living!
The one thread that links the past, present, and future of this nation, and that which makes, I believe, this nation unique and great is the reality of “One Nation Under God. “ When Americans are most truly themselves, their ideals are religious ideals, their goals religious goals, their standards religious standards, their motivations religious motivations.
America is so much the product of the religious spirit that when religion ceases to infuse and inspire its life, America will cease to be America in its pristine sense. Allow vital religious faith to languish, and the whole structure will deteriorate.
Today we think of the pioneer American who faced the frontier and the future with three implements. He carried the axe, the gun, and the Book.
With his axe he felled the trees, built houses, his school, and his church.
With his gun he hunted game for his table, pelts for his livelihood, and protected himself from the predatory forces of the wilderness.
His Book contained the written Word of God and was the guide to forming his political institutions and the textbook of his education.
Today’s American no longer carries the axe, the gun, and the Book.
His axe has become his great industrial enterprise, and all the world sees that.
His gun has become the arsenal of the free world, and all humankind respects that.
Now the God of his Book would break through afresh to cleanse, redeem, anoint, and empower him for his third century as “one nation under God.”
Above all else America must become a great bastion of spiritual power.
With these personal reflections and challenges, I wish for each of you a safe, blessed, and joyous Fourth of July!