Today is a day that brings very mixed emotions. I have such amazing memories of the 4th of July as a kid. I'm the youngest of six and we'd always celebrate the holiday at our summer cottage in Michigan. Weather permitting we'd be on the beach all day. When the sun started to set we'd start sending bottle rockets into the air from the mouths of glass coke bottles nestled in the sand and then we'd settle into beach chairs to watch the small fireworks show sponsored by the Macatawa cottage owners association. They'd shoot off the fireworks from the jetty that connected lake Macatawa to lake Michigan. The show lasted all but forty-five minutes with long pauses in between each launch. In between launches you could hear the sounds of laughter and joy and the pop of cans of beer! It was pure magic. I can remember marveling at the reflections on the water. A show above and a show below.
I'll never forget one 4th of July evening when a young deputy Sheriff in a stiff hat and crisp uniform approached the porch at our cottage. My Dad had been sitting in his rocking chair chucking Black Cat firecrackers off the front porch. The smell and smoke from the firecrackers lingered in the air and the little sand yard below the elevated porch of the cottage was littered with loads of tattered paper from the obliterated casings on the Black Cats. The deputy stood on the sidewalk and asked my father if he was aware of the Michigan laws prohibiting fireworks. My Dad looked at him intently from his chair and said, "Fireworks? What fireworks?" He was the calmest man I have ever known. His feet were gnarly from his experience as a POW in Germany in WWII in the winter of 1944. He was awarded a Purple Heart and fought in The Battle of the Bulge. He was more than six feet tall and he spoke very little but communicated a lot with his eyes. They (my Dad and the young Sheriff) looked at each other for what seemed like forever as the rest of us kids gazed at the Sheriff wondering if Dad was just "busted." A ticket? A warning? My Dad didn't say another word but the young Sheriff did: "Have a safe and happy 4th of July, sir." God I miss my Dad. It's been fifteen years since he met his maker and every fourth of July, more so than any other day in the year, I remember him. Rest in peace JCQ.
There's other reasons for my mixed emotions today. I'm sure many of you share them. I'm a patriot to be sure but it's hard to sing the National Anthem like we did in Children's Chapel today at church. It's hard to sing the song that is the poem written by Francis Scott Key after the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British Ships in the war of 1812, and to "praise" the words in poem's closing stanza: Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation! Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, and this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'
Is there such a thing as just cause? I love our country. I love our freedom. I love my father and the sacrifices that he and so many have made and continue to make so that we can be free. I'll never forget returning to the United States after a mission tip to San Salvador. I wanted to kiss the ground when the plane landed. But the cost of our freedom is bittersweet so my prayer with you today is not just for our independence but for a world dependent on God:
May each and every nation and tribe know your peace, Lord. Melt, God, our hate. Turn our swords into plowshares and let the Lion and the Lamb lie down. May there be peace on earth, as it is in heaven, and let it begin with me.