Immanuel Lutheran Church
                     of Almelund, Minnesota

 

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Liberty and Justice for All

Pastor Marla Amborn

Immanuel Lutheran Church

July 1, 2018

Galatians 5:1-26 and John 3:16-17

 

We began our worship this morning pledging allegiance to two flags – the United States’ flag and the Christian flag. From the relative safety and comfort of this sanctuary there was no real risk in pledging our allegiance to either of these flags. There is no one here who would seek to prevent us from pledging our allegiance to God or country or would seek to punish us for doing so. And, in fact, if we chose not to pledge allegiance to one or both of these flags that would be fine too. We have freedom to believe what we want to believe and to say what we want to say, or keep silent, as we wish.

 

Not everyone has such freedom. The freedom we enjoy here in the United States is the envy of the world.

 

Senator John McCain spent five-and-one-half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. He tells of one man with whom he was imprisoned, Lt. Commander Mike Christian. Mike had collected scraps of white and red cloth and had sewed the scraps together into an American flag. He then sewed this makeshift flag to the inside of his blue pajama top. The men would hang Mike's pajama top on a wall each night and say the pledge of allegiance to it. It was a ritual that brought them all together and reminded them of their common purpose. One day, the guards happened to catch the men saying the pledge. They dragged Mike away and beat him brutally. But that very night when Mike returned to his cell, he began gathering pieces of cloth again. He was already starting on another flag.

 

What is it that would prompt Mike Christian, John McCain and their fellow POWs to take such risk? What is it that would prompt them to put their lives on the line in this way?

 

Freedom. These men had known freedom. These men fought for freedom. These men had seen buddies die defending freedom. These men had so lived and breathed freedom, that it could not be beaten out of them. When you are free in your heart and in your soul, you are free indeed. No one can take that freedom from you, even in a prisoner of war cell.

 

The desire for freedom is at the heart of who we are as a people, as Americans and as Christians. The apostle Paul had a lot to say about freedom in Galatians 5, the chapter that also speaks of the fruit of the spirit. Paul opens that chapter with these words “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) A little later he goes on to say “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14).

 

On the last night before he was to be crucified, Jesus reiterated the command to love one another and modeled loving service by washing his disciples’ feet. He then told them to do the same. As Christians, we are freed from sin so that we might love and serve the neighbor as Jesus did.

 

We have freedom. We have freedom as Christians and we have freedom as Americans. How do we use that freedom?

 

As Americans we do well when we live into the principles expressed in that pledge of allegiance that John McCain and his fellow POWs risked so much for. “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Although we do believe in these words, our ability to live out our beliefs has been tested at times.

 

We think of the Civil War which was fought over the question of “What does liberty and justice for all look like?” Can we be true to our founding principles when some people are slaves? Can we be true to our founding principles when some people’s livelihood comes at the price of robbing others of their liberty?

 

Today I think we can agree that slavery was wrong. No one can truly be free if they depend on the slave labor of others. No nation can proclaim to be a nation of “liberty and justice for all” when some of its citizens are enslaved. We got it right when the slaves were emancipated, when they were set free to live their lives as free people. Ever since then we have continued working to become that “more perfect union” where “liberty and justice for all” are truly available to all people.

 

A little later in our history we faced the question of “What does liberty and justice for all look like?” at the time of World War II. Can we be true to our founding principles when the Jewish people are being systematically exterminated and sent to concentration camps to die in horrific conditions?

 

Today I think we can agree that antisemitism is wrong. No one can be truly free if that comes at the cost of some people being killed because of their faith or their ethnicity. We got it right when we decided that Hitler needed to be stopped. We got it right when we helped liberate the Jews from concentration camps. We got it right when we helped rebuild the world after WWII to be a place where nations could live in harmony with one another. We got it right when we put into place structures like the UN whose mission is to maintain international peace and security and to protect and promote the human rights of all people.

“Liberty and justice for all” are guiding values that people around the world seek. The United States has been a shining beacon of hope for people the world over because we live by these values and we help make them available to others.

 

But we didn’t do it all right. In May of 1939 the ship the St. Louis came from Germany to our shores with 937 passengers. Nearly all of them were German Jews fleeing from Hitler’s Third Reich. Due to fear of admitting so many refugees into our country, we turned the ship away. A few were admitted to Cuba. The rest were returned to Europe where many were killed by Hitler’s army.

 

And at the same time we were fighting to free Jewish people from Nazi concentration camps, we were putting Japanese Americans into internment camps here at home. This was not because of anything that they did that was wrong, it was because we let our fear get the best of us. We were afraid that because these people came from Japanese heritage they might be a threat. So, we imprisoned a whole group of people out of fear. That was wrong. We need to learn these lessons of history and use them to guide us now.

 

A little later in our history we faced the question of “What does liberty and justice for all look life?” during the Civil Rights era. Can we be true to our founding principles when Jim Crow laws were creating Apartheid within our own borders?

 

Today I think we can agree that racism is wrong. No one can be truly free if some people are kept from exercising their rights because of discrimination in education, employment or housing. No one can be truly free if some people are being kept from voting through fear or intimidation. We got it right when we passed the Voting Rights Act so that all people could legally exercise their right to vote. We got it right when we passed legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race or color or creed.

 

We have come a long way in the last 50 years. Today we are much closer to living into Martin Luther King’s dream of his 4 little children being judged not on the color of their skin but on the content of their character. We still have a way to go in fully living into that principle of liberty and justice for all but we have made great progress.

 

Today we continue to work toward being a nation that truly embodies liberty and justice for all. We see this struggle in the face of immigrants fleeing violence, seeking asylum at our borders. We see it in the face of children torn from their parents, separated as they come here to flee oppression and seek a better life. We see it in the face of dreamers who have grown up and been educated in this nation, but who are at risk of being sent back to places they came from but don’t know as home. We see it in the face of young black men being imprisoned at disproportionate rates and fearful for their lives in interactions with law enforcement. We see it in the face of young women facing harassment in their workplaces and lower wages for similar work to their male colleagues.

 

Yes, we still have a way to go in fully living into that principle of liberty and justice for all. But we are a nation founded on these principles. And most of us really do want to be a place of true liberty and justice for all, like our founding fathers envisioned. The course of history has shown that even though we may struggle over it, we usually do the right thing eventually.

 

I believe that our Christian heritage is central to helping us live into that value of liberty and justice for all. Our Christian valued helped shape our national values. So in many ways they reinforce one another.

 

As Christians we are called to love one another. Jesus was always reaching out in love and care to the person in need. He took a lot of flack for eating with tax collectors and prostitutes. He was ridiculed for healing people on the sabbath. But he didn’t let this deter him because he was guided by God’s love, a love that reached out to welcome in all people. A love that lifted up the despised Samaritan as the hero when religious people fell short of the responsibility to show love to the neighbor in deed. A love that reminded people who were ready to stone the woman caught in adultery that none are without sin. A love that showed itself by sacrificing himself on the cross so that all people the world over might live in forgiveness and freedom. 

 

And he asks the same of us. Jesus calls us to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. The freedom we have as Christians and as Americans are freedoms that were won at great cost and they are freedoms we are called to share with others. We are called to live out our love for one another regardless of the cost. We are called to stand up for what we know to be right even when there is a significant cost.

 

As we celebrate our nation’s independence this week, may this be a time of committing ourselves to doing what is right regardless of the cost. May we be energized to do our part to ensure that our nation is a place of liberty and justice for all.  And may we be inspired to love God and love our neighbor.

 

May God bless each of one us and may God bless America. Amen!