On this day the Episcopal Church observes Independence Day with the rank of a Major Feast. We didn't do so until the 1928 BCP, interestingly, but I think it's a good thing to pause in the midst of our burgers, brats, and fireworks to remember Who is the source of true freedom.
Today's Gospel is surely an odd one for Independence Day. It's the command toe love one's enemies, to pray for those who persecute you. In any context, those are difficult words to hear. We are to pray for those who hate us, who wish ill on us, who might even want us dead? I honestly think it would be diificult to publicly pray for Al Quada or the Taliban in any church in this country, but I suspect that's what Jesus really means. The enemies of the community at that time were the Jewish authorities and the Roman overlords. It can't have been easy for the Christians of Matthew's day to hear that either. But prayer is never about changing God's mind and heart, but about changing our minds and hearts. When we pray, even for our enemies, we open ourselves up to the mind of Christ. I do not know what God's will is for terrorists, much less for me some days, but I know that the mere acting of naming people in prayer helps us remember them. This is hard stuff. I don't particularly want to remember my enemies and those who persecute me! And to be reminded to do so on this particular day, when we rightly celebrate what's good and wonderful about our country, draws me up somewhat short. Maybe it does for you too.
Here's an apt musical selection for today, The Last Words of David, by Randall Thompson, and sung by the Rutgers University Choir.
Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our 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.