In 1980, legendary singer/songwriter Neal Diamond recorded one of his greatest hits, "America," about the millions of souls from all parts of the world who have come to the United States seeking freedom. In the song, he says, "Far, we've been traveling far, without a home, but not without a star. Free, only want to be free. We huddle close, hang on to a dream."
This song of Diamond's is so appropriate as we celebrate our freedoms and blessings as citizens of the United States. This weekend, picnics, fried chicken, watermelon, fireworks and parades will remind us of our abundance and freedom. It is also a time to remember that we all came as strangers, as aliens and as immigrants. Some came to America seeking freedom from injustice, oppression and hunger. Some came to America as slaves. The vast numbers of Americans were not the original inhabitants of this land. I have often wondered if the Declaration of Independence had any meaning to Native Americans and African slaves.
It is of great concern that support for federal legislation to control and even eliminate immigration is so strong in America today. It is especially tragic that some nations of Western Europe are permitted more immigrants to America than nations of Eastern Europe, Asia, South America and Africa. Sadly, hate crimes against immigrants have been on the rise for several years. On our border with Mexico, probably the best friend the United States has in the world, many Americans want to build a wall to separate the two nations.
The Bible is full of passages that urge the believer to love the stranger and the traveler. We are frequently reminded that we all were once strangers. We are all sojourners in a land that belongs to God. We are here only a short time, for we desire a "better country."
There is a great story in the Gospels about a large crowd of hungry people listening to the teachings of Jesus. When the hour comes for dining, Jesus' closest followers want to send the crowd away to find food. Jesus orders his disciples to feed the crowd. Through the miracle of God's blessings, all are abundantly fed with food left over. Jesus clearly shows us that God does not stand outside of life. God is right here, beside us. He is always ready to free us from our own greed, bigotry, injustice, suffering and hunger.
The marvelous, and sometimes difficult to accept, reality is that not one of us can ever be truly free until we abide in Christ and Christ in us. It is time that we make a declaration of independence from the material powers of the world. The profound simplicity of life in Christ is that there is freedom, abundance and blessings by loving God and loving our neighbors. Jesus even went so far as to say that we must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. In God's Kingdom, loving our enemies will lead us to freedom. As long as we live with hatred, scapegoating, bigotry, fear and injustice, then none of us is totally free. We can only achieve that dream through God's mercy.
Many of the great writers of history have also stated that freedom is never perfected until all humanity is truly free. God will be at work in the world as long as there is human bondage, oppression, unwelcome immigrants, people without employment, dying children, abused elderly, starving people or persecution because of religion. God will not give up on us. God is good and God will provide more than we can imagine.
On this Independence Day weekend, celebrate the riches of freedom that we have. Give thanks to all who have made this possible. Do not forget the stranger or the immigrant. Remember that Jesus gave comfort to the stranger and lived his life overturning injustice. When we abide in Christ, he will abide in us. Any good thing is then possible. Whatever we face, the power of God's love will provide what we need. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, which has been revealed in Jesus Christ.
"They're Coming to America!" Thank God for that. Many of us were once strangers to this land. Our parents and grandparents came seeking freedom and justice. Most found opportunities beyond anything they could have imagined. Someday, with God's help, perhaps all people throughout the world will live in peace, harmony and abundance. With God, all good things are possible.
(The opinions of this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Inter-Mountain, the Randolph County Ministerial Association or the author's church affiliation.)