I have vague memories from my childhood of sitting on a blanket on the rooftop of a vehicle, in the midst of a large crowd of people facing the sky. There were antique cars patterned on the blanket, and it smelled like a combination of my grandparents and a summer field. The collective “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” of the people around me, along with the giant “BOOM” from the sky compelled me to join their upward stares, and enjoy the show as well. It was beautiful. It was loud. It was explosive. All of the chaos, anxieties, and individual issues faced by each person melted away by the tiny colorful fires blooming across the evening sky. We were united in that moment by the shared experience. The commonality of awe, wonder, and even humility as we felt each “BOOM” with a reverb that shook us to our bones.
As we (in the US) approach the Holiday weekend, there are some who are so grateful for particular Freedoms today, they’d throw the celebrations without wanting to get stuck in the mire of humility or contemplation. There may be others, repentant of our country’s’ difficult and painful past, who feel there is little cause for celebration. Still others, focusing on our present need to continually reform and heal, who want to trumpet their particular cause in the direction of healing. There are important reasons to listen to and value each of these voices. We are thankful for the freedoms many of us are able to enjoy. We confess they didn’t come easily, but in many ways painfully on the backs of previous generations. We also confess that we struggle to distribute the enjoyment of such freedoms equally even today.
As a pastor in a denomination with “FREE” in our title (Free Methodist), I have definitely come to appreciate the word. We have been liberated from patterns and penalties of sin, and made New Creations, which sets us free from the sources of anxiety and division that threaten to chain us down/apart. But as someone who has served in a post-communist country, I’ve also been reminded that the word “Freedom” carries a variety of meanings – not all of them positive. When a conquered country is told they should be grateful for the “freedom” they now have – to not need self-governing – this is no great gift of freedom at all.
With these things in mind, I find it important to pause briefly and reflect on the Freedom I am most thankful for. A freedom shared globally across every culture and nation. A freedom that offers to shape & impact our policies at home and abroad. A freedom I pray is found and experienced by every individual and community. It’s the merciful freedom we’ve been given to be aware and moved/drawn in by the present and active Love of God, revealed by Jesus Christ, empowered by His Spirit.
There is something about watching fireworks that reveals our experience as a humanity gathered in awe of the wonder and divine power of God. We can easily get distracted by the smaller details in our environment, but there are moments that compel us all to look collectively at the wonder and beauty of God’s creation, His powerful authority, His gracious Love, or simply His abiding presence. When we look toward Him together, united in such a moment of wonder, we converge in our reflection of His light in ways that offer to illumine our lives anew. It is beautiful. It can speak powerfully to those who are willing to listen. It can transform and provide explosive catalyst for something New. Abiding with our attention directed toward the fullness of God together can melt away (or give proper perspective) to all of the chaos, anxieties, and individual issues faced by each of us, as we gather together. We are united (and sent) by such a shared experience. It has the potential even to humble us, with reverbs we feel in the very core of our being – offering us a New identity…
“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36
And as we climb down from the rooftops of automobiles, heading back into the world with eyes still impacted by the dazzling flashes of His Love, we notice that as we freely join such Love – the moments of awe continue…