Singing our patriotic hymns always involves an element of irony, doesn’t it? We praise the opportunity and freedom America offers us, and celebrate the blessings of God that fill and enrich our lives. Rightly so.
But as we sing we realize the distance between the ideal we celebrate and the reality that is America in the early 21st century. What is the horizon of freedom for a poor child in this great city of Philadelphia? Imagine if that child is black. Does that child live in the land of opportunity?
Consider the current discussion of healthcare, secretly apportioning winners and losers when the stakes are life and death. “O beautiful, for spacious skies” as those spacious skies fill with carbon dioxide and threaten the existence of life on this blessed planet.
Our hymns can sound ironic, even delusional, to our own ears. And yet we know that there is truth to what we sing. God has richly blessed this land. Despite all the inequity and injustice we see around us, America still offers a promise of opportunity and fairness, even if the promise remains unfulfilled.
There is our truth. Our hymns are to a promise unfulfilled. Not from God’s side. God always aspires to justice. As Martin Luther King, Jr said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” God bends it toward justice. God always works for justice, toward fulfillment of the promise of justice and freedom for all God’s people.
As we sing the praises of our country and thank God for blessing us, we commit ourselves to fulfilling the promises of this great land. “Sweet land of liberty.” Yes, if we make it so, if we commit ourselves to educating all our children so all have an equal chance to share in the blessings. If we demand living wages for everyone and an end to policies that create billionaires while far too many go hungry every day. If healthcare that allows all citizens to enjoy their lives is not a right for some and an illusion for others. If sexual orientation is not an invitation to discrimination but a celebration of the gift of love in our lives. If being female is not a discount in the wage marketplace. If black is not a justification for indignities but a proud heritage.
The God-given promise of America, of thee we sing. Sweet, sweet land of liberty. Justice, equality, freedom, yes, we sing your praises. And commit ourselves to work to make America the land we see promised in our hymns.
Bob Robinson, Interim Pastor