ARMSTRONG-REINER: Our ultimate allegiance is to God

I have been thinking …

… about patriotism.

This weekend we honor our veterans. We recognize those who have served and who continue to serve our country in our armed forces.

We thank them for defending our country and fighting for our country and for the ideals and freedoms that we proclaim.

But what are the ideals that this country stands for? What are the ideals that our veterans have laid down their lives to protect?

We hear it proclaimed in the words of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all … are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

When we say “all are created equal,” we believe that there is no distinction. We have grown in our understanding of that as a country, but we now live in a day when we can say that it does not matter whether you are male or female, black or white or brown, rich or poor, gay or straight. We live in a country, and our veterans defend us as a country, in which we seek to live out the words of Paul in Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

We continue to honor our veterans, we continue to show our love of country, when we stand up against the forces of hatred, division, bigotry, no matter what forms they might take.

And in the midst of honoring our veterans and recognizing the freedom in our country, we also remember that our ultimate allegiance is not to our government and not even to our country. Our ultimate allegiance is to the God who formed us, to the One who formed us in the divine image, to the One who came to us in Jesus.

When religious leaders tested Jesus about whether it was lawful to pay taxes or not, Jesus asked for a coin and asked whose image was on the coin. When they responded that it was the emperor, Jesus declared to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17)

The message to us – especially on this weekend following our elections and on a day that we honor our veterans – is two-fold.

First, Jesus declares to us that the government serves a purpose, and we give our obedience to that government where we should.

Yet, second, Jesus reminds us that our ultimate allegiance is to God. Whenever the claims of government conflict with the claims of God, we remind ourselves who we ultimately follow.

This means that we use our freedom of speech, our freedom of press, and our freedom of assembly to hold our government accountable. As our country stands for freedom, we are called to make certain that we stay in the ways of freedom for all, in the ways of justice, in the ways of love and peace.

I would suggest that when we do so, we then give the ultimate honor to our veterans and the ideals of the country that they have defended.

Patriotism is not found in a blind loyalty to our country. Indeed, a critique of country according to the self-evident truths of equality and justice is where true patriotism lies.

The Rev. David Armstrong-Reiner is pastor at Epiphany Lutheran Church, 2375 Ga. Highway 20 in Conyers. Contact him at pastor.david@conyerselc.org.

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