My Country, 'Tis of thee,
Sweet Land of Liberty,
Of thee I sing:
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrim's pride,
From ev'ry mountainside,
Let freedom ring!
The words from this familiar hymn echo in our hearts and minds. The very sound of the words liberty and freedom stirs everyone's heart who hears them, especially those who are presently not afforded the same freedom we enjoy in America. Indeed, if there is one icon which everyone associates with America, it is Lady Liberty, with her torch held high in New York Harbor, lighting the way to the Land of Liberty and Opportunity. On two separate occasions when I was privileged to visit New York City, I made certain I toured this national treasure. As beautiful as she is in pictures, however, they just didn't compare with her magnificence while I stood on the ledge which forms her crown and gazed at the view of the New York City Harbor and skyline. She truly is quite a Lady!
This freedom, which we so often take for granted in America, did not come cheaply. Many men and women have sacrificed their lives throughout our nation's history to help insure its continuance. For all of the incentives the Army offers to lure young Americans into service nowadays--college money, lump sum bonuses, travel--let's never forget that the main reason we are employed in this service is to defend our nation against enemies both foreign and domestic and to preserve the United States Constitution. We, too, must be willing and prepared to say with one of our founding patriots, Patrick Henry, "Give me liberty, or give me death!"
A number of years ago, during one of our nation's military call-ups, one of my parishioners told me of a conversation he overheard in one of the service areas where he worked as a civil servant at Ft. Rucker, Alabama. He said one soldier had said to another, "Hey, this ain't why I joined the Army! I joined for the college money! Just give me my college money and let me out!" While that may sound a bit humorous, it is nonetheless indicative of the shallow commitment too many of our military service members have for defending our nation and its freedoms. Whatever happened to the now infamous statement President John F. Kennedy made in his inauguration speech? He said, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." In the "Me Generation," those words ring almost as hollow as Jesus' words, "'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'" (Matthew 16:24 NRSV; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23).
Patriotism, like true devotion to God, seems to have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Is there anywhere in America where we can find both of these anymore? Indeed there is! Every Sunday during worship in New Post Chapel, immediately following the opening hymn, we sing the third verse of that grand old hymn, "America":
You see, liberty is God's idea! Be proud to be an American soldier, sworn to defend the freedoms we all hold dear, and not least among them is the freedom of religion! Demonstrate your devotion to both God and Country, and join with your Army chaplains and fellow soldiers in worship each week, particularly this weekend, as we celebrate our nation's 221st year of independence! Why, even the Army Chaplaincy motto is the Latin phrase "Pro Deo Et Patria," which is translated as "For God And Country!" Think about that as you "Let freedom ring!" Have a Happy Independence Day/Fourth of July!